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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 1, 2008

Varoa Tiki, 73, 'quintessential Polynesian woman'

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Varoa Tiki

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Varoa Tiki, who performed with many Hawaiian music legends, including Sterling Mossman at the old Barefoot Bar of Queen's Surf, died June 24 at her home. She was 73.

Her formal name was Shirley Kaluahine Piliwale Bither, but folks here and in clubs from Las Vegas to New York knew her by her stage name, Varoa Tiki.

Tiki mostly played the role of a comedian Polynesian princess but was a wizard at playing a host of instruments.

"In her mind, her name sounded like 'vrroom, vroom,' so Varoa was perfect," said Mamo Smith, a longtime ally who danced and performed with Tiki in numerous shows. "She was Polynesian personified; she loved and lived that image. She was the quintessential Polynesian woman."

Tiki performed at Duke Kahanamoku's, the legendary now-gone club at the International Market Place, in the absence of Don Ho, but she also entertained with Ho in Las Vegas. She was a quadruple threat she could sing, dance, play jokester and jam on a variety of musical instruments.

Jack Cione, Tiki's tap dance teacher and one-time employer, recalled her thirst for laughs.

"She always wanted to be a comedian," said Cione, who hired her for stints at the old Forbidden City and a Polynesian show at Duke Kahanamoku's.

"She was one of my tap students, too, and she put a tap number wearing a pareu in her act at Queen's Surf, after seeing Eleanor Powell in the movie 'Honolulu,' where she tapped dance in a cellophane skirt. So Varoa did her version in a Hawaiian hula."

"She learned her comic timing from Sterling Mossman," said veteran deejay Jacqueline "Skylark" Rossetti.

"She was an eager beaver, an optimist, never looking at anything as half empty," said Smith. "I'm devastated at the loss. Varoa was in the middle of writing a book of her life; she'd be up till 3 or 4 in the morning writing, and made many trips to the library for research. She was an incredible human."

One of her early gigs was with the Bill Lincoln Troupe, when it toured Europe in 1957. Tiki was part of the nighttime buzz when Mossman was headliner at the now-gone Queen's Surf in Waikiki, from 1958 to '62. As part of the Kent Ghirard's Hula Troupe, she danced with the Ray Kinney show at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1975, and fronted several acts during her career, including the all-girl Tiki and the Girls, which played local service clubs, and Varoa Tiki and the Tikis at the Mint in Las Vegas.

She also co-starred with Inny Young, doing comedy, at Cione's Back Stage club.

"She ran the gamut, playing all kinds of instruments shamisen, piano, trumpet, bass, guitar, harpsichord, 'ukulele," said Smith. "And she did hula, Tahitian, Maori the woman never stopped learning."

Tiki was born in Honolulu on Aug. 8, 1935, and graduated from the Kamehameha Schools in 1952.

Survivors include a son, Malcolm C.P. McFarland; sisters Ethel P. Kissel, Joan K. Rodrigues and Lorraine K. Piliwale; brothers George K. and Lui K. Piliwale; and half-sisters Paula Harsin and "Ipo" Salcedo.

Visitation will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 8, with services at 7 p.m., at Hawaiian Memorial Park Mortuary. Graveside services will be at 11 a.m. Aug. 9 at Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery.

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.