I call it the ongoing quest for Tiki-consciousness. You probably call it something else, but I’m willing to bet that we’re looking for the same thing; and trust me we’re not alone! We follow a grand and glorious procession of humanity who, looking upon the world around them, have chosen the path of escapism – and the reasons aren’t hard to discover …
My day was one of those one’s where you are certain by 5:00 that there is something seriously wrong with the planetary alignments. Murphy’s Law has truly exerted itself above and beyond the call of duty. The actual events aren’t what matter here – what really matters is my interpretation of those events, and my responses to them. If I were an utter dolt I think I’d have a relatively simple life with very few cares. I firmly believe the old adage that ‘ignorance is bliss’ is true – it’s only when you start trying to figure things out that the headache sets in!
And so, typically, those of us with active minds and imaginations begin (at a very early age) to cope with the world around us. One of the most common coping tactics for individuals of average to above-average intelligence is escapism. This can be something as simple as burying one’s self in a good book, or as elaborate as adoption of an alternative lifestyle.
So “Why Tiki” you ask? That one is a little more difficult, but a few things are evident. First, many, if not most Westerners, whose roots are in the Judeo-Christian culture have the concept of Paradise Lost firmly ingrained in the psyche. Yep. That’s right, the whole snake and being tossed out of the Garden thing. We all know the story … life was good, no cares, free beer, along comes some hot babe breakin’ all the rules, next thing you know, you’re pulling double overtime just to feed the kids and make the bills.
The bottom line is that an ideal of a simple culture and an Earthly Paradise have long been parts of our accepted world view. In the Great Age of Discovery, Europeans were exploring a world and finding places that, outwardly at least (please remember this point since I’ll get back to it), resembled that idealized vision of the Earthly Paradise. Imagine yourself landing on a lush green shore, the blue sky melting into a deep blue sea, the gentle lapping of the waves against the sands … suddenly you hear a rustling in the bushes and before you have time to draw your weapon – out walk three women – completely naked! To make matters even better, once you get to know them … they think you’re a God! Today, sadly, we know all too well the tragic results of these meetings.
Now the first interesting bit. Many of those early explorers were just like you and me. That’s right! Read a couple of journals and first-hand accounts. They were tired of their “civilized” lives, they disliked their employers, the cities were crowded and dirty, the winters were cold, and many of the later explorers had heard “stories”. Mysterious lands where summer reigned and beautiful women were free for the taking … Paradise on Earth, right? Well, for some maybe, but not for most. As I’ve already mentioned, by the midpoint of the colonial era human exploitation and maladies brought to this “paradise” by the European newcomers had put the health and longevity of native inhabitants on many of the islands in serious jeopardy. Add to this the incalculable damage done by the introduction of Christianity by the well meaning Missionaries, and you have an extremely sad state of affairs. Gauguin, who fled his native France for Polynesia, actually attempted suicide after arriving in Polynesia; one must ask if perhaps things in Paradise were not so good as he might have imagined.
Now for the second, and to my mind, the even more interesting bit. The concept of this Earthly Paradise, first in the Caribbean and later in the Pacific was a wholly European view. How the native inhabitants of these regions viewed their world has seldom been investigated deeply enough to provide accurate insights into their world view. Interestingly, when we look at what we know of the histories of Polynesia and the Pacific region, we find an oral tradition that recounts centuries of tribal and familial warfare interspersed with periods of migration and discovery … the Polynesian diaspora, the colonization of the Hawaiian Islands. I can’t help but wonder, as they paddled and sailed across the vast open stretches of the Pacific Ocean, if these men too sought an Earthly Paradise far from the world they had known, free of the cares and troubles of every day life.
Perhaps it is something that lies within each of us as human beings regardless of our origin or culture, this insatiable longing for an escape from the ‘here and now’ into something new and different. We cherish our stability, but we long for change; an inexplicable and insolvable conflict that may be the single most important defining charisteristic of humanity. For my part, I’ll turn up the volume on the Exotica! album, take another sip of Mai-Tai, close my eyes, lie back on my faux leopardskin pillow, and dream once more of that tropical paradise where the living and the women are easy.