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It's just a piece of wood

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I met a man recently who wants me to carve a very large "traditional" tiki from a palm tree. He insists it has to be traditional Polynesian style and that's fine with me. I can do it. The part that gets scary for me is, he wants to hire Polynesian dancers and invoke a spirit into the tiki, some kind of ceremony to make the tiki proper. He's a regular white guy. I'm just your average white guy, I don't have a speck of Polynesian blood in me. Born into the Christian faith, I'm pretty leery about doing this. For me it's just a piece of wood. Art at the most, just a tree for cryin' out loud. I carve as a hobby, it's fun and it's neat to see in a nice landscape. I really enjoy TC and the people I've met and the beauty and sharing of the Aloha spirit, but this my friends is crossing over the line. I guess I could carve it and then get the hell out of there.....but he might want me to stick around. I could see it now, he'll want me to carve a cannibal one...meanwhile out back he'll have a very large cauldron of boiling water, if you get my drift....nay seriously brethren....I swear I lost some sleep last night over this. Not much scares me....but this has my knees shakin'.

Your thoughts? (try to be serious)
As it is I've had people ask me how I respond when someone asks me if I consider all of this idol worship. My response is that it is just wood or stone or polymer clay. Just art.

[ Edited by: jungletrader on 2003-10-18 20:37 ]

Uhhh...(seriously) I'd be prone to think you have a genuine new age wacko there. Stay away...if you start hearing Enya music stay far, far away.

SES posted on Sat, Oct 18, 2003 8:57 PM

Not so strange. It isn't just a piece of wood. You have put some of yourself into it when you created it.


I know people here in TN who are as caucasian as any, who study and practice Huna. Nothing wacko about that.

Seems a bit backwards here to me. It's okay to take these sacred religious items from Polynesians and put them in bars and drink and party with them, but when someone wants to use them as sacred objects they have a problem? Imagine if you were asked to carve a cross and then said no because they wanted to put it in a church and have communion in front of it. But if they wanted to put it in a Goth bar, well that's okay.

I think you have your morals and ideals a little backwards. I know this may be dipping into religion here, but, it's legitimate discussion.

I have honestly considered spiritual work with my own tikis, but I would not do it. It's too far removed from my culture. But I do still respect the spirit of the objects I have.

Good point Swanky!


With all of the expert carvers on TC, I don't feel qualified to give my opinion. But not being an expert on something has never stopped me from giving my 2 cents before. :wink: I understand your fears, but I also respect the guy wanting to do it all the way. You can look at it from so many perspectives. But as the artist, your opinion is the only one that really counts right now. It must mean more to you than "just a piece of wood" or you wouldn't have these conflicting feelings. I say do whatever your heart and gut tells you. I think its a huge compliment to your work that he feels strongly enough to place such an honor on it. Just my 2 cents though. And I get the idol worship horse crap from friends too. They love to hassel me about it. PLEASE! :roll:

[ Edited by: dawntiki on 2003-10-18 21:30 ]


Think of the story you'll be able to tell about the tiki once it's finished!


Furthering what Swanky said, a rosary is really just beads until it's consecrated by a priest. And a church is just a building, an alter just a table. The blessing makes it sacred. And many of the people who worked on the great Gothic cathedrals were Jews (albeit covertly, what with that pesky Inquisition). So I think, go ahead, carve the wood, don't worry about any spiritual conflict of interest. (But make sure you think it's good enough to invite a god to live in!)

Hey JT, I'm with you. I don't derive any mystical or spiritual energy from my involvement in the tiki culture other than the joy the pure love of art, history and lifestyle brings into my life, home and relationships. I realize that the carved idols from past cultures held a sacred significance and I don't mean to trivialize that. The Book of Tiki is very specific about preserving and respecting historical landmarks, but at the same time, we should enjoy and pay tribute to these things we hold near and dear in a joyful and playful way. The Hawaiian word Aloha goes a little deeper than hello / goodbye...it means love of the land and love of the people. That's good enough for me.

Ride with it.
Humor him, and charge him another $200.00 for a ceramonial fee for the blessing of the chisels.

On 2003-10-19 02:00, Unga Bunga wrote:
Ride with it.
Humor him, and charge him another $200.00 for a ceramonial fee for the blessing of the chisels.

Don't forget the fee for the proper and respectful disposal of the chips :D

By it's origin a tiki is a temporary dwelling place for a diety. Don't get me wrong, I'm live and let live, but my own attitude would be "Once you've paid me for it, it's yours, and I shan't have further involvement" (although I am as adamant about a tiki's care and placement as an AKC dog breeder). Not to say you may not want to dance with them.

On 2003-10-18 20:26, jungletrader wrote:
some kind of ceremony to make the tiki proper.

I would go for convincing him the best way to consencrate the tiki as an offical temporary home for a god is by holding a huge drunken luau, with much cocktails and dancing. Tell him that if you as westerners tried to emulate the traditional concencration of a tiki the gods would get angry so you have to use the drinking and dancing method that has been used by carvers since the 50's.


You wouldn't be asked to carve the tiki unless you knew how. You're experienced... talented.

Conversely, you should steer away from any spirit-invoking matters since you don't have any knowledge of it.

What if the thing came to life and ate the dude? That'd be a party-wrecker for sure.
Worse yet, what if it drank all the rum?

Really though, I'd leave the spirit-trifling to the people comfortable with that stuff.

Put a time bomb inside of it so it explodes during the blesing. That'll teach em'!

it seems ok to create this peice for his ceremony as long as he is not invoking the spirit of wang chung, and planning to give that spirit a longterm home in your backyard.


On 2003-10-20 08:44, tikitanked wrote:
it seems ok to create this peice for his ceremony as long as he is not invoking the spirit of wang chung, and planning to give that spirit a longterm home in your backyard.

Why the hell not? Everybody Wang Chung tonight!

I would just do the job, get paid, & your done with it.

[ Edited by: Tiki Bird on 2003-10-20 12:40 ]


Jungletrader has opened up what I consider to be a very overlooked aspect of the Tiki culture, and Swanky was right to say that it is getting into religion, but he is also right in saying that it is a legitimate discussion to have here. The vast majority of folks I've met that are into Tiki are into the "pop culture" version of what once was(and still is to many) sacred religious expression. I am sure that an ambitious and so inclined "Politically Correct" advocate could have a field day with the whole idea of Tiki pop cuture. Sure, most of us see this as harmless fun that is really not meant to be taken too seriously, but so was the pop version of Native American culture that ended up as cigar store carvings and mascots for all kinds of professional sporting teams. Many don't have a problem with the Chiefs or the Redskins, etc,, but many do. I sometimes can't help but wonder what an indigenous island people would think of a bunch of Westerners adorning their bars, pubs and taverns with cartoon versions of their sacred deities and, as Swanky said, "getting drunk with them". As many of you know, I too create Tikis, and whenever anyone has tried to place too heavy of an importance on the Tikis I make, I laugh it off and try to explain that these are just cartoon versions and not meant to be taken too seriously. But imagine what might happen if someone was carving cartoon Indians and tomahawks and trying to sell them at a booth at a swap meet, or the state fair! Every person with a thimbles worth of Indian blood would be highly offended, and the ACLU would shut them down- or worse. Someone please tell me why Polynesian Pop(not our beloved member, but the entire scene!!!) has not yet entered the sights of the PC police? What makes having fun with one culture OK and another taboo?
Keep in mind I live in the great Northwest where Political Correctness is the order of the day and there are any number of jack booted thugs that are here to make sure it stays that way. If you are fortunate enough to live in a place where the uptight do gooders have not yet taken over, perhaps you have not yet been forced to deal with these uncomfortable and delicate issues. I am deeply sorry if I have bummed anyone out by this post, but I feel it's a topic worthy of a bit of soul searching.

Kim posted on Mon, Oct 20, 2003 5:00 PM

I think that both Swanky and Seamus (and a bunch of other folks) have excellent points on this subject.

For the record, I'd guess that Tiki Pop is considered okay because Tiki art is generally made up of very stylized representations, which are similar to the original sacred object, while the cartoon-y “Injuns” and other novelty “native” stuff is a foreign representation that’s dumbed down by outsiders. Unless you’re looking at an obviously “inspired by” piece like, tikifreak’s carvings, or you’re an expert, it would be tough to say if a particular tiki was done by Basement Kahuna or a genuine Polynesian islander. On the other hand, actual Native American artists generally don’t create cartoon “Injuns” (though there is at least one who does modern pop-y art using traditional native symbols).

As far as this particular instance goes, I’d say that jungletrader should do what he feels comfortable with, and he sounds like he’s uncomfortable with this situation. I would also say that, regardless of whether you think that the buyer is nutty or not, that it’s not particularly cool to spit in the face of another’s belief system. If you’re okay with doing the art for art’s sake, fine, but don’t make a mockery of the guy. If you wouldn’t care for it if someone did it to you (or something you held sacred), don’t do it to someone else.

Jungle Trader- I had (note the past tense) an acquaintance who is a person of strong faith. We worked on a float (Rose Parade) together. When I mentioned the whole tiki thing, she instantly replied that ALL tikis were imbued with spirits making them idols (false idols in her opinion). Thinking I would change her mind by telling her that I carved tikis as a hobby and that I didn't inbue them with anything sort of backfired. She won't talk to me. Oh well.


Although I think this is an interesting subject, I actually don't know what the question really is. When we ask whether something is "considered" ok or not, and why, there's always the relative issue of who you're trying to be sensitive to. Many polynesians have a sense of humor about tikis and their pop counterparts, some polynesians don't know anything about tiki at all, and probably there are a few (though I've never met any) who are sober and indignant about the whole thing. But are we supposed to be concerned about the indignant ones when we decorate our homes? Probably a few men on TC (and women), have an image or two of bare-breasted women on their walls, either of the pinup variety or the exotic polynesian. There are obviously very large groups who find this kind of thing offensive, so does that make it bad? I'd say it doesn't matter. If someone finds any of the decor in my house offensive, they are welcome to not visit. Otherwise, their right to tell me what is ok or not extends about as far as my right to tell them similarly.

A long time ago in a sort of similar thread here, Trader Woody (where is that uber-poster these days?) drew a good comparison to "noggins" - basically dumbed down cartoony viking figures. Hey, those are great, and they originate from viking country! The thing is, a sense of whimsy about the different features and histories of different cultures, including one's own, is a very charming quality. It even shows a certain level of sophistication. This is why I sometimes think it's sad when people are so vociferous about eliminating all "cartoony" or whimsical representations of various cultures - because it reveals a pretty bleak world view where they assume everyone's humorless and no one has enough sophistication of their own to see things for what they are. Even when somebody does something intentionally offensive, it seems better if we all see it for what it is - a product of a primitive or bigoted mind - and laugh it off for what it reveals about the source rather than getting all worked up about the thing itself. Anything more than that is devoting undeserved attention.

Take any group defined by racial lines, gender lines, religious lines, political lines, or whatever, and consider the person who presumes that this group needs some kind of paternal filter to shield them from certain things on the chance that they might find them offensive. To me, this kind of person seems to be presuming that he/she possesses a higher level of sophistication than the group that "needs" shielding, which is a pretty condescending pretense in itself. Personally, I'd rather be around someone who can laugh and make fun of everyone, including himself, over someone who doesn't want anyone to laugh at anyone. Unfortunately there are humorless people like that, and unfortunately they're often the squeaky wheels, but that still doesn't mean anyone has to actually pay attention to them.

Long-winded, but that's my take on this kind of issue.



I myself would be honored to have a role in something like this. Based on your tone, this carving is something that the client is sincere about, and the ceremony is not just for some comedic effect. Think of all those old movies, where the new person is invited into a peacepipe ceremony, or to share in some other ritual that they know nothing about - perhaps a drink from some tribal cup, or to join the rest of the community in dancing. In that sense, it can be part of the exotic journey, to sample a part of the world which you formally knew nothing about. Even the Brady Bunch did something like this when they made their Hawaii trek!

There are many different interpretations for bringing 'spirits to life.' I doubt that this person expects the tiki to start walking around when the moon is full. Perhaps he is concerned with having to destroy a formerly living tree, simply for his backyard decor. This ceremony could be a form of expressing hope that the carving will help him inspire to do better things in the future, and not simply be some trendy thing for display. The ceremony could be simply a form of saying 'Thanks,' just as so many people say grace before meals for the food presented before them.

How about relaying your thoughts and concerns to your potential client? My guess is that he would be more than happy to share his views with you, and you might walk away being even more inspired to do this carving. I know that I would jump at the chance to be able to share thoughts and views with a more artistic type, especially if the carving were to end up in my backyard. He might just be a guy with some unusual beliefs, like some eccentric uncle, and you will have some great stories to tell later. On the other hand, you might discover something that makes you even more uncomfortable, and then you would feel a bit better about declining this job.


Tiki Central is a place to have fun.

I had to tone this post down. (another late night post)

A Tiki Cheers To You!

[ Edited by: Unga Bunga on 2003-10-21 09:13 ]


Please don't take offense because I will be blunt. It sounds like you have a problem with your prospective client's religious request. If it really bothers you then there should be no question. But, if you are indecisive you have to decide which god is more important to you-your Christian one or the almighty dollar.

Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. The adventurous side of me wants to watch the ceremony without being part of it. If the guy insists I be a part......I'm bailing and I'll let some of the other carvers know, so they might have an opportunity to do it. When I told him it would cost 100 bucks a foot for chainsaw carving 7 or 8 feet, he asked "how much for hammer and chisel?" I think money is no object for him, so you guys and gals that do h & c might be able to get 200 a foot.

:music:Timothy Leary's dead, Oh no he's outside, looking in.:music:

To add to this, I don't think this guy is one bit "religious", he wants it to be "authentic""traditional", according to ancient Polynesians, but it seems like we might getting into semantics here. No offense taken. Some might call it a "pagan ritual" which then would be offensive and hurtful to the one who died on the cross according to the Christian faith. I think I better stop talking about this.

[ Edited by: jungletrader on 2003-10-20 23:16 ]

[ Edited by: jungletrader on 2003-10-20 23:26 ]

[ Edited by: jungletrader on 2003-10-23 20:30 ]

Charge him extra for carving a tiki with space inside for mana, then get the cash before you carve -- just in case the spirits persuade him this was a bad idea and he can't go through with it no matter how much he really, really, really likes the tiki.


If it were me, I'd carve it. As far as the "invoking the spirits", that's his deal and his belief, unfortunatelly, he's probably making a mockery of Polynesian religion. If he wants "authentic" he should already know which "god" he wants you to represent, so, most likely, he is superficial with his intent. But, if you've lost sleep over it, then, you're probably going to continue to worry about it, long after the ceremony, so then, don't do it.

Seamus, I'm just waiting for the day when I'm confronted by someone who thinks I'm making a mockery of their religion. It is a touchy field we're in. I don't consider my tikis "authentic" but I do feal like I'm continuing a visual history that helps perpetuate the idea of the original beliefs.

SES posted on Tue, Oct 21, 2003 4:42 PM

On 2003-10-21 15:47, tikitony wrote:
I don't consider my tikis "authentic" but I do feal like I'm continuing a visual history that helps perpetuate the idea of the original beliefs.

I feel that way about your tikis too!
One is happily watching over my studio at the moment.

On 2003-10-20 21:46, Unga Bunga wrote:
Tiki Central is a place to have fun.

I had to tone this post down. (another late night post)

A Tiki Cheers To You!

No offense Unga, but this type of discussion is something that I feel TC has been missing for quite some time now. I'm actually enjoying the friendly debate here as I can relate to both sides of this argument. So please, if you are not interested in adding to the discussion, please skip over the post.

Bubble up!

So JT, ya gonna tell us what you decided?

Didja or dintcha?

PremEx posted on Wed, Dec 6, 2006 8:02 PM

Newbie question here:

In ancient Polyenisia...did the mana or mojo or whatever spirit the tiki was supposed to have was called...come from the carver? Was the carver empowered in some way? Or was it already in the wood? Or was it "layered" on before or after the carving by some Kahuna?


teaKEY posted on Wed, Dec 6, 2006 8:03 PM

I say didn't cause JT would have posted many moons ago about it. I can see that guys piont in whating a real tiki, who wouldn't what the real thing(and no the real thing isn't alive, just made in South Pacific or maybe now came from a tikibar).

I talked to and met the man only once. I never heard from him again. ooooh mystery.

I feel different about it now. Heck yeah I would carve it. It's out of my hands once it's sold.
If it happened and I was there as a witness, I could view it objectively, as an outsider. Maybe even film the event.

To answer Premex's question, carvers were in a similar class than the Kahunas, or priests. Maybe not right up there with the holy men, but they had their own traditions and rituals with which they would imbue the wood they were working on. But in old Polynesia, this was the case with many activities that were an act of creation. That's why in old dance ceremonies, sexuality was not hidden, but sanctified: everyday life and spirituality were not separate.
I would say that for today's carvers it is a question of intention that provides their work with mana. If you do it because you are inspired by tradition (authentic OR pop), and want to ad to it and to the beauty in the world, and you do your best at it, that will shine through.
There is no need to resurrect old rituals...but it is interesting.

The Christian/Pagan dichotomy is part of the fascination of Tiki for me, only in opposition with each other if you choose it to be. Tiki fever shows the ability to be open minded and unorthodox, the kind of non-judgmental, Christian spirituality I subscribe to.

Hey JT I'm glad you BUMPED this post and told the final scenario....albeit bland in comparison to the beginning story.

I'm not sure why you bumped it after 3 years in dormancy?

It was a fun read and I agreed most with aquari/Randy's post.

I generally keep 2 topics as taboo for discussion - POLITICS and RELIGION!


For ME Tiki is a throw back to a more relaxed and fun point in History. I enjoy it's Kitsch factor. I enjoy the islands and things that remind me of good times there!

And if some asks you again, this is what I learned in my college class ANTHROPOLOGY 108 "MAGIC, WITCHCRAFT AND HEALING from a CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE", the only way to give POWER to any item, (Crucifix, Tiki, Buddha figure), is for the person to BELIEVE that it has power! In other words, somebody can't cast a Voodoo Curse on you if YOU DON'T BELIEVE IT WILL DO SOMETHING BAD TO YOU!

If it's against YOUR personal beliefs don't do it....no need to rationalize it.

This country is sick with all it's PC BS.

If you're worried about offending Polynesian culture call this one for their side........ :lol:

PremEx posted on Thu, Dec 7, 2006 9:30 PM

Thank You, bigbrotiki. :)


I'll be your huckleberry!!!

This reminds me of an incident that happened when I was in nursing school (many moons ago). I was working as a nurse's aide in various hospitals to get experience and make some spending money. I was working a PM shift in a Pediatric ward. There was a young African-American boy (who wasn't my patient) who was dying of cancer that neede to receive some oral medications. Nobody on the floor wanted to go to his room to give him his medications because the family had arranged for an exorcisim and the ritual was underway and would last for a couple of hours. I volunteered to give the boy his medications, so headed down the hall with everyone looking after me like it was my last day on earth. I entered the room....all the lights were off and the place was filled with candles. They had moved the bed into the middle of the room, the priest was at the head of the bed and the boy's family was all in a circle around the bed and they were all chanting and swaying. They acted as if I wasn't even there. I gave the boy his medications and left as soon as I could....mostly in hopes of not disturbing their ritual. All the staff on the floor wanted to know what happened when I was in the room, so I told them and they just looked at me like I was the bravest person in the world for going in the room.

Bottom line is, if your customers wants to do some special ceremonies for their tikii, you do not have to partake in the ceremony, you are simply a supplier of a product...the artist of his icon. It is a good experience to see how others use their spritual powers, but you do not have to feel included in the ritual. It is just best to be respectful of other's practices. You may want to avoid human sacrifice practices though....LOL.

FATIMA BLUSH: Oh, how reckless of me. I made you all wet.

JAMES BOND: Yes, but my martini is still dry.

[ Edited by: VampiressRN 2006-12-08 06:25 ]


On 2006-12-07 20:04, Dr.TikiMojo wrote:
Hey JT I'm glad you BUMPED this post and told the final scenario....albeit bland in comparison to the beginning story.

I'm not sure why you bumped it after 3 years in dormancy?

I'd say it was bumped as a "shot in the arm".

Thanks for bringing this great read back up...I would have never found it.


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