[Ads-l] "Hokey Pokey" 1830

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Apr 21 21:13:09 UTC 2022

Recently I posted about the dance variously known as the “Hokey Pokey” or “Hokey Cokey.”

I’ve also looked at the origin of the expression “Hokey Pokey,” itself.

References to “Hokey Pokey” (or variant spellings) date to May 1830.  Two plays debuted on the same day, each one with a song about cannibals, and featuring the expression “Hokey Pokey.”  One of the two songs was said to be already “well known.”

[Begin Excerpt] A new operatic extravaganza, by Mr. Freeman, called Hokee Pokee, or the King of the Cannibal Islands, founded upon the well known song of that name, is to be produced at the Tottenham-street Theatre this evening.[End Excerpt]
The Sun (London), May 31, 1830, page 3.

[Begin Excerpt]The only song allotted to Mr. Cooke was a silly parody of the vulgar and silly song, ‘The King of the Cannibal Islands,” called, “All in the Tonga Islands,” and encumbered with the same ‘Hoke Poki’ chorus of the original.[End Excerpt]
Morning Advertiser (London), June 1, 1830, page 2.

The songs, “King of the Cannibal Islands” and “All in the Tonga Islands” (sometimes referred to as “The Tongo Islands”) appear to have remained well known for many decades, with occasional references to each appearing regularly for at least fifty years.

The expression, “by the hokey,” was an established minced oath many years before 1830.

As for “Pokey,” I speculate it could be based on the Governor of Oahu, named Boki (sometimes spelled Poki) in the British press, who visited London in 1824 with King Kamehameha II, who died there.  Boki and his wife, called Madame Boki (or Poki) in the British press, were the highest ranked people in the entourage after the King and Queen died in London, and were mentioned frequently in the press.  The spelling “Poki” appeared frequently enough that one newspaper emphasized that it was spelled “Boki” and not “Poki”.

Hawaii was not known as a place known to have cannibals, but in casual use, the “Cannibal Islands” was applied to various East Indian or Pacific islands, including Fiji, Tahiti, Marquesas and Hawaii.  It seems plausible that “Hokey Pokey” could have been an allusion to Boki (or Poki).

“Hokey Pokey” was used regularly for many decades as a placeholder name for the leaders of any island nation, or any leader who assumed the trappings of more power than their perceived merit, or were accorded more deference and honors than their perceived due.

I have a post on my blog about it.


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