Introducing – Peter Lakatani
Submitted by: Sister Kristine Saunders, Archives
Even though he is 79 years old, his eyes are still sharp and full of intelligence. The stories he has to tell are touching, scary, and full of the spirit. Prepare to be amazed. Meet Peter Lakatani pictured with his wife Vernell of 50 years. Peter was the very first firewalker when the Polynesian Cultural Center opened in 1963.
Peter was born on the tiny island of Niue. His family later moved to American Samoa where he attended high school at the Church College of Western Samoa. It was through friends he made at school that Peter was introduced to the Church. At school, Peter studied drafting thinking he would become an architect. For further education his high school advisor recommended he attend a new college in Laie, Hawaii, the Church College of Hawaii (CCH). However, getting to Hawaii wasn’t easy. Peter needed a passport and to get a passport he needed his birth certificate and his birth certificate was on his birth island, Niue. Peter took a boat from American Samoa to Western Samoa to be able to order a birth certificate. While waiting in Western Samoa for his birth certificate to arrive from Niue, Peter worked at the local hospital in the pharmacy department. It was more than a month before his birth certificate arrived.
Peter studied accounting at CCH from 1961 to 1963. As a busy student, Peter joined the Peace Corp and for two years he was flown back and forth to the island of Moloka`i where he taught the Samoan language to Navy soldiers. While a student, Peter also worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center in the mornings and earned $0.45 per hour. He then drove to Honolulu and worked at the airport in the afternoon and earned $1.45 per hour. Becoming an accountant was definitely in his future. He graduated in 1968.
In 1963 the Polynesian Cultural Center was just opening. Peter and his friend Palefano had grown up together on the island of Samoa and both were now at CCH. Palefano asked if Peter would like to be part of the entertainment group that performed for guests at the Polynesian Cultural Center. At that time, the entertainment stage was behind the lagoon in what is now Hale Aloha. Palefano asked if Peter would like to entertain with fire? Peter said, “No, I don’t do any of that fireknife performing.” Then Palefano said, “No, not a fireknife dancer, but a firewalker.” Peter, Louis Burgess, and Penilosa Taosoga, all Samoan friends, agreed to be fire walkers for $0.45 per hour. Next question, “what is a firewalker?” Palefano taught that you first step on the fire … then you sit down on the fire. But “it will be okay because we have a trick. The trick is that you wear a skirt made of Ti leaves so you won’t get burned.” The pattern of firewalking is run, run, run to the side of the fire then step on the fire. Peter would hop on one leg and hold the other up so he wasn’t directly on top of the fire. The audience thought the hopping was part of the show and they loved it. Also, the Ti leaf skirts were wet down before the performance to reduce the heat on the flame. For one performance Peter’s skirt was dry and caught on fire in the back because it hadn’t been wet down. When Peter realized his skirt was on fire, he immediately jumped into the lagoon. Because the skirt was dry and on fire, it didn’t sink in the lagoon. Peter was burned badly enough on his back that he spent three days in the hospital. Why did he go back to firewalking? He was scared but enjoyed performing and the PCC started paying him $5.00 per night or $2.50 per hour instead of $0.45. Peter was a firewalker for 7 years.
Now for the rest of the story. Peter met his wife Vernell while both were attending CCH. Peter, a young, inexperienced Samoan boy, wasn’t sure how to go about asking a girl out, so he asked advice from a friend he met while working at the airport. According to the friend, “Here’s what you do. First, you ask her to go to a show with you. Then you take her to dinner at a nice place. Then you give her a corsage or lei. Then you ask the question.” So, Peter asked Vernell, “Would you like to go see a show with me?” She said yes and they went to see a show called San Pablo at the University of Hawaii. Then he took her to dinner at the top level of the airport where all the shops were located and they had a fine dinner. Peter then went to one of the shops and bought a corsage. He didn’t give Vernell the corsage until they were stopped at a stop sign halfway home to Laie. He then asked, “Do you want to be my special girl?” She said, “no.” They didn’t talk the rest of the way home. Peter said goodbye and spent the next six months avoiding her. Until one day when Peter went to check his mail. When he looked up there was Vernell. She said, “Why have you been avoiding me?” Turns out that Vernell really did like Peter and she had kept and treasured the corsage he had given her on that fateful night. She just wasn’t ready for an exclusive relationship at that time. Now she was. Happily, things worked out and they have been married more than 50 years.
There are times in your life when an opportunity almost seems too good to be true. My experience with Peter Lakatani was such an opportunity. Elder Randy Clawson called me one day and said, “I met a 79-year-old man who was the first firewalker at the PCC. You need to interview him and write his story for the archive. It has been a pleasure to tell a small part of Peter’s story. Pioneers like Peter laid the foundation for the Polynesian Cultural Center we see today truly making us “One Ohana sharing Aloha.”
Announcements: Make your reservations now for Chef’s Christmas week special and his elegant New Year’s Eve dinner at Pounders Restaurant
Submitted by: Nina S. Jones, Marketing Department
Ring in the new year with a celebratory hibiscus-like mocktail followed by a special six-course menu designed and prepared by our own celebrity MasterChef, Graham Elliot. These tasting portions will showcase a mix of local island and luxury ingredients, including caviar, lobster, and edible 24 karat gold. Seating is available at 6 pm or 8 pm. Cost – $125 per person.
Reservations required – (808) 293-3287 or poundersrestaurant.com
Preventing COVID Spread
Submitted by: P. Alfred Grace, President & CEO
The rate of new COVID cases has dramatically increased in Hawaii. Over the last 7 days, Oahu has averaged 571 new cases per day. Unfortunately, PCC is not immune to this new round of COVID spread, in just the last two days we have had several employees come down with COVID. To the best of our knowledge, none of them have serious health concerns at this point.
In a recent update, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) said “Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur. With other variants, like Delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. The recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.”
Based on this statement, if you are one of the few employees who have chosen not to get vaccinated, I urge you to reconsider and get vaccinated. If you have been vaccinated and have yet to receive the booster shot, I strongly encourage you to do so. Here is a link to schedule your vaccine or booster shot at CVS (Longs Drugs): COVID Vaccine – Walk-in COVID 19 Vaccine & Vaccine Schedule | CVS Pharmacy. I used this link to schedule and receive my booster shot at Longs Drugs in Hauula just last week. It was easy.
FOR THE SAFETY AND WELL-BEING OF ALL PCC OHANA AND GUESTS, IT IS VERY, VERY IMPORTANT THAT WE COMPLY WITH THE FOLLOWING PCC REQUIREMENTS:
- All employees, missionaries, and tenants who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms such as temperature over 100.3, loss of smell, chills, aches, difficulty breathing, etc., should not come to work and should notify a PCC Safety Officer immediately so appropriate steps can be taken.
- Employees, missionaries, and tenants who test positive for COVID-19 must not come to work and must isolate for at least 10 days after a positive test result or the onset of symptoms, or longer if symptoms persist. They must notify their manager immediately upon learning they have tested positive. The manager must then notify the PCC Safety Officer who will contact the employee for contact tracing, review their situation, and give direction.
- Employees, missionaries, and tenants who are not fully vaccinated and are in close contact (six feet) with a COVID-19 infected person for more than 15 minutes per day must not come to work and must quarantine for 10 days from the last contact with that person. They must notify their manager immediately. The manager must then notify the PCC Safety Officer who will contact the employee to review their situation and give direction. The quarantine period may be shortened by testing 5 days from the last contact with an infected person and then returning to work if the test result is negative.
- Employees, missionaries, and tenants who are fully vaccinated and are in close contact (six feet) with a COVID-19 infected person for more than 15 minutes per day may continue to work, however, they must wear a mask whenever indoors or near other people and test for COVID-19 no sooner than 3 days after the last contact. If the test result is positive, they must not come to work and must notify their manager immediately. The manager must then notify the PCC Safety Officer who will contact the employee to review their situation and give direction.
Please note, employees infected with COVID while at work may qualify for leave with pay if authorized by their vice president. Also, employees who do not comply with all PCC COVID-19 Safety Requirements will be subject to disciplinary action including but not limited to suspension and possible termination for repeat offenses.
For your information, the PCC has two Safety Officers, Elder Tom Davis, ph. (435) 841-1737 and Lau Niumatalolo, ph. (808) 381-2045, who is responsible for the oversight, support, and enforcement of all PCC COVID-19 Safety Requirements.
As always, if you have any questions regarding the above information, please do not hesitate to contact your Director, Vice President, or myself.
Submitted by: Lau Niumatalolo
With the Omicron variant now active in Hawaii it is again time to be vigilant about protecting yourself and others from this persistent COVID outbreak. Although vaccines remain our best defense against COVID they are not nearly as effective in preventing you from getting it. The vaccines, however, do appear to help with severity. The other two effective tools remain to be social distancing and wearing a face mask over your nose and mouth.
If you feel any COVID (flu or cold) symptoms please stay home and get a PCR test prior to returning to work.
Please be vigilant so everyone can be healthy and have a Merry Christmas.
Take Care and be safe.
In the past 10-days, the counts have gone as follows for new COVID cases reported in Hawaii.
- December 8 – 72 new cases
- December 10 – 170 new cases
- December 14 – 214 new cases
- December 15 – 282 new cases
- December 16 – 395 new cases
- December 17 – 797 new cases
- December 19 – 958 new cases