PCC World Fireknife photo essay

Sign up for our Polynesian Cultural Center newsletters:

 Email Sign Up

Story and images by Mike Foley

 

PCC Samoan World Fireknife Championship opening montage

A collage of the Polynesian Cultural Center opening its three-day Samoan World Fireknife Championship on May 11, 2017.

The following photo essay depicts selected moments from the Polynesian Cultural Center’s 25th annual Samoan World Fireknife Championship, including the “We Are Samoa” high school traditional Samoan arts festival, from May 11-13, 2017.

May 11: Open division preliminary competition

On the first evening, 19 “warriors” in the open division (ages 18-and-up) — who came from Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, California, Florida and Tahiti — competed in the PCC’s Hale Aloha luau theater. They hoped to be among six semifinalists who would advance to the second night’s competition in the same venue. In no particular order, they included:

Andrew Sexton at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Former champion Andrew “Umi” Sexton III from Waianae, Oahu

 

Viceson Galea'i at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Viceson Galea’i from Laie, Oahu

 

Kuinise Leiataua at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Kuinise Leiataua, originally from San Diego, California

 

Hale Motu'apuaka at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Former junior and intermediate division champion Hale Motu’apuaka from Aiea, Oahu. He’s been knife dancing and appearing in the PCC Samoan World Fireknife Championship since age three.

 

Wallen Te'o at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Wallen Te’o from Waimanalo, Oahu

At the end of the evening, the judges selected the following (again, in no particular order) six semifinalists: Achilles Tafiti from Laie, Oahu; Hale Motu’apuaka from Aiea, Oahu; Mikaele Oloa from Waialua, Oahu; Matuni Vaia’oga from Samoa (by way of Orlando, Florida); Kepanipa’a Damaso from Waikoloa on the Island of Hawaii; and Falaniko Penesa from Samoa (by way of Disneyland Hong Kong).

May 12: Junior division championships

Polynesian Cultural Center 25th annual Samoan World Fireknife Championship

(Front line): Intermediate division (ages 12-17), and (back line) junior division competitors in the Polynesian Cultural Center’s 2017 Samoan World Fireknife Championship event on May 12 in the Hale Aloha luau theater.

The second night of the championship competition began with the juniors, followed by the intermediate division entrants. Once an intermediate competitor not yet 18 years old opts to enter the open division, he or she cannot go back.

PCC World Fireknife Championship junior

Mamalu Lilo of Ewa Beach, Oahu, is one of three brothers who competed in the junior division. They are being trained by their father, Mervyn Lilo, a former knife dancer who now runs his own Polynesian performing group.

 

PCC Samoan World Fireknife Championship junior

Toa Tevaga of Kaneohe, Oahu

 

PCC Samoan World Fireknife Championship junior

Makoa Nielsen-Cabagason of Kaneohe, Oahu

 

PCC Samoan World Fireknife Championship 2017 junior winners

Junior division (ages 6-11) winners in the Polynesian Cultural Center’s 25th annual Samoan World Fireknife Championships on May 12, 2017, in the Hale Aloha luau theater are (left-right) Mose Lilo, 2nd place, and his brother Matagi Lilo, champion, of Ewa Beach, Oahu; and Isa’ako Milford, 3rd place, of Punalu’u, Oahu.

 

May 12: Intermediate division championships

The intermediate division competitors immediately followed the juniors:

PCC Samoan World Fireknife Championship 2017 intermediate winner

Jeralee Galea’i from Laie, Oahu, who just completed 11th grade at nearby Kahuku High School, is the second female to win the intermediate division championship. Her father, three-time former champion David Galea’i, has been training her since about age 10. She works part-time in the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Alii Luau show.

Check out a video of Jeralee Galea’i winning the intermediate division

Watch more second night, semifinalist and intermediate action

PCC Samoan World Fireknife Championship intermediate 2nd place

Justyce Edmonds from near Sydney, Australia, took home the 2nd-place intermediate title. A large group of his family members, who are originally from Samoa by way of New Zealand, cheered him on.

 

PCC Samoan World Fireknife Championship intermediate 3rd place

Hunter Nery of Waialua, Oahu, claimed the 3rd place intermediate division title.

 

May 12: Judges name the three finalists

PCC Samoan World Fireknife Championship 2017 judges

At the end of the evening, the panel of judges selected three of the six semifinalists to compete for the 2017 Samoan World Fireknife Championship title during a special intermission of the Polynesian Cultural Center’s evening show, Ha: Breath of Life, on May 13 in the Pacific Theater.

It was an exciting moment . . . and, of course, everybody now knows that the three 2017 finalists were Falaniko Penesa of Samoa (by way of Disneyland Hong Kong where he has worked for about the past five years), who went on to win the next night by one point; former five-time champion Mikaele Oloa of Waialua, Oahu, first runner-up; and Kepanipa’a “Pa’a” Damaso of Waikoloa, Island of Hawaii, second runner-up.

May 13: “We Are Samoa” Festival games

The “We Are Samoa” Samoan high school traditional cultural arts festival started the next morning at 9 a.m. in the Polynesian Cultural Center’s sold-out Pacific Theater. As is customary, this six-hour portion of the event started with prayer, lauga or Samoan oratory; flag-raising accompanied by the anthems of the United States, independent Samoa and American Samoa; and a traditional fashion show put on by the BYU-Hawaii students working in the PCC’s Samoan Village. Next, several students shared their own lauga skills.

Then the fun began — races to see who among the high school groups, and in some cases even among audience members — could complete traditional Samoan skills the fastest.

19audience_coconut_husking

After the high school boys and girls husked mature coconuts (o’a popo), audience members took a turn: Some were very fast, others struggled, and several even used their teeth, trying to rip away the outer coconut husks.

 

PCC 2017 We Are Samoa Festival

Boiled or baked green bananas are a traditional Samoan staple, so it’s important to peel them correctly (fofo’e fa’i). Note: it’s challenging . . . and sticky.

 

PCC We Are Samoa Festival 2017

Weaving coconut-leaf baskets (lalaga ‘ato launiu) is always one of the more challenging events, as many young Samoans now days grow up far-removed from their ancestral islands and customary chores.

 

PCC 2017 We Are Samoa Festival

It turns out that making fire the old way (si’aga afi), by literally rubbing two sticks together, is even harder for the high school students . . . while the young men coaching them (left), make it look so easy in the PCC’s Samoan Village cooking demonstrations.

 

May 13: “We Are Samoa” Festival fa’afiafiaga

But the traditional fa’afiafiaga songs and dances are always the most popular part of the festival. This year, five high school groups performed. Some of them such as the ILH Poly Club including students from a number of schools. For those not familiar with Samoan culture, the fa’aluma or group leader is supposed to keep the performers moving . . . and the audience laughing!

Kapolei High, PCC 2017 We Are Samoa Festival

Kapolei High School, with the fa’aluma on the front-right

 

PCC 2017 We Are Samoa Festival ILH Poly Club

The ILH (IInterscholastic League of Honolulu private school organization) Poly Club performers

 

PCC 2017 We Are Samoa Festival Radford High

Radford High School performers

 

PCC 2017 We Are Samoa Festival taupou dancers

In Samoan culture, it’s a special honor for the ornately adorned taupou or maiden to perform the taualuga dance. Family and friends often join her in the background on stage, and shower her — and other dancers — with money. BTW, all such money — plus a generous honorarium from the Polynesian Cultural Center, goes to the participating schools.

Watch fa’afiafiaga video clips

…or go to the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Facebook page
for more coverage.

In short, the PCC’s 2017 We Are Samoa Festival was terrific. Plan to come next year if you want to experience it in person.

 

Mike Foley

Mike Foley, who has worked off-and-on at the Polynesian Cultural Center since 1968, has been a full-time freelance writer and digital media specialist since 2002, and had a long career in marketing communications and PR before that. He learned to speak fluent Samoan as a Mormon missionary before moving to Laie in 1967 – still does, and he has traveled extensively over the years throughout Polynesia and other Pacific islands. Foley is mostly retired now, but continues to contribute to various PCC and other media.

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*