In Maori mythology, "Tiki" is a word that refers to the first human on earth. The word also appears in other Polynesian islands, with variations. In Tahiti, the first man was called "Ti'i." The first woman was "Hine."
"Tiki" also refers to the large human-like carvings that appeared in the Polynesian islands, including the large stone carvings in Easter Island.
In 1934, a fellow named Earnest opened a bar in Hollywood called Don's Beachcomber Bar. He served rum-based drinks, and food that was based on Chinese restaurant food, but with a special decorative flair. His restaurants were so popular that franchise "Don the Beachcomber" joints sprang up all over the country. In San Francisco, a competitor opened a place called Trader Vic's. Both Don and Vic claim to have invented the Mai-Tai - a cocktail made with rum and mixed fruit juices.
Restaurants were decorated like tropical islands, and carved wooden Tiki figures were prominently featured. You could buy special cocktails served in mugs shaped like Tiki figures - and buy the mug to take home. Perhaps WWII veterans from the South Pacific enjoyed this reminder of exotica after they came home, or maybe it was the excitement of Hawaii being a new state - in any case, Polynesian style was extremely popular during the 1950s and 1960s.
There are still a few Tiki joints in the Los Angeles area. Here's a list - I have to explore them, and will report back to this blog. Trader Vic's, at the Beverly Hilton, closed a little while ago when the hotel closed for remodeling. It is supposed to come back this spring, in downtown L.A. near the L.A. Live complex.
Even if you can't go to an exotic Tiki bar, sometimes you find Tiki in the most unexpected places.
Like Topanga. I was just driving around, exploring a road I hadn't been on before, and I suddenly found myself in a tropical jungle, with a lyrical waterfall right out of Bali Hai. There were tropical decorations galore! Someone up on Observation Drive has a great sense of humor!
A creek draining winter rains from the Santa Monica mountains is planted with tropical plants that thrive in the sheltered nook of the steep and tumbled rocks. Palms and cycads and bromeliads arch their fronds and flowers over a stepped waterfall.
Carved wooden Tiki figures guard either side of the carport. They look a little crazier than most Tiki-bar figures - but then, that's Topanga!
The natural stone outcroppings of our mountains are enhanced with the face of a mysterious earth figure - a stone Tiki indeed!
He looks a little jaded, if you ask me. Welcome to Topanga, a magical tropic paradise in the most cynical city in the world!
Can I get a Mai-Tai and a Pu-pu Platter? Oh, and is there valet parking?