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Younger generation follows in the footsteps of their forefathers in the World Fireknife Championship junior and intermediate divisions

fireknife dancer twirls a fireknife in the air while wearing a black lavalava with yellow words and green leaves around his legs and neck.

The Polynesian Cultural Center was full of cheers, whoops of joy and clapping from spectators watching live and livestreaming the junior and intermediate World Fireknife Championship on April 28.

Three-time champion and teacher, David Galeai, expressed how proud he was of the competitors and his students' performances. He taught contestants Shogo Faleavai, Mateya Ale, Thea Rose Lazaro, Tarita Galeai, Manasseh Tuliloa and Tetupuariki Akanoa, he said.

“They did a good job. They overcame fear, and when they got off the stage, they were 10 times more confident,” Galeai said.

He shared one of his students was nervous because he was competing for the first time. Fireknife dancing isn’t easy, he said, because dancers are on their own and have to conquer their fears with no one to do it for them.

Participating in this year’s competition were 12 juniors ranging from 6 to 11 years old and seven intermediate competitors ranging from 12 to 17 years old. They were from Hawaii and the U.S. mainland.

The Junior Division winner and first and second runners up, in that order, were Joe Milford of Punalu’u, Hawaii; Elway Tora of Laie, Hawaii; and Vincent Galeai of Laie, Hawaii.

The Intermediate Division winner and first and second runners up, in order, were Isa’ako Milford of Punalu’u, Hawaii; Toa’alii Milford of Punalu’u, Hawaii; and Kekai Nielsen Gabacason of Kaneohe, Hawaii.

The event commenced with a traditional speech from the Samoan village chiefs, Seuamuli and Fatalo. Emceeing the event was committee chairwoman Tagaloatala Delsa Moe and co-host Matuauto Steve Laulu.

Galeai said the siva afi, or fireknife dance, has been part of his life since he was 6 years old. He said the lessons he learned from it are unlike any other sport. Galeai founded the Vaimatina fireknife group in 2006 to honor his late mother, he said.

The Vaimatina group consists of young students from different ages and nationalities who want to learn how to spin and fireknife. He said, “Anyone can join, and we love to share not only the talent but also our culture with them.”

For fireknife dancers, he advised, “Learn and experience to deal with fire, and you will find the strength within to conquer anything.” He said he’s happy to share his passion and talent with others but most especially with his children.

Newlyweds Ferila and Mj Mata’u were among those in attendance at the theater on the ground of PCC. Ferila Mata’u, a senior from Samoa majoring in English literature, said, “It is all about showcasing our culture through movements and fire.”

Mj Mata’u is a professional fireknife dancer. He stated he’s been in many competitions, including the World Fireknife Championship, and has been a fireknife champion three times in a row over the past years.

“Fireknife is my passion and seeing the younger generation excel in it is just breathtaking and amazing,” Mj Mata’u said.

Ferila Mata’u said, “The community is as supportive of this competition as they should be because it’s important to instill our culture, and it's importance in the hearts of our young ones, especially having to raise them outside of our country.

A boy fireknife dancing wearing a black with yellow worded lavalava with green leaves around his legs, neck and headband of it with a spotlight on him.

“Wednesday's event was amazing. My nephew, Tetupuariki, competed and although he didn’t win, I’m still proud he faced his fears of dancing with fire.” She said she admired how much confidence the younger generation had on stage.

Mj Mata’u added, “It's nice to see parents pushing their kids to expand their comfort zones. They did an absolutely wonderful job. The event was full of cheers and support from families and friends. Our only advice is to keep pushing and keep aiming for the stars.”

Ferila Mata’u shared how she learned to light a fire at a very young age at the umukuka, or kitchen. She said her grandpa used to tell her, “If you don’t get burned, you wouldn’t know how to light it.”

She continued, “He would always say a knife was drawn from a war weapon known as the nifo ‘oti, which a taupou, [a high chief’s daughter], uses as part of the Samoan traditional attire.”

She also stated the warriors use it as protection and for the safety of their families and loved ones. She explained the fireknife dance is important in Samoan culture and was started to train warriors to protect themselves and others.

PCC retiree and High Talking Chief (an aloali’i of Manu’a) Pulefano Galeai came up with the idea to host the fireknife competition in 1993, says PCC’s website, and it has grown since then. With international experience as a world champion knife dancer, musician and entertainer, Pulefano Galeai has also written a book on Samoan fireknife dancing with Donna Manz, called “The Fire Knife Dance: The Story Behind the Flames, Ta’alolo to Nifo ‘Oti.”

The 28th annual World Fireknife Championship finished on May 5, 2021 with the men preliminaries and finals.

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