20th Annual World Fireknife Championship

The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) hosts the World Fireknife Championship every year on Oahu, and it coincides with PCC’s “We Are Samoa Festival.” For two decades fireknife dancers have gathered at PCC during the third week in May to compete for the title of World Fireknife Champion.

History of the Fireknife Dance

The ancient fireknife dance goes back hundreds of years, and is rooted in a Samoan exhibition called “ailao.” Ailao was performed with a war club, and was intended to show off a warrior’s prowess in battle, by twirling, throwing, and catching the war club warriors demonstrated their skills and comfort with their weapons. The war clubs used were elaborately carved clubs called “anava” which included serrated edges and jagged teeth, characteristics of the “nifo’oti,” a traditional Samoan weapon. Some accounts claim that the fireknife dance was done before battle as a way to psyche the warriors up for battle, as well as after war as a victory dance. Traditionally there was no fire involved in the Ailao, and it wasn’t until Freddie Letuli (Father of the Fireknife) added the element to his performance in 1946 at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.  As he prepared for the Shriner’s convention in San Francisco he was intrigued by a Hindu fire eater and a young girl twirling a baton with light bulbs on it. After borrowing some gas from the man, and wrapping towels around his knives the Fireknife Dance was born.

Modern Fireknife Dance

After Freddie Letuli popularized the fireknife dance by traveling the world with Polynesian dance troupes, the Samoan Fireknife dance was made world famous. In Hawai’i the fireknife dance is included in most any luau you attend, and has become an integral part of the tradition of Polynesian dancing.

World Fireknife Championship

The World Fireknife Championship will take place at the Polynesian Cultural Center located in La’ie on the North Shore of Oahu. The event begins on Wednesday May 9, and ends on Saturday May 12. Here is the schedule of events: May 9-12, 2012 Wednesday, May 9 – 7:45 p.m. (Hale Aloha) • Senior Division Preliminary Competition Thursday, May 10 – 7:45 p.m. (Hale Aloha) • Junior Pacific Division • Senior Division Semi-Finals • Open Group Competition Friday, May 11 – 7:30 p.m. (Pacific Theater) • Senior Division Finals Night One (during intermission of Ha: Breath of Life evening show) Saturday, May 12 (Pacific Theater) • 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.  – Samoan Cultural High School Arts Festival • 7:30 p.m. – Senior Division Finals Night Two and Crowning (competition during intermission of Ha: Breath of Lifeevening show, awards immediately following the conclusion of Ha: Breath of Life at 9:00 p.m.)

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