Post World War 2 and the Rise of Tiki Culture

|t’s 1945, and the War is Over. American soldiers came home with stories of the beaches and tropical warmth of the South Seas. (It was best to tell stories about Island life and hospitality than share tales of horror from the battlefront). They brought photos and souvenirs, and a taste for the exotic foods and drinks that they had sampled in the Pacific and Asian Theater.

After years of depression and war, Americans were ready to have some fun. The economy was good, so everyone had money in their pockets it was time to let loose… put on that Aloha shirt. It was suddenly OK to relax and let loose, and the Island lifestyle fit in with that desire.

Bringing Polynesia Home… The Rise of Tiki Culture

Tiki drinks
Suburban Tiki

People were moving out of the cities and into the suburbs. Open plan houses, and a little patch of lawn became the American dream. Add a swimming pool, and maybe even some bamboo and a bar, and you have your own backyard Tiki Oasis, complete with rattan furniture! perfect for entertaining or relaxing. The best hostesses would serve up some exotic nibbles like Rumaki (Chicken livers and water chestnut wrapped in bacon) while their husbands stood behind the bar mixing up their version of Jungle Juice… and then topping it with a little umbrella.

In 1948, James Michener released his book, Tales of the South Pacific, about his adventures during the War.Then in 1949, Rogers and Hammerstein took the story and ran with it. They gave us South Pacific, and we all learned to “wash that man right out of our hair”. Now, even those who had never seen an Island got a taste for the lifestyle… and they wanted it.

Soldiers and sailors came home with a sense of adventure, and a desire to travel. They wanted to go back to the beauty that they saw. (Once a guy has been out of Kansas… and all that). But it wasn’t just the military guys! Travel to Hawaii became easier, with flights on the Pan Am Clipper flying from San Francisco to the islands in a mere 16 hours. It was still expensive… but not out of range for the upper middle classes to head to the Islands.

Tiki Advertising
Libby’s Pineapple advertising.

And then Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon Tiki Expedition became the original Reality Show…. as he sailed to Polynesia on a Balsa Raft to prove his theories that the Tiki people had spread from South America across the south Pacific before the Polynesians. People loved the adventure of it all! The daily radio broadcasts captured everyone’s imagination, While film  from the trip showed exactly what life was like on a balsa raft. When his book, The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas,  detailing the voyage was published, it became a run-away best seller.

Tiki was everywhere… in advertising, in architecture and in dining….Tiki was IN, Tiki was HIP, anything related to this amalgamation of made up South Seas culture was cool.

And everyone wanted to be cool….