Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fire Knife Competition

Following presentation of the luau show last Saturday night (see previous post), the fire knife competition was held.  This was the main reason we had come to the luau, and we weren't disappointed.  Before describing that, however, here are two more video clips from the luau show:

Wikipedia provides the following information about the Samoan Fire Knife Dance:

The fire knife is a traditional Samoan cultural implement that is used in ceremonial dances. It was originally composed of a machete wrapped in towels on both ends with a portion of the blade exposed in the middle. Tribal performers of fire knife dancing (or Siva Afi as it is called in Samoa) dance while twirling the knife and doing other acrobatic stunts. The towels are set afire during the dances thus explaining the name.

Knife dancing has a history that goes back hundreds of years. The modern fire knife dance has its roots in the ancient Samoan exhibition called "ailao" - the flashy demonstration of a Samoan warrior's battle prowess through artful twirling, throwing and catching, and dancing with a war club. The 'ailao could be performed with any warclub and some colonial accounts confirm that women also performed 'ailao at the head of ceremonial processions, especially daughters of high chiefs. During night dances torches were often twirled and swung about by dancers, although a war club was the usual implement used for 'ailao. 

Before the introduction of metals, the most common clubs that were wielded and displayed in the 'ailao fashion were elaborately carved heirloom clubs called "anava." These 'anava were frequently carved with serrated edges and jagged "teeth" which characterized the unique Samoan weapon called the "nifo'oti." When European and American whalers and traders began commercial ventures in Samoa they introduced the natives to the long-handled blubber knife and the hooked cane knife. The characteristic metal hook of these tools was readily incorporated into the Samoan wooden nifo'oti which bears the unique hooked element whether carved from wood or forged from steel. 

Fire was added to the knife in 1946 by a Samoan knife dancer named Freddie Letuli, later to become Paramount Chief Letuli Olo Misilagi. Letuli was performing in San Francisco and noticed a Hindu Fire eater and a little girl with lighted batons. The fire-eater loaned him some fuel, he wrapped some towels around his knife, and the fire knife dance was born.

Here are short video clips of two of the three contestants:

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