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ISLAND HISTORY: ‘Big John’ Kauo and the Coco Palms Torch-Lighting Ceremony

In 1954, John Pakahea “Big John” Kauo (1933-2013) was hired as a waiter at Kaua‘i’s Coco Palms Hotel by his Aunty Moki Hanohano, the night dining room manager at Coco Palms, to begin what was to become a 37-year career at Coco Palms in which he retired as Coco Palms’ manager.

One of his duties during his years at Coco Palms was being in charge of the Torch-Lighting Ceremony.

During the Torch-Lighting Ceremony, which took place at 7:30 p.m. every evening at dinnertime, a conch shell would be blown, and men wearing malos would jog through the coconut grove carrying lighted torches, stopping along their way to light cans filled with kerosene that illuminated the darkness.

In his book, “The Story of the Coco Palms Hotel,” David Penhallow wrote: “The torch lighting at Coco Palms was a sacred ritual and, as far as manager Grace Buscher was concerned, nothing was to interfere with the ceremony once it began. During the day, the maintenance crew, Andrew Kane, Sam Mia, and John Kaleohi, filled the pots with kerosene and placed into the pots fresh coconut husks for wicks. “Big John” was in charge of the preparations. He’d line up what boys would run the evening’s torch lighting, beat the drum, and blow the conch shell. It was as if each day “Big John” had to prepare for a religious ritual or a Broadway show. Once the ceremony began, the drum beat and the conch shell blew, and Grace began to speak the nightly ceremony, no drinks or food were served in the bar or dining room and the people in the rooms were not to talk.”

When “Big John” was interviewed for Penhallow’s book, he said: “More people knew about Coco Palms because of the torch-lighting ceremony than anything else. Mrs. G. enlightened everyone who came to the hotel about Hawaiians and brought a bright light to the guests as far as Hawaiian history and its royalty.”

“Big John” Kauo and his wife, Marlene Collette Victorino Kauo, a retired Kapa‘a Elementary School teacher, had a daughter, Maile.
Source: The Garden Island

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