In our modern culture, the word "tiki" has generally come to be associated with the stereotypical island way of life: easy living on romantic, exotic islands. However, the word has its roots in an art form created by several island cultures.
The word "tiki" originally referred to a carved statue representing a Polynesian god. More generally, "tiki" can refer to any wood or stone carving made by Pacific islanders.
A tiki may be a twelve-foot wooden statue, a mask, or even carved from greenstone and worn around the neck as a talisman. Most tikis are depicted standing in the traditional Polynesian "power posture," which is head up, knees flexed, and arms held curved at the sides.
Many modern artists have recently taken up the art of carving tikis. Due to this surge in interest, seminars and schools are opening to teach newcomers how to create this art for themselves.
Because fine art critics do not acknowledge tiki artists as much as artists working in other genres, this art form is mainly judged by the public. This frees the tiki artist to focus on originality, symbolism, and craftsmanship over art theory and conforming to any set standards.
The original Polynesian carvers often tried to covey a "mana," or particular god, in each tiki. The tiki would convey the aspects of that "mana's" personality through facial expressions or other features.
Not Just for Decoration
Besides being an art form, tikis are also created for a wide variety of other purposes. Some tikis are considered magical objects and are used as a focus for telepathic influence in almost voodoo-like ceremonies.
Other tikis, carved with large mouths and threatening expressions, were placed in doorways to scare away evil spirits. Others are considered religious idols, or used for healing and good luck. Still others are created purely for decorative reasons.
Tiki carving was originally practiced on many separate islands, and each culture brought their own traditions to the art. For instance, only the high-ranking tribesmen from each island originally performed the Hawaiian style of tiki carving. The tikis carved by the tribesman were considered sacred, and were used in special ceremonies in their religious temples.
Unfortunately, very few original ancient tikis remain intact today. Those that have survived are mainly on display in museums.
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