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The Tiki Tribe

With mugs, statues, songs and fashion, these kamaaina are carrying the kitschy, tacky, tiki torch.


(page 5 of 5)

Retro, rum-soaked, and unabashedly kitschy, the tiki revival embraces mid-20th century Polynesian pop styles.

Certainly not all of today’s tiki people were slam-dancing to the Sex Pistols in the 1980s, but a real subculture does exist at the heart of the tiki revival. It has a bible, the 287-page tome by amateur urban archaeologist Sven Kirsten entitled The Book of Tiki. It has a quarterly periodical, Tiki Magazine. It has annual conventions, such as Tiki Oasis in San Diego and the Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale. It has all sorts of blogs and websites, the foremost being tikicentral.com, a discussion forum with some 12,000 registered users. Want to talk about Gilligan’s Island, or get into a fight over whether Jimmy Buffet contributed to the decline of tiki or simply filled the void, or find out what other tiki people are drinking right now? Go to tikicentral.

This subculture has its specialists, too. Some focus on drinks, or music, or mugs, or vintage clothing or ephemera. Then there’s Phil Roberts, who spent 17 years focused on documenting the whereabouts of every tiki he could possibly find in Honolulu. He put it all in a book that came out in 2010, Waikiki Tiki.

“Yeah, everybody thought I was crazy,” he says. “But I’m really proud of this book.”

There are also people like Doug Miller of Kona, who doesn’t just like to find tikis, he likes to bring them home—and not just little tikis he can put on a shelf. He’s got tikis as big as he is standing in his living room, including a bowsprit tiki from a retired Kona booze-cruise and a fiberglass prop tiki from the Elvis Presley movie Clambake.

He won’t bring home just any tiki, though. “They’ve got to have good personalities,” he says. And he recoils at the idea of ever letting a genuine Polynesian artifact through his door. “Those belong in the Bishop Museum,” he says. “I won’t touch that stuff. I only want the fake stuff—the fake-real stuff.”

Because, of course, if it’s not fake-real, it’s not really tiki.


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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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