PCC World Fireknife preliminaries: May 14, 2009

[Story and photos by Mike Foley, originally published May 15, 2009]

PCC World Fireknife competition, May 2009The senior men’s preliminary round in the Polynesian Cultural Center’s 17th annual World Fireknife Championship on May 14, 2009 saw a smaller field of entrants, but a tougher level of competition as the skilled “warriors” once again put their skills with the flaming knives in front of a panel of judges and an wildly appreciative audience.

After all the flames were all extinguished and the drums silenced, the judges selected nine of the senior men (age 18-and-up) to advance to the semifinals. They are:

Jeurell Lavata’i, American Samoa
Dana Teai, Tahiti
Pati Levasa, Samoa (via Hong Kong)
Brandon “Fue” Maneafaiga, Waianae
Joseph Cadousteau, Tahiti
Mikaele Oloa, Waialua, Oahu
Lopeti Tu’ua, Lahaina, Maui
Viavia “VJ” Tiumalu Jr., Orlando, Florida
Chesrveigh “Jessie” Usiel, Guam

See a sampling of my pictures that will be posted on the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Samoan World Fireknife Championship web site, http://www.polynesia.com/fireknife/fire.html . . . and at http://www.polynesia.com/blog

Just a few more words about the PCC’s World Fireknife Championships: Seventeen years ago the PCC was facing yet another slumping tourism industry challenge when one of our managers, Pulefano Galea’i — who essentially grew up in Laie and was a star knife dancer as a young man, suggested we put on a Samoan special event, consisting of the world championship fire knife competition and a high school festival featuring their respective Samoan clubs competing in traditional games and skills, and performing songs and dances.

I remember I was a kid in the 1950s, no more than 10 years old, the first time I ever saw a Samoan knife dance. Any of you remember the early TV program You Asked For It, sponsored by Skippy Peanut Butter? Somebody had written in saying they’d heard of a dance with knives in the South Pacific…and the show, if I remember correctly, traveled to far-off Samoa. The dance was thrilling then. Still is!

The first several years the PCC knife dance competition was held in the Samoan village, under the stars. As they do today, competitors came from all over. Pulefano and his committee worked tirelessly to encourage both the dancers and the high school groups, sometimes traveling to the schools to tutor them. I am proud to say I was part of the committee, helping with advertising and publicity, on this and other special events. I still “cover” most of the PCC’s special events as a freelance writer, photographer, and proud alumnus.

The Samoan World Fireknife Championship and high school festival has consistently been the largest and most successful special event ever since. Some of the little kids who competed years ago are now adults, performing as professional knife dancers. Fa’afetai tele lava to all of them for the excitement and enjoyment they shared.

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