Tiki statues have become almost synonymous with the tiki bar culture that grew to prominence in the 1930’s and continued through to the fifties. They are still today a very popular decorative element of bars, homes and topical themed gardens and yards. But the history of tikis dates back to thousands of years before the bar came to be.
The term “tiki” refers to the wood and stone carvings found in the Polynesian cultures in the islands of the Pacific Ocean. These statues usually portrayed human faces or humanoid forms. Their origin is rooted in Polynesian creation mythology.
In Maori mythology, for example, Tiki was the first man, in the way Adam was in Christian mythos. Tiki was created by Tane, the god of forests and birds. Tiki found his mate, Marikoriko, the first woman, in a pond, where she seduced him. They had a daughter named Hine-Kau-Ataata, whose birth caused the first clouds to appear in the sky.
Statues became not only representations of the first Man, but also broader spiritual symbols, objects that were carved in the shape of gods and that served to house the gods’ spirits. One of the first examples of statues is the massive stone moai statues found in Easter Island. These statues depicted large human faces that symbolized ancestral spirits.
Stone tiki statues have been found all over the Polynesian region and New Guinea, and some of these were dated to have been carved as far back as 1500 BC. For centuries, these were an accepted part of the culture of the Polynesian islands, parts of New Guinea and Hawaii. As wooden statues became more popular, their style grew varied between the different groups of indigenous inhabitants spread across the many islands of the region. Because of the greater ease with which wood could be carved, wooden tiki statues started to become much more complex and intricate. The statues all had religious themes as well as themes of nature and fertility
In Modern Times
As the tiki bar craze began early in the 20th century and continued to its height in the mid-50s, tiki statues became inextricably associated with tiki bar culture. But tikis are still a major part of Hawaiian and Polynesian culture. There are also a lot of modern sculptors and artists who draw inspiration from from the tradition of ancient tiki statues.