Hawaii is a place that values cultural traditions and the North Shore’s Polynesian Cultural Center is especially interested in retaining and promoting the polynesian cultures. That is why, each year since 1993, they have hosted the World Fireknife Competition. Today’s fireknife dance is a modern variation on the traditional Samoan warrior rituals. The Samoan warrior in olden times used the nifo oti , a weapon similar to a wooden sword or spear but with sharp teeth attached along the edges. There were traditional movements designed to challenge, intimidate, and to celebrate victory over enemies in battle. Since those days, the movements have become a sort of dance and, in 1946, Chief Letuli Olo Misilage decided to add a new element…fire! Needless to say, it was an immediate success. Nowadays, it is a form of entertainment, but mastering the moves and demonstrating skill is not easy! Dancers do actually get burned sometimes! There is no “trick” or extra protection. Most dancers use a plain cotton towel which has been soaked in naphtha and wrapped around each end of the nifo oti.
During the competitions,some of the things the judges will be looking for how are how deftly the dancers twirl their nifo oti, as well as their inclusion of traditional movements such as the mo’e mo’e (a running movement), foot stamping (a battle challenge), and the gego (head movements of warriors to confuse the enemy). Drumming, on ancient log drums as well as modern instruments, accompanies the dancers. It is certainly a thrilling and impressive event to watch!
This year’s event takes place on the evenings of May 8-11th. The final two nights require reserved seating at $45 and will be a part of the evening show Ha! Breath of Life. For the first two days of senior preliminaries and junior division competitions, tickets are $10 ($6 for children 5-11). You can obtain tickets by contacting the Polynesian Cultural Center at 808-367-7060.