Hawaiians & Cubans

Cuba and Hawaii – same latitude … interesting.

Okay, this may be a complete wild goose chase, but I have questions and I’m not finding satisfactory answers. Maybe if I share the questions, you can all help me figure it out. Listos?

It all started over a month ago – we were strolling the Dollar Store when I noticed the seasonal merchandise for throwing a Hawaiian luau themed party. Within the assortment of plastic coconut bras, grass skirts and silk flower leis, I found a sign that said “Tiki Tiki Bar” … Whenever I see anything that says “Tiki Tiki”, I have a tendency to take a photo and text it to Carrie over at Tiki Tiki Blog.


Question #1. Why do both Hawaiians and Cubans use the word “Tiki Tiki”? (Although Cubans and some other Latin Americans use the word differently.)

If you look up “Tiki” in the dictionary you get this:

Tiki [tee-kee]
1. The first man on earth in Polynesian mythology
2. A carved image, as of a god or ancestor, sometimes worn as a pendant around the neck in Polynesian cultures
Origin: 1875–80; < Maori and Marquesan

Tiki torch is first recorded 1973.

Image source: Geir Friestad

Question #2. If the word is Polynesian (which includes not only Hawaiian but Maori, Tahitian, Samoan, and the language of Easter Island), how did Cubans and other Latin Americans come to get a hold of it?

Now, the plot thickens, because what else do you usually find in Hawaiian luau merchandise? … You find what are often referred to as “guajiro hats.”

My niño at the dollar store… pretending to be Cuban or Hawaiian?

What does “Guajiro” mean?

From Wiki.answers.com: “Guajiro” is a Cuban peasant, or farm worker.

A contemporary take on it claims the origin of the word “GUAJIRO” came from the Spanish American War in 1898. The story goes that after the good guys won, The US Army told all the Cuban peasants that helped fight in the war that they were free…that they were all “WAR HEROS”…. They heard this and walk away triumphant “Guajiros”… This is complete nonsense. The term, “guajiro,” is recorded by Father Bartolome de las Casas and other early Spanish chroniclers. It is mentioned in Cuban literature throughout the 19th Century. Its origin had nothing to do with the Spanish American War in 1898.

If you search the internet for “guajiro” – it’s rare to find this kind of hat – although some search results do exist.

This screenshot taken from cubanfoodmarket.com

What you’re more likely to see when you search “guajiro” are Cuban cowboys wearing a differently styled hat. (I would guess they’re made of dried palm fronds or straw but I’m not sure. In Hawaii, apparently hats are usually made from leaves of the hala tree.)

Image source: Angeles Ramos / Guajiro in Cuba

Image source: Josep Manel Sicart

By the way, if you’d like to further complicate things, “guajiro” also refers to “an Amerindian ethnic group of the La Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia and northwest Venezuela.” … Now how did that happen?

So, what’s the deal? Who can unravel the mystery, if indeed there is one … are Hawaiians and Cubans long lost primos? What do you think?