Sunday, October 12, 2008

"There's a fight at the Hula Hut!! Send the MP's!!!"

Take yourself back fifty years, you are sitting in a themed restaurant-bar with hula dancers circling the floor around your table. Hawaiian music is pumped through the air and you are sipping a fluorescent colored drink with multiple umbrellas in it. The lighting is soft and specific for each party enjoying the atmosphere; on your table sits a figurine of an ancient Maori god; candlelight pours out of his scowling mouth and eyes. This is a Tiki lamp.

Not only does this artifact suggest an environment, but it also denotes a time period as well. In this case the nineteen fifties to sixties. After the war south pacific themed restaurants and establishments became very trendy. Just such a lamp would have been a very common sight in these places. This is the essence of the Tiki lamp. While it's import as a religious figurine has ties to native Polynesians, it's use as a lamp does not, and represents an American adaptation for a changing social scene to accommodate thousands of returning servicemen, and a general feeling of prosperity with the end of the war.

After the fad of themed and particularly Tiki themed bars fell off in the nineteen seventies, these artifacts and objects were relegated to the collections of enthusiasts; the style having burned too hot and too fast. After several years of remission however, the style experienced a relapse or revival in particular places such as theme parks and beach establishments. The need for such specially appointed lighting and decor was needed and out came the Tiki lamp yet again.

This artifact, while not very deeply rooted in it's styling ancestry, nor having any particularly strong connection to ancient gods, does provide a ready icon for a time period in American history and more importantly a style of nightlife that was characteristic during that era.

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