Tiki: Guilt Free Sex?

Midcentury exotica didn’t just cater to suburban fantasies of work-free islands and guilt-free sex. There was also the call of adventure, epitomized by these classic “dangerous” drinks: if the sharks didn’t eat you, the cannibals would.
—Beachbum Berry Beachbum Berry Remixed, Pg. 86

I told you that quote would be back.

When I previously used that to introduce the Sidewinder’s Fang, Tiki Month participant DJ Hawaiianshirt replied in the comments, “I didn’t know the tiki/exotica fantasy involved guilt-free sex; that’s news to me.” That gives me a perfect opportunity to do this post, which I will tuck beneath the fold on the main page, because, well…. Rule 5, and lots of it. And one little NSFW example.

Behind the bar mural at The Kahiki in Columbus, OH

Of course Tiki was about sex. There were, in the 40’s and 50s mind you, more bare boobs in Tiki bars and on their materials than there were in the freaking National Geographic!

Every Tiki Palace had lavish matchbooks, of course. And it seems as if every one also had at least one version with topless Wahines on the back:

Those are from the Pago Pago Dining Room in Tuscon, AR. (A couple of vowel changes, and they’d have had that name just right) Admittedly, they seemed to have made a specialty of that sort of imagery, but how about this one from the Grass Shack in conservative Columbus, OH?

The Grass Shack was the predecessor of the legendary Kahiki, and for an hilarious tale of the transition twixt the two, read this, where I got that pic.

Just listen to the music of the day. Exotica is a sound just drenched in sex. Some of the instrumental music is practically pornographic.

And the album covers of the day were racy.

And the European versions (yes, they were into the Tiki, too) were even more blunt.

Tahiti in the Time of Gauguin? Isn’t that title a bit on the nose? Everybody knows the only reason people cared about Gauguin….
There are a host of other euro Tiki/Exotica albums on a thread at TikiCentral, including a bizarre Polish one, and one that cuts off the head of Elvis for some reason, but makes sure all the women are uncropped.

And from the music of Exotica to the more direct mediums of erotica, you find Tikis whipped out all over the place in the pulpy fiction and art of the era, for no damn reason at all other than that those little Pagan statues meant “sex” in everybody’s minds.

She may know all about men… and women, but her bra knows nothing about gravity.

And, of course, the Polynesian vibe was well-represented in the pin-up world as well. And more directly, too.

Of course, amidst this Rule 5 extravaganza, I always remember Rule 5 is for the ladies, too. And the Tiki world sure knew that, if a bit less blatantly.

And while most mainstream American images of actual Tikis seldom included the phalluses often found on more authentic carvings, the mugs themselves, the long, tall ones at least, were pretty phallic in their own right.
Wait. Did I say something about “whipping out” Tikis all over the place…?

Couldn’t resist.

Anyway, beyond any filthy-minded interpretations of the perfectly legitimately shaped Tiki mug, the imagery on many classic examples from the Golden Age was filled with more Boobapalooza.
Surfer girls were particularly popular, especially in bar located in casinos.

As were hula girls.

And it is practically required for Scorpion Bowls to be covered in little wahines. Scorpion Bowls often had a real flaming volcano built in or constructed out of garnish, so I’ve always thought it was meant to evoke the whole “let’s sacrifice a virgin to the gods” recurring theme.

If you doubt me, here’s a cool modern take on the Scorpion Bowl.

OK, you’ve sufficiently demonstrated the whole sex portion of the Bum’s quote. But what about “guilt-free”?

As to if it was guilt-free, just take a look at this picture taken back in the day at a Tiki bar called Ferguson’s in Washington State. Consider how comfortable this Marion Cunningham-type looks with this decor looming over her head.

I think there were several factors at play in somehow allowing 50s-type gray flannel suits and their wives not only to accept and even revel in the erotic undertones of Tiki, but to not even feel self-conscious about it. First, it wasn’t real. This was kitsch as kitsch can be, and no one was confusing Trader Vic’s with the Department of Polynesian Anthropology at Berkley. Second, it was far away. Sure, Don the Beachcomber might have been 15 minutes from your home, but while inside you were on the other side of the world. The farther you are (or feel) from home, the more it, whatever “it” is, doesn’t count. Vegas has co-opted this angle for decades now. Finally, to be honest I think a little of it was simply that these women (and men) pictured and portrayed were… how shall I put this? They were not exactly good Lutheran Americans next door. Harkening back to my National Geographic comment at the top of this post, it is amazing what people anywhere will accept portrayals of, if they can excuse it to themselves as “Oh, it’s just the way ‘those people’ are.”

And hello to the Rule 5 gang from Stacy’s place! This post is part of Tiki Month 2012 here at the Pegu Blog! Be sure to look around for LOTS more Tiki stuff all February!


  1. DJ HawaiianShirt

    11 February

    This is cool and all, and you certainly haven’t said or shown anything false… I just don’t think that the exotic and softcore sexual nature of tiki can be equated to “guilt free sex”, as you say it; that may be a bit sensationalized. The hippy movement of the 60s, for example, was in part literally about guilt free sex. This is just sexual titillation to go along with visual, aural, and gustatory titillation. Perhaps part of the first wave of “sex sells”, a cornerstone of our American culture.

    Then again, I could be completely wrong.

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  2. Tiare

    12 February

    I believe the guilt-free aspect may have it´s roots in very old books about early Polynesian life such as for example “Love in the South Seas” written by the swedish author and anthropologist Bengt Danielsson. I used to read all his books years ago. Here´s a description of the book:


    Love in the South Seas
    Europeans generally associate the South Sea Islands with girls in grass skirts, endless dancing and an unquenchable joie de vivre. The natives are known to have free and lighthearted habits that even excite our envy. In this popular-scientific account of the sexual life and family relations of the Polynesians, Bengt Danielsson (one of Thor Heyerdahl’s comrades on the famous Kon-Tiki raft) reveals the extent to which this widespread conception of the South Sea as a lovers’ paradise is justified.

    This comprehensive account—the first of its kind—is based on personal observation during years of travel and residence among various Polynesian peoples, as well as extensive literary research. Most of the descriptions quoted in the book are taken from older records of Polynesian habits and ideas in many languages that have not for the most part been available to English readers.

    Love in the South Seas is written in an easy and entertaining style. It deals with a variety of matters such as aesthetic ideals and means of attraction, sexual education and the games played by Polynesian youth, the laws of marriage and marital fidelity, polygamy, and “unnatural” tendencies, religion, and the sexuality and social position of woman. The author’s numerous parallels with conditions in Europe serve to enlighten in a new and rather unexpected way our own sexual problems.

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  3. Doug

    12 February


    Cool. Thanks. Though have you read it? That sounds like one of those blurbs where the scholarly subject matter doesn’t live up to the hype that got the book published, and they want to hide it until after you buy the book.

    DJ HawaiianShirt,

    Of course you are completely wrong! (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)
    First, I’d say that the “free love” movement in the 60s held significant elements of defiance in it which almost definitionally contains a hearty portion of guilt.

    Second, Tiki’s erotic vibe was less “guilt-free” than promising to be guilt-free. It wasn’t about sex, really, it just had a sexual under-current that was part of its appeal.
    I included the pin-up stuff because, well, I had a guilt-free excuse to do so, and because I wanted to show how the Tiki vibe was used by the sex industry of the day. You’d think a picture of a naked girl is sexy enough, but photographers of the day felt that just sticking a Tiki idol in the background made the same girl somehow more sexy.
    To me the picture that says the most is the last one. The explicit unreality of Tiki is what made its subtle, and not so, sexual undertones “guilt-free”.

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  4. Tiare

    12 February

    Doug, as i stated in my comment, i have read all his books and he really knows what he´s talking about:-)he didn´t live in sweden either, he lived in Tahiti and he have visited every single little speck of island in the South Pacific..and not as a tourist, he really knows his stuff. Or knew, he´s not among us anymore.

    Btw his daughter Maruia died from cancer in 1972 caused by the french nuclear tests at an age of only 13.He spent almost his entire life fighting against the nuclear tests in Polynesia and the french gov tried to get him deported from Tahiti but with no luck due to his international fame.But they closed his office down though.

    He also wrote the book “Moruroa mon Amour” which REALLY shows how the french got to get their tests done and how the surpressed the Tahitian people by for example force some protesters into prison in France on false aqusations and keep them there for some 15 years to be out of the way…

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