Falaniko Penesa of Samoa was crowned 2019 World Fireknife Champion on Saturday, May 11 as he displayed a flawless performance at the final event that featured two other competitors, Joseph Cadousteau of Tahiti and Mikaele Oloa of Waialua, Hawaii.
The 2019 World Fireknife Championship featured a Men’s Division final that had three former champions for the first time in its 27-year history, who each showcased brilliant displays of athleticism, creativity and culture. Loud cheers and applauses were heard throughout the Pacific Theatre as each competitor performed.
Champion Penesa took home a $7,000 prize, first runner-up Oloa received $5,000 and second runner-up Cadousteau won $3,000. Each finalist also received a carved fireknife trophy.
Penesa, now a two-time champion, said of his victory, “I am so happy and want to congratulate all of the contestants. Thank you to the Polynesian Cultural Center for keeping the Samoan culture alive and bringing people together for this festival.”
Of the competition, Steve Laulu, Master of Ceremonies for the event, said, “Judges looked at entry and exit, how they are coming on and off the stage, the speed of the routine, how fast it is and how the speed is sustained. Also, the variety of motions.
“Judges are looking at traditional Samoan motions, war-like motions and also are looking at creativity on part of the warrior himself. Judges are also looking at costumes, the height of how far the fireknives are thrown into the air and, if successful, catches of the fireknife. All of these count into how judges are scoring the performance.”
Kehaulani Maruhi, a BYU–Hawaii alumnus from Tahiti, said of the competition, “It was really fun to watch this event tonight. It’s fun and awesome to see people perform like that on stage. Many people came to watch but I came to support the Tahitian competitor. He did a really a good job. They all did a good job and each deserved to be here in the final.”
Maruhi added, “I feel really proud to have someone from Tahiti here in the finals. There were also some younger kids performing from Tahiti throughout the competition this week which makes me really proud too.”
Harold Palimo’o, from Hau’ula, spectated the event and said “I usually come to the World Fireknife Championship each year. It’s a great event to have here at the PCC. The level of talent displayed here tonight in the final was amazing.”
Penesa’s victory concluded a week-long “We are Samoa” festival held from May 8 to 11. The festival featured fireknife competitions in four divisions, including a children and women’s division, and a high school Samoan cultural arts performance and exhibits of Samoan culture displayed throughout the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Palimo’o said of the festival, “I really enjoyed the event this week. From the high school performances, to the children performing and also the Samoan cultural presentations, it has been fantastic.”