The Tikiphile as Archaeologist

The introduction of Donn Beach’s Zombie
was tough on the Moai of Easter Island….
(Precaptioned photo via io9)

Either that, or they just got hit with the same brutal cold that I’m just now fighting out from under.

Among the things about Tiki I find most fascinating is the genuine scholarship being done in its study. The iconic figure in the field of course is Beachbum Berry. (“Jeff” to his doctor, and “We have no record of this man” to the IRS) As history, archaeology, and anthropology, his body of work is more extensive, better written, and frankly, orders of magnitude more useful than most of the work by college professors. Work that gets them tenure, while making sure that there is no time to teach the students that are paying 50K a year to go to their universities.

But the Bum is hardly alone in this thirst for Tiki lore and lost artifacts. There is a legion of Tikiphiles out there who spend incredible amounts of time digging through the past to find vessels and decor from long passed oases, secrets to the origins of potions, and countless other fascinating details. I’m pretty sure the competition can be pretty fierce at times.

Indiana Jones - Harrison Ford“It’s perfect!
I can put a double Boo-Loo in there and the floating orchid garnish will be clearly visible all the way around the room.”

Today, Indy would wear a fez…

Of course, not every Tiki archaeologist is as badass as Indiana Jones, or Thor Heyerdahl, or Beachbum Berry. Most toil in the relative (to the greater drinks world) anonymity of the Tiki Central message boards. And let’s face it, a lot more of their research is drunk than is written up. But regardless, one of the most fascinating things that these guys do is look into the archaeology of taste. It is a pretty rare field in the mainstream science, and I suspect that the pros might learn a thing or two from folks who do this with Tiki.

A good example, which prompted this post, is a new article by Hurricane Hayward (whose name at least can compete with Indy’s, but probably not Thor’s) at the Atomic Grog Blog. I wrote last year a little experiment on the various versions of the Dr. Funk, one of the few cocktails of genuinely South Pacific origin in the Tiki oeuvre. Hayward’s post is a search for the taste of the legendary Mai Kai’s variant, the Dr. Fong. We both reference some excellent historical research published in the scholarly and peer-reviewed Journal of Faux-Polynesian Studies by Messrs Kirsten and Duncan, PhT.

Hayward does not find an actual recipe for the Fong, alas. So he does, again, what the “real” people in fields like this do, he recreates the recipe, based on lots of other research on the bar in question, its head barman at the relevant time, the other drinks on the menu, etc. It is kinda like putting flesh onto dinosaur bones.

There is some scholarship like this in the larger, broad-spectrum world of classic cocktails, but it is far less common. I am not sure what it is about Tiki that spurs such passions for history and authenticity, especially considering the deliberate inauthenticity of the genre. But we should be glad of it, because going over the research is delicious….

And hey! This post is part of Tiki Month 2013 here at the Pegu Blog! Be sure to look around for LOTS more Tiki stuff all February!


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