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Hawaii tourism goes authentic: What's not Hawaiian

Associated Press Modified: September 7, 2012 at 9:32 am •  Published: September 7, 2012

HONOLULU (AP) — Walk along the shops in Waikiki and it isn't hard to come across vendors selling knickknacks of a fake Hawaii — no, the Aloha State doesn't have wild monkeys or parrots. Lei aren't plastic and don't cost 99 cents — they're supposed to be made of real flowers.

Here are some other symbols that have become associated with Hawaii that aren't, well, Hawaiian.


Two California restaurants, Trader Vics and Don the Beachcomber, started the tiki bar phenomenon in the 1930s. Both opened branches in Honolulu the following decade.

Tiki is a word for carved figure in Maori, the language of the indigenous people of New Zealand. The bars often feature wood carvings, sometimes cartoonish, that vaguely resemble kii, or sacred Hawaiian carved figures of deities and family guardians.

DeSoto Brown, historian at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, said the restaurants never tied themselves to a specific location. Instead they were based on a fantasy that the proprietors were mercantilists or scavengers who traveled the Pacific.

The restaurants evolved further after World War II, and spread around the country to become a national fad.

"Those two guys invented tropical cocktails, gave them funny names and put little accessories in them. Like zombie this, mai tai that," Brown said.


They were introduced to Hawaii by immigrants to Hawaii from the Gilbert Islands (small atolls that are today part of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati) in the 1870s and 1880s.

Brown said Hawaiian hula dancers most likely started wearing them in performances while traveling on the U.S. mainland vaudeville circuit. The skirts were practical because they were dry and thus easy to carry to the mainland.

Hawaiians traditionally wore skirts made from fresh ti leaves, which can't be found on the mainland. By early 1900s, hula performers in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland wore grass skirts. Some hula performers still wear grass skirts today.

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