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Childhood memories spurred 'Tiki' - Hawaii Features - Staradvertiser.com

Childhood memories spurred 'Tiki'

bburlingame@staradvertiser.com" > By Burl Burlingame

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 12, 2010

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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARADVERTISER.COM
Author Phillip S. Roberts at the launch party and book signing for his book "Waikiki Tiki — Art, History and Photographs."
Five questions for "Waikiki Tiki" author Phillip "Slash" Roberts, collector of antique aloha shirts and connoisseur of exotic music.

Question: How came you under the influence of tikis and "tiki" culture?

Answer: Memories are what "Waikiki Tiki — Art, History and Photographs" is all about. I remember my grandmother and uncle loved the "tiki bar" experience, and as a child I was always going with them to Trader Vic's and the Tonga Room in San Francisco. I came to Hawaii often on vacation and frequented Canlis and the Tahitian Lanai restaurants. I wish I'd taken photographs then. When I moved here, I started to document what I saw before it disappeared.

Q: What are the roots in Pacific culture to make a good tiki?

A: "Tiki" is a decorative item that pays homage to a particular element of life in the Pacific. Conceptually, it is very different from the sacred items housed at Bishop Museum, for example. It's a question of mana and ritual. Kii have it, while tiki have a different kind of mana, one primarily of artistic expression. This fantastic art found throughout Waikiki and beyond is based on the objects of many cultures — reminders of a less complex time and place.

Q: How about the connection to lounge music and exotic culture, particularly since the war?

A: The World War II campaigns were brutal, and the generation involved was seeking escape from the pressures of the war itself, complicated by the atomic age. It was into this dynamic that "Don the Beachcomber," Donn Beach, brought his grass hut restaurants to Hawaii in 1946. By the time of mass air travel to the islands, vast tiki palaces were thriving here and on the mainland. Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, Augie Colon and Don Ho are the cornerstones of "exotica" — a stylized jazz-lounge music movement that combined with lush settings like the Shell Bar at the Hawaiian Village to provide the exact experience that the tourist, along with the soldier stationed here, was looking for.

Q: What's your background?

A: I have been involved with radio and storytelling since the 1980s. I enjoy travel, writing and photography. I have been to Tahiti, Rapa Nui and New Zealand as well as most of the Hawaiian Islands to enhance my research on tiki and gain a true sense of the importance of the culture and cultural practices in the Pacific. I like a good tropical cocktail.

Q: How did the book come together?

A: My hobby became a passion, and "Waikiki Tiki — Art, History and Photographs" evolved over the years while seeking a publisher. I spoke to everyone — locals, tourists and even cabdrivers and carpet cleaners as I tracked down objects and artifacts involved in their memories. ... I got permission to access to the immense Wimberly, Allison, Tong & Goo archives. I found and asked questions (by letter) of master carver Edward M. Brownlee (now 81 and living in Oregon). I sought out Dan Cosina of Daga Glassware on Oahu to get his insight. I frequented thrift shops, flea markets, garage sales, antique stores and collector shows, and I purchased items from eBay. I traded with other collectors. I drove through island neighborhoods seeking out tiki. Every rediscovery led to more questions, and I practically lived in the library and museums to bolster my understanding of what I found. I feel that this project has just started as I hope, with the release of my book, items will now come out of hiding with more stories of their pasts.