The Tiki Hut … or Chickee Hut of Florida
By Kelly Dean
Tiki pop culture is evident about anywhere the weather is tropical in nature, including Florida. Originally based upon Pacific Ocean Polynesian culture, the style took off in the mid-1930s in California and really grew after World War II throughout the United States and abroad, including the Atlantic Ocean. Servicemen returning from the Pacific theater had stories of exotic places and odd customs and the theme resonated.
Tiki actually refers to sculpture depicting early man and woman based upon a New Zealand god named Tane. Surrounding islands had their own versions regarding early creation, and art to depict it, but tiki elements were all through the warm Pacific islands.
But Polynesian culture isn’t the only source of “tikidom” because Native Americans on the Florida peninsula also built huts with palm thatch roofs and often raised the floors with pine to avoid flooding. One Native American group, the Seminoles, called them chickee huts. They know little of Polynesian culture, that’s for certain. So the huts developed in parallel among to disassociated groups.
Floridians like to add a bit of Latin culture to the tiki culture as well. One is more likely to be drinking a Mexican margarita or beer than a mai tai.
The exotic and sexy tropical theme always appealed to people from wartime until the mid-70s when tropical themes “cooled” somewhat. It picked up again in the late 90s and is still going strong as a design element for bars and oceanside homes. It’s hard to throw a rock without hitting a tiki-themed bar, complete with exotic-named rum drinks flowing freely to patrons, both tourists and locals.
Freestanding tiki huts are built on commercial structures to enhance the theme and to provide shade for employees selling waterside goods and services.
As a natural extension, private homeowners often build tiki huts near their pools and on boat docks. This enhances the tropical theme while providing shade as well. Serving drinks under them is optional, but common. Tiki huts can be installed inside screened-in lanais adjacent to a pool, giving that indoor and outdoor experience at the same time.
Indeed, the tropics wouldn’t be the same without the tiki hut. Without words, it just typifies ocean life.