In 1991, I read a biography of Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last sovereign monarch of Hawaiʻi. Despite always having had an interest in Hawaiʻi (thanks largely to briefly living there as a child), I learned far more reading that book than I ever had before about the beauty and depth of Native Hawaiian culture.
That book was also where I learned about the history of Hawaiʻi. How outsiders, especially those from the United States, caused breathtaking damage, culminating in the theft of Hawaiʻi by the United States on behalf of the American businessmen that had overrun the island. It was eye-opening. Disgusting. I refused to buy Dole products for years. I knew it was a hundred years too late, but my taste had soured. It is a history that has been glossed over, by design.
The Hawaiian culture is just one in a literal ocean full of misunderstood Pacific cultures. It is difficult for these cultures—and when we say culture, let’s be clear, we’re talking about people—to be visible, and honored, over the loud noise and suffocating weight of the other cultures they are forced to share space with, both in the islands and here on the mainland.
Critiki has played a role in taking up some of that space, and making it harder—not easier—for people to understand the cultures of the Pacific. I regret that.
The history of Polynesia-themed restaurants and other “Polynesian pop” culture in mainland America remains utterly fascinating to me. For many years, it was the only way some bit of Island culture could be experienced—but it was very much powered by a non-Islander lens, for consumption by a non-Islander audience. There is incredible beauty in that melding, but it is deeply, deeply lopsided. And while that may have been relatively progressive in 1950, we can and should do better in this century.
Because I have spent literal decades studying mainland-flavored faux-Polynesian theming, and the historic context it came from, I am roughly able to tease out what is real and what is fake. That level of discernment is simply not accessible to a casual audience. Many years of conversations with people have made that clear to me, and any assertion that the general public can tell the fake from the real is obtuse. It absolutely muddies the picture of these cultures, and that is profoundly unfair.
I have spent the last few years thinking on this. There has been a lot of being quiet, and a lot of listening. I have needed to step away from the comforting echo chamber of the world of “Tiki.” It’s very hard to shed biases when there is something to lose. I needed to be calm, and thoughtful, and get myself into alignment. Alignment with a wider picture, and alignment with my own values.
I have loved Critiki. I have loved immersing myself in history through it. I have loved getting to know the world a bit better through it. I have loved the many, many relationships I have made thanks to Critiki. And I can hold all that love, along with the reality that it is time for Critiki to go.
- Humuhumu Trott, September 2022
Critiki was an online database cataloging over 1,000 tiki bars and other Polynesian pop culture locations worldwide, past and present. It was created by Humuhumu Trott, and was in operation from 2002-2022.