In March of this year the staff and community of the Tranzac began to use the name “the Living Room” to refer to the performance space in the south-east corner of our building – you may have already encountered the name in promotions, conversation, and correspondence. Previously, it was called the Tiki Room.

We changed the name for two important reasons:

First, the decision was based on reflection about what undertaking work to support Indigenous sovereignty (cultural and otherwise) looks like, and the need to move beyond forms of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation. As an organization, we value diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging. Continuing to use the term “tiki” is at odds with those values. 

Secondly, the new name more accurately embodies the atmosphere and decor of the space, while reflecting the reputation cultivated by the Tranzac as a home for art-making in the city. 

The wider cultural context

Changing a name such as this is perhaps the simplest and first step, and the Tranzac has much more work to undertake.

The Tranzac exists at the intersection of three settler-colonial states, and our original acronym invokes each one: Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. As a settler organization, Tranzac has in the past and continues to benefit from violence and dispossession targeting the lives, cultures, and lands inhabited and cared for by Indigenous people.

As we reflect on and discuss this, we are simply asking who we want to be and how we want to act in light of this legacy.

“Tiki” culture and appropriation

In Maori and wider Polynesian spirituality, Tiki refers to the first being and creator who would often be represented in sculpted wood (see, for example, Scott A. Lukas’s “The Cultures of Tiki”). During the 20th century, the term was appropriated to encompass a popular trend in themed drinks and bars that were primarily owned and operated by – and marketed to – white patrons. Many tiki bars have been critiqued for their appropriation of artifacts and aesthetics (such as sculpted tiki glasses), the sexualization of Indigenous women, and more.

The tiki trend has seen a resurgence as an appropriative cultural motif in recent years. It represents a pattern of profiting from the appropriation of cultures that have been colonized and violently subjugated.

This appropriation and misrepresentation (i.e., reducing groups into an imagined whole) has the damaging effect of silencing or making invisible the continual efforts of Indigenous communities to confront and challenge the impacts of colonialism: racism, militarism, and climate breakdown, to name a few. An added concern is the overshadowing or displacement of Indigenous and racialized folks who bring their craft and tastes to bar culture.

We welcome observations from community members as this dialogue is central to our growth as an organization. We remain accountable for our actions, and expect that we will make mistakes through this and similar processes, but it is important that we undertake such work. Together, we can not only make and present beautiful art, but also create a more beautiful world. 

Samantha Peck
Board President, Tranzac

Matthew Fava
Executive Director, Tranzac

Special thanks to the Pasifika Project for compiling several resources vital to our discussion and decision-making process.

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