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Wanganui: The Tiki Tour
Club Nouméa
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 03, 2010
Posts: 342
From: Wanganui
Posted: 2010-11-22 2:44 pm   Permalink

Thanks Sven!

Wanganui is an interesting place in terms of Maori culture, but unlike Rotorua, it does not wear its tikis on its sleeve - you have to go looking for them. I have the impression that many of the locals would not have seen or even know about various of the carvings featured here.

Doubtless there are still a few more around town that I have missed, and there are various interesting sites up the Whanganui River too, so I may be busy longer than I first imagined when I started this thread.

CN
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Club Nouméa
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Joined: May 03, 2010
Posts: 342
From: Wanganui
Posted: 2010-12-05 04:50 am   Permalink

Part 6: Tiki Culture's Missing Link: The Wanganui Savage Club

In Part 6 of the Wanganui Tiki Tour, we investigate a missing link in tiki culture...

Our story begins in London in the 1850s with George Augustus Sala, a journalist and author whose works were published in reviews by Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, among others:



On 8 October 1857, Mr Sala called a meeting of gentlemen at the Crown Tavern in Drury Lane, London, to "confer upon the expediency of forming a social society or club, hereafter to receive a suitable designation":



The outcome of this meeting was the creation of the Savage Club, originally intended to be a somewhat irreverent literary club, which was named after one Richard Savage, a minor 18th-century satirical poet with a dubious background. Savage was a friend of Dr Johnson's, and had a reputation as being a violent man who had a lifetime of quarrels and brawls, one of which he killed a man in. He was also successfully prosecuted for libel, and was imprisoned for being a delinquent debtor. This London club met fortnightly for dinners, followed by entertainment, and such was its success that counterparts began popping up all over the British Empire.

Out in the colonies and dominions, the name "Savage Club" was given a further twist through cultural associations that were not originally intended by the London club, but were just as irreverent. In Canada for example, local chapters adopted Pacific Northwest Indian icons and customs. So it was only natural that when, in 1891, the first Savage Club in New Zealand was founded, it should adopt the iconography and customs of the local Maori:



The Wanganui chapter was the first of a series of Savage Clubs across New Zealand, some of which were established as far away as Christchurch and Oamaru, in the South Island. Like the Paramount Savage Club in Wanganui, other branches also adopted Polynesian imagery. Here is a badge from the New Plymouth Savage Club:



Like the original London Savage Club, the New Zealand Savage Clubs would meet every few weeks for food, drink, and entertainment, but unlike the English originators, the New Zealand clubs adopted the ceremonial titles, clothing, and symbols of indigenous Maori: The Club President was called the "Rangatira" (Chief), and wore a Maori korowai (cloak) and a hei-tiki around his neck:



Tikis are clearly visible on 6 of these paintings of Wanganui Savage Club Rangatiras from the mid-20th century. In the late-20th century, ordinary members wore green blazers with the emblem of the Wanganui Savage Club stitched onto their breast pocket:



A major part of the Savage Clubs was the evening entertainment which, in addition to local members, was provided periodically by visiting performers from other chapters, all of whom would be greeted by singing of the Savage Club song:



It is interesting to speculate on what the covered-up and amended words in this song originally were. Judging from the rhyme on line 3, it is safe to assume that the original word covered over by "members" was "hori". For North American readers unfamiliar with this term, although in the 19th century this was originally just an informal name for Maori, over the years it has come to assume racist overtones, and nowadays it is just as taboo in New Zealand as the "N-word" is in the US.

While I do not have statistics at hand, judging from the photos and paintings hanging on the walls of the Wanganui Savage Club Hall, the majority of members were white, which makes the cultural significance of such customs open to various interpretations. Defenders of the Savage Club ethos point to the adoption of Maori emblems, clothing and culture as being indicative of a group of Pakeha (European) non-conformists who adopted indigenous Polynesian culture to show what free-thinkers they were. A less charitable PC approach would point out that a high level of European cultural paternalism is evident in the following imagery from the club's walls, along with a whiff of racism:



Note the image in the lower left-hand corner of the 3 gentlemen clad as Maoris standing around a cooking pot.

And then there is the title of the following revue organised by the Wanganui Savage Club in the 1950s:



There is some cultural sidestepping here, as the "native" depicted alongside the "Kannibal Kapers" heading is clearly an African, but for those unfamiliar with New Zealand history, ritual cannibalism was performed by the Maori in these islands into the 19th century, and mentioning these practices remains one of the great cultural taboos here. To put it mildly, these reminders of that past hanging on the Savage Club's walls are not shining examples of cultural sensitivity.

Still, setting aside these unpleasant echoes from the past, let's have a look at the architectural heritage provided by the Wanganui Savage Club Hall, located in the old museum building on Drews Ave (Queens Park Hill). It calls for some substantial revisionism of tiki culture history. Readers of books such as "Tiki Modern" will be forgiven for thinking that Polynesian style was first appropriated by Europeans for dining, drinking and social venues by Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber in California in the 1930s. Actually, the idea seems to have originated four decades earlier, in the 1890s, in Wanganui:



119 years after it was founded, the tiki-themed Savage Club survives through this venue, which is still being used for social events. The following are photos I took on Friday 3 December 2010:

General view from the foyer:



The back wall:



Close-up view of the back wall:



The stage:



Close-ups of the stage:







The side walls feature more Maori-style pieces and landscape scenes, along with the emblems of affiliated clubs:





The identical tikis along the side walls look late-20th century, and various other carvings look early to mid-20th century, but the two tiki carvings flanking the stage appear quite venerable, and I would not be surprised if they were older.

I can hear gasps of shocked disbelief from defenders of Californian tiki culture all the way across the Pacific. But can any of them point to a similar Polynesian-themed social club in California that dates back to the 1890s?

CN

















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[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2010-12-05 04:56 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2010-12-05 05:06 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2010-12-05 14:55 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2010-12-05 22:02 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2011-03-24 03:36 ]


 
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Bay Park Buzzy
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Joined: Apr 07, 2006
Posts: 2842
From: West Bay Park, San Diego, CA
Posted: 2010-12-15 10:01 am   Permalink

Thanks for taking the the time to do all this. It's a vey enjoyable thread for me. Well done!

Buzzy Out!
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hiltiki
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Joined: Jun 10, 2004
Posts: 3109
From: Reseda, calif.
Posted: 2010-12-15 5:06 pm   Permalink

I agree with Buzzy, this is an interesting thread for me also, I look forward to your updates.

 
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TikiG
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Joined: Jun 17, 2008
Posts: 1542
From: Riverside, California
Posted: 2010-12-15 5:11 pm   Permalink

Bravo!!

 
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bigbrotiki
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Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11154
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2010-12-16 1:26 pm   Permalink

Absolutely FAN-TASTIC! That clubhouse stage, the whole place, amazing! Reminds me a little bit of early Shriners and Masons lodges, except they were decorated with oriental imagery. How wonderful that this place has remained intact and un-renovated. Thank you for those pictures. Great research!

I appreciate your sensitive comments about some of the material's un-p.c.-ness too. To me, questions of racism cannot be judged from today's standpoint only, but have to be regarded from the perspective of what the reality was in their own time: Even though some Westerners had a fascination and love for the native arts and cultures, most of them could not divest themselves from the sense of superiority over indigenous people that they had been brought up with for centuries. It took the better part of the 20th century for the realization to sink in that that kind of thinking was not necessarily based on facts.

Luckily, we know better now (well most of us do), but to censor and hide proof of earlier, un-educated attitudes is a mistake in my view (obviously ). Examples of such should be seen as what they were in their own time. (..and I am not saying this suggesting YOU are not doing that, C.N.!)

And here's my take on this part of your post:

[quote]
On 2010-12-05 04:50, Club Nouméa wrote:
"Readers of books such as "Tiki Modern" will be forgiven for thinking that Polynesian style was first appropriated by Europeans for dining, drinking and social venues by Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber in California in the 1930s. Actually, the idea seems to have originated four decades earlier, in the 1890s, in this unassuming Victorian-era corrugated iron hall in Wanganui."

Forgive me if I aim to clarify: "Tiki style" and "Polynesian pop" are a uniquely American pop culture phenomenon. They form their own cohesive world, with its own history, customs, style, icons and language. Of course they were not isolated, but inspired by many ideas and sources which existed ever since the discovery of the Polynesian islands (as I related in the Book of Tiki and in Tiki Modern) all over the Western world. I mention Goethe and Utopian societies in Germany and Russia that had the goal to escape to a South Seas paradise in his time. If I would have had the space to go into it, I would have gone further into the history of the Tahitian murals that King Friedrich Wilhelm had painted in his pleasure palace in 1794 (Tiki Modern page 72) But these were NOT the origin of what I call Polynesian pop. They are all examples of a long history of the fascination of the Western world with Polynesia.

One key point for the definition of Polynesian pop is that it is a recreation of the culture AWAY from its source, in another country. Yes there were Tikis in Hawaii, and in Tahiti and so on, but they mingled general tourist culture with native culture, and as such did not have the same degree of aesthetic separation from the source (not to say that SOME did not, but not in a cohesive quantity and style that formed its own genre).
As wonderful and amazing as the Wanganui Savage Club House is, it is part of a very specific history in New Zealand of how Maori art was appropriated by the European immigrants in its own country, how they sponsored native Maori carvers, and by doing so influenced their carving style, and so on. But I cannot see any direct relation to American Polynesian pop here. The unique genre of American Tiki style/Poly pop was pervasive in all walks of life in the United States, and even spread to Great Britain, Spain, and Mexico*. OTHER pop versions of Polynesian style certainly existed in other places of the world, but they did not form one unifiable pop genre that had as large of an influence.

*Dang, I forgot Canada, sorry Dan

[ This Message was edited by: bigbrotiki 2010-12-16 16:16 ]


 
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bigbrotiki
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Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11154
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2010-12-16 3:02 pm   Permalink

C.N., please do not take this as a "rebuttal" or attempt of diminishing your discovery, which has high merit on its own. I simply try to continuously differentiate and clarify when it comes to the definition of Tiki style, because there is so much confusion out there. Next thing you know, someone would post on a blog somewhere "Well I heard that BEFORE Don The Beachcomber there was a New Zealand social club house where..." and then that would perpetuate and spread and...

Well, I don't REALLY believe that that would happen, since realistically nobody else but me gives a rat's ass about these technicalities. But you successfully elicited my response by anticipating "...gasps of shocked disbelief from defenders of Californian tiki culture..."
I think my gasp is the only one you're gonna get.


 
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Club Nouméa
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Joined: May 03, 2010
Posts: 342
From: Wanganui
Posted: 2010-12-16 9:09 pm   Permalink

Thanks for the thought-provoking comments, Sven. I partly wrote those provocative (but not THAT serious) comments to see if anyone would "bite", and to get people thinking.

I am greatly interested by your definition of what constitutes "Polynesian pop" and "Tiki style" as (along with Chile) New Zealand is one of the few countries other than the United States with a dominant European population and culture where Polynesians constitute an ethnic and cultural minority, and I have been wondering why we don't have tiki bars and restaurants here (and never have had, as far as I can tell). Part of it is to do with geographical proximity: Polynesia is not an "exotic" place when you live in a country that forms part of it. Another related aspect is cultural sensitivity, while yet another part of it is to do with the fact that at the time Polynesian pop culture flourished in the United States, most New Zealanders still saw themselves as being the Englishmen of the South Seas.

The Savage Club was a complete eye-opener for me, and I am still trying to size up its cultural implications, both in relation to New Zealand, and Polynesian pop culture generally. It runs counter to my previous preconceptions of how these generations of white New Zealanders tended to publicly interact with Polynesian culture.

My initial impression is that when it was formed, the Savage Club actually had little to do directly with the local Maori community here, which very much makes its existence just as paradoxical and out of place as the existence of a "Polynesian-style" dining establishment like Trader Vic's in Oakland. And the idea of local Europeans dressing up in Maori ceremonial costume etc. and getting together in this hall still seems extremely bizarre. This is a whole chapter in New Zealand's cultural history that most New Zealanders know nothing about, in addition to which the club's existence does seem to have wider implications when viewed alongside the cultural developments outlined in your books, even if it occurred in isolation from what happened in mid-century North America.

I would contend that there is a distinct tiki culture in New Zealand that is not necessarily authentic, and may even be despised by Maori for its lack of authenticity. The Savage Club offers a prime example.

So if anyone else has any thoughts, please feel free to contribute.

CN

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[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2010-12-17 00:13 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2010-12-17 00:15 ]


 
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bigbrotiki
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Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11154
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2010-12-17 08:49 am   Permalink

Quote:

On 2010-12-16 21:09, Club Nouméa wrote:
...and I have been wondering why we don't have tiki bars and restaurants here (and never have had, as far as I can tell). Part of it is to do with geographical proximity: Polynesia is not an "exotic" place when you live in a country that forms part of it. Another related aspect is cultural sensitivity....



Proximity and cultural sensitivity are exactly two of the reasons that I always mention why Tiki style did not take off in the Hawaiian islands on the same level than in the States. When far away, it's a case of "the grass is always greener on the other side": But when you are AT the exotic place, what is there left to desire? And there is much less room for your imaginations to run wild...(and doing that without stepping on anyone's toes).

The New Zealand situation is very specific, but also has general parallels to Caucasian attitudes towards indigenous people. Ever since Bougainville and Melville's Queequeg there was a fascination and admiration for the "noble savage" in the Western mind. This however was an idealization not touched by racial reality. If your daughter would have wanted to wed such a noble native, things would have looked decidedly different. It was cool as long as it was viewed with a distance. The social and economic gap between European New Zealanders and Maori was (and to some degree still is?)too large.

I am very fascinated by another country that for all intent and purposes SHOULD have had a thriving Polynesian pop culture: France. Just like America "owned" Hawaii, they always had THE idealized South Seas paradise, TAHITI! They have the distance, and they have an established pre-poly pop history of idealization with Gauguin and Pierre Loti. So WHY do they have no Polynesian pop worth mentioning in France? Clearly a case of the above mentioned "cultural sensitivity", the bane of the century-old keepers of high culture in Europe, the disdain for plebeian popular, i.e. "bad", taste. Americans in turn had a carefree, boyish sense of wonderment for Polynesia and freely lived it.

[ This Message was edited by: bigbrotiki 2010-12-17 14:54 ]


 
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Club Nouméa
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Joined: May 03, 2010
Posts: 342
From: Wanganui
Posted: 2010-12-17 6:33 pm   Permalink

I forgot to thank Bay Park Buzzy, hiltiki and TikiG for their positive comments - thanks folks!

CN
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Club Nouméa
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Joined: May 03, 2010
Posts: 342
From: Wanganui
Posted: 2010-12-17 7:13 pm   Permalink

Quote:

On 2010-12-17 08:49, bigbrotiki wrote:

I am very fascinated by another country that for all intent and purposes SHOULD have had a thriving Polynesian pop culture: France. Just like America "owned" Hawaii, they always had THE idealized South Seas paradise, TAHITI! They have the distance, and they have an established pre-poly pop history of idealization with Gauguin and Pierre Loti. So WHY do they have no Polynesian pop worth mentioning in France? Clearly a case of the above mentioned "cultural sensitivity", the bane of the century-old keepers of high culture in Europe, the disdain for plebeian popular, i.e. "bad", taste. Americans in turn had a carefree, boyish sense of wonderment for Polynesia and freely lived it.

[ This Message was edited by: bigbrotiki 2010-12-17 14:54 ]



France is an interesting case, because its Polynesian territories (French Polynesia, Wallis & Futuna) were minor parts of a global empire. From the late 18th century onwards, French philosophes and intellectuals appropriated Tahiti as an idealised concept synonymous with utopia, but this doesn't seem to have had much resonance in the French popular imagination in the 19th and 20th centuries.

If you look at French pulp fiction, comic books, advertising, films and stage and even radio plays, you will find that darkest Africa, the burning sands of North Africa, and even Indochina had far more resonance than Polynesia, and they still do. There was no level of direct contact between the mainland French population and the French Pacific that is comparable to the huge numbers of US servicemen who visited the South Pacific in WWII and returned home full of nostalgia for the South Seas. Yes, French civil servants, soldiers, sailors etc. served there, but they were (and are still) far fewer in number than those who served in Africa, for example.

Even in the age of jet travel, comparatively few French people travel to that part of the world. French Polynesia is an expensive destination for French tourists when compared with "Club Med" style destinations in North Africa, the Caribbean, or even the Indian Ocean. Due to its remoteness and high cost of living, French Polynesia has had trouble fulfilling its ambitious projections regarding tourist arrivals for decades and its tourist trade would have collapsed long ago were it not for US and Asian tourists.

To this day, next to nothing is taught about the South Pacific in French schools, even though New Caledonia, Wallis & Futuna, and French Polynesia now constitute substantial parts of the much-reduced French global empire, or DOM-TOM ("Overseas Departments and Territories") as they prefer to call them in these "post-colonial" days. French Polynesia alone has a maritime zone larger than Continental Europe...

So these are all factors that contribute to explaining why the mainland French do not have tiki bars and restaurants as a substantial part of their popular culture.

CN




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[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2010-12-17 19:25 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2010-12-17 19:29 ]


 
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Club Nouméa
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Joined: May 03, 2010
Posts: 342
From: Wanganui
Posted: 2011-01-11 03:44 am   Permalink

Getting back to the Savage Club Hall, according to the following link, the future of this venerable Victorian building is not certain:

http://www.wanganui.govt.nz/News/showNews.asp?id=1344

The Wanganui District Council sold the building to the Savage Club in 2008 for a token amount of $1, whilst retaining ownership of the land it stands on. According to this agreement, in 2015 (with the possibility of a one-year extension), the Savage Club is to give the building back to the Council, which then has the option of either demolishing or resiting the building.

It should be noted that the land the Savage Club Hall stands on is prime downtown real estate, with a hilltop view, so there is a very real chance that the Council may decide to take the money and dump the building...

I do wonder if any of the functionaries in the Wanganui District Council fully understand the historical significance of the Savage Club Hall.

CN

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[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2011-01-11 03:52 ]


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Paipo
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Joined: Jun 22, 2006
Posts: 1886
From: Aotearoa / NZ
Posted: 2011-02-08 9:28 pm   Permalink

Keep meaning to reply, keep forgetting...until now. Incredible thread CN and exactly the type of content that makes TC the great resource it is. It also makes me want to visit W(h)anganui, especially to see the Savage Club Hall. I have been fascinated by Savage Club ephemera for some time now (though yet to really add any to the collection) , especially the famous pic by Laurence Aberhart, and this thread has enriched the knowledge bank greatly. Thanks for all the effort - good posts are hard work!

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Club Nouméa
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Joined: May 03, 2010
Posts: 342
From: Wanganui
Posted: 2011-02-12 04:41 am   Permalink

Hello Paipo,

Thanks for the positive input. If you do intend to visit Wanganui/Whanganui/Petre some time, let me know in advance and I will see if we can plan your trip to coincide with an event at the Savage Club Hall. I am also looking for a driver to take me up the Whanganui River Road for the next stage of the Tiki Tour too...

CN
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Club Nouméa
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Joined: May 03, 2010
Posts: 342
From: Wanganui
Posted: 2011-03-20 05:37 am   Permalink

Part 7: Whanganui River Postcards

As a prelude to my as yet unscheduled trip up the Whanganui River Road, here are a few postcards showing what the river looked like in the late 19th century.

A supposedly happy chief standing outside a whare:



How the upper crust lived: Victorian tropical décor at Pipiriki House, described as being on "New Zealand's Rhine":



And just to add a bit of colour:







The caption reads "River below Pipiriki".

CN




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[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2011-03-20 05:46 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2011-03-20 05:54 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Club Nouméa 2011-03-24 03:43 ]


 
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