Here is a brief history of tiki torches, from its origins in Polynesian/Hawaiian culture, to the spread of tiki culture across America in the 1930s.
The Polynesian Goddess of Fire And Light
Tiki torches originated from Polynesian culture. The word Tiki itself refers to wood and stone objects, carved to resemble human beings. The torches are a sign of fertility, and used in religious ceremonies to pay respects to the tiki gods. In Polynesian culture, these “torches of fire” were a symbol of Pele, the goddess of fire and light.
The tiki fire torches began becoming popular in America in the 1930s, as Americans became enthused about Pacific Island culture and started adopting and assimilating Polynesian and Hawaiian decorations into American culture and decor. The phrase “tiki torch” was actually coined by an American business in Torrance, California. The business he founded was called The Tiki Torch Corporation, and the first torches it manufactured were actually made of metal and painted black, as opposed to the bamboo torches that became the norm for tiki lights and are popular even today.
It is rumored that restaurateur Ernest Gantt helped popularize tiki torches in the early 1930s when he used them in his Polynesian themed restaurant and bar, Don the Beachcomber. The Huntington, California restaurant became quite popular, and as it did, the style became popular as well, and soon spread to other restaurants. In just a little bit of time, bars and restaurants that used the torches as part of their design scheme became commonly known as tiki bars.
Modern Tiki Torches Coming to Age
Tiki torches continued to grow in popularity, peaking in popularity around 1950s and 1960s in America, although they are commonly found today as well. As time went on, tiki torches have been modernized and can be found crafted out of a number of metal materials. In some landscapes they are permanent tiki lighting fixtures that are connected to a gas pipe for easier control, and less maintenance. There are tiki lamps that can be used on tabletops, patios, and decks. You can also find citronella tiki torches which act as an organic and natural insect repellent while they burn.
Starting out as a part of tiki history, tiki torches are now integrated in landscape lighting for gardens, swimming pools, beaches, resorts, and beach parties around the world. Visit the L+L LOOK BOOK to see a range of tiki torch photos.