Tiki time

words and photos by edward badham

Christie White (aka Tiki Kiliki)

Tiki-The first Man. Hukilau-Traditionally a form of group net fishing from the beach invented by the Hawaiians in which all who take part share in the catch. Also a festive beach gathering. Tiki Kiliki-Birmingham’s Christie White, founder, chief and hostess of the largest Tiki gathering in the world, every June in Ft. Lauderdale.

The Tiki is a pop culture icon as familiar as the Barbie doll. Everyone knows a tiki when they see one, but very few people understand its cultural significance. In the mythology of the Pacific Islands, Tiki is the First Man. He represents innocence, love and even sex. He is the Adam of ancient Polynesian and Maori lore. As a modern icon, he has become the ambassador of the slow-paced,  good-time island lifestyle. We all want an easier, more carefree existence, and Tiki can offer that, if only for a spell.

When I visited Christie White (aka Tiki Kiliki) in her home near Montclair Road, I was amazed by her grace and elegance. From what I had heard, and based on my own misconceptions of Tiki culture, I expected to be overwhelmed by personality and gaudy Hawaiian motifs vomited throughout the house. Instead I was warmly greeted by the colorful, voluptuous, red-haired beauty as she ushered me into her stylish, retro-modern, tiki-infused abode.

over 600 tikis of all shapes and sizes lurk about this Montclair home.

“Mai Tai?” White asked me immediately.  Without waiting for an answer, she set to the delicate task of fashioning a  “Trader Vic”  Mai Tai. She is quick to tell you this is the only true Mai Tai and, as always, it is made with fresh-squeezed lime juice. “A true Mai-Tai is a well-crafted cocktail invented in 1944 by Victor ‘Trader Vic” Bergeron, not a hot-pink pineapple slushie with a silly umbrella,” White says.

Polynesian music filled the air, and over 600 tikis of all shapes and sizes lurked about, standing watch dutifully over our little soiree. As the Mai Tais flowed and the conversation gently drifted along, shifting from tikis to the City of Birmingham, to fashion, architecture and pin-up photography, I was wafted away into another world. One may argue that it was the multiple shots of rum and liqueur poured gingerly and repeatedly into my glass.  I say I was swept away by the Tiki lifestyle.

At the height of the Tiki culture revolution in the mid 1960’s, Elvis trumpeted the lifestyle in his  movies,  The Brady Bunch had an Hawaiian Tiki adventure, and one could find a Luau or a Tiki bar  in almost any midsize town in America. Even Birmingham was the home of Dobb’s House LuAu. But with the arrival of the 1970s, a time of big hair, platform shoes, disco music and mainstream porn, the Tiki all but vanished from the cultural radar.

Today Tiki is on the rise. Starting in the mid-1990’s, tiki style began its comeback and today, with Tiki Kaliki as its champion, this Neo Tiki movement is alive and growing strong. “Tiki is a lifestyle,” White says. “I choose to surround myself with this ‘faux’ Polynesia because, to be honest, it’s fun. To escape into this forgotten world is paradise right here in Alabama.” She has friends all over the world that share her passion. Kaliki is a celebrity at almost any Tiki bar in the country. They roll out the red carpet and bring on the Mai Tais when they see her coming. She is a virtual goddess to be revered second only to the Tiki himself (Some myths state that the Tiki, first man, was made by a woman). TK is also the founder,  chief and hostess of the largest Tiki gathering in the world, The Hukilau. It is the “Tiki-con” of the Neo Tiki’s and an all-out party. It had its origins in Atlanta but is now held in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. This year they will celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Hukilau. Thousands will descend upon Ft. Lauderdale beginning  June 9, donning their island prints and bearing  their prized bottle of rum to commence the party of a lifetime.Learn more at thehukilau.com.•

Mai Tai

Mai Tai

from Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s Grog Log

1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice

1/2 ounce Orange Curaçao

1/4 ounce Orgeat syrup

1/4 ounce Rock Candy syrup

1 ounce aged Jamaican Rum

1 ounce Martinique Rum

Serve in double old-fashioned glass filled with crushed ice and spent lime shell. Garnish with fresh mint sprig.

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