Women now have their own division at the 2019 World Fireknife Championship

Women now have their own division at the 2019 World Fireknife Championship

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Exciting addition to 2019 World Fireknife Championship

“Soon after the Polynesian Cultural Center’s 2018 World Fireknife Championship competition ended last May, we began preparing to make the 27th annual competition from May 8-11, 2019, even better,” said Delsa Atoa Moe, PCC Vice President of Cultural Presentations.

Moe explained she and her committee decided to reinstate a women’s open division (for ages 18-and-up).

“Women have been competing regularly over the past 26 years,” she said. “For example, Jeralee Galea’i of Laie beat out all the boys to win our 2018 intermediate division championship (ages 12-17). In fact, she was also our 2017 intermediate division champion.”

Jeralee Galea’i, 2017 and 2018 Intermediate Division champion (ages 12-17) in the Polynesian Cultural Center’s World Fireknife Championship competition.

“Other women have competed in the open division with the men in the past, and a few have also claimed the intermediate level title,” Moe continued. “Now they’ll have their own open division.”

Other female champions of the World Fireknife include:

  • Justine Castillo of Waiahole, Oahu, 2008 (Open Division).
  • Jenelle Fejeren of San Diego, California, 2007 (Open Division).
  • Melenie Leilua Lesoa from Apia, Samoa, 2003 and 2002 (Intermediate Division).

Women’s event to kick off the 2019 Championships

Moe said the women’s open division will kick off the entire PCC World Fireknife Championship event on the evening of May 8, 2019, in the Samoan Village. Interestingly, the Center’s very first World Fireknife Championship event and several since have also been held in the Samoan Village.

She also noted that while most of the female competitors are expected to be at least 18 years old, intermediate-age girls are welcome to join the open division if they choose, “but once they do, they cannot go back down again.”

Jeralee Galea’i wins the 2017 Intermediate Division championship.

The 2019 World Fireknife Championship schedule

Please note the following schedule:

Table of events for the 2019 World Fireknife Championship

Event founder 100% supportive

It was Pulefano Galea’i — a senior manager who retired in 2009, but continues to consult for the PCC — who first proposed the Center start a world fire knife competition. He has worked tirelessly ever since to make the event successful.

 

Pulefano Galea’i in 2003 displaying the handmade fireknife trophies made for that year’s competition

Pulefano Galea’i in 2003 displaying the handmade fireknife trophies he made for that year’s competition.

 

Moe said that “event founder Pulefano Galea’i is 100 percent supportive” of the decision to reinstate the women’s open division in the 2019 competition. “The women’s competition also honors the spirit of Samoa’s great female warriors of the past, Salamasina and Nafanua.”

Not only does Galea’i come from a family that’s been deeply involved in Samoan culture for many generations stretching far back into the history of American Samoa’s Manu’a islands, but almost 60 years ago he, his brothers — and a sister — helped spread the popularity of Samoan fire knife dancing, first in Laie, then Waikiki and eventually around the world.

Interest in new women’s open division runs high

“It’s exciting,” Moe said. “Interest is growing, and from what I’ve seen around here the women’s skill levels has gone up dramatically over past years. We expect at least six competitors, including Jeralee Galea’i.”

 

Delsa Moe and Pulefano Galea’I present gifts to the 2009 competitors

Delsa Moe and Pulefano Galea’i (right) present gifts to the 2009 competitors.

 

“All these years later, the Polynesian Cultural Center is still very excited to host the Samoan World Fireknife Dancing Championships. We support it. We’re grateful to our co-sponsors who help make it possible, and we look forward to putting it on for many more years to come,” Moe said.

“When we first started, probably the majority of good dancers were concentrated in Hawaii and Samoa. Now there are also outstanding fire knife dancers in Japan, Rarotonga (the Cook Islands), Tonga, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Texas, Utah, Florida, California and Tahiti. It’s become a worldwide sport. Some of them have competed at the PCC.”

Competition to represent Samoan culture

“In addition to increasing its popularity,” Moe continued, “we want to make sure that fire knife dancing is true to its Samoan origins. For example, these include traditional, energetic and aggressive fighting moves, and not just fire baton twirling.”

“The women also bring different aspects to the competition. For example, we’ll be looking for their grace and energy.”

“These are aspects of our culture we want to make sure all of the fire knife dancers appreciate, and that people will recognize as Samoan fire knife dancing when they see it.”

“That’s one of the reasons we’re grateful for Pulefano’s help,” Moe said. “The young fire knife dancers revere him. He’s a legend. The Galea’i family has a knife dancing dynasty. Yes, Pulefano honored the late high chief “Freddie” Olo Letuli from American Samoa as the ‘father’ of fireknife dancing as early as 1964 for his kindness and love, but I think it’s the Galea’i family who helped spread its fame around the world.”

“To have him here and have the young fire knife dancers be in his presence is amazing.”

Come feel the heat! Tickets become available by mid-January through www.worldfireknife.com.

 

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Mike FoleyStory and photos by Mike Foley, who has been a full-time freelance writer and digital media specialist since 2002. Prior to then, he had a long career in marketing communications, PR, journalism and university education. The Polynesian Cultural Center has used his photos for promotional purposes since the early 1970s. Foley learned to speak fluent Samoan as a Latter-day Saint missionary before moving to Laie in 1967, and he still does. He has traveled extensively over the years throughout Polynesia, other Pacific islands and Asia. Though nearly retired now, Foley continues to contribute to PCC and other media.

He was a member of Pulefano’s original fire knife competition committee, and has covered most of the events since then.

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