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‘Samoa; the Motherland of Fire Knife Dancing’ – David Galea’i

It’s been 26 years since World Siva Afi Champion, David Galea’i last set foot in Samoa; a place he calls the Motherland of Fire Knife Dancing (Siva Afi)

A true ambassador of the sport, Galea’i has dedicated his life to growing the sport in Hawaii through his Fire Knife Dance School (Vaimatina) and travelling around the world to advocate and teach the art of Siva Afi.

While Siva Afi has grown in popularity, proven by the increasing number of international competitors who continue to gather in Hawaii annually for the World Fire Championships, Galea’i says that the absence of a competitor from Samoa since 2009 is surprising given it’s where the art form originated from.

Galea’i says not only does Samoa have the distinct privilege of calling the art of Siva Afi their own but it’s widely known within the global Siva Afi Community that fire knife dancers from Samoa possess a special quality in their performance which defines them from other competitors, adding to the excitement at the World Champions.

 “We have known Siva Afi Entertainment founder, Leota Lene, for years and he always brought the boys from Samoa to compete at the world championships. As the years have gone by, they slowly stopped coming. But when they came, there is always that presence that they bring, just that raw strength. It is a warrior dance form that’s the presence they bring.”

As an official judge at this year’s 20th International Siva Afi Competition, Galea’i hopes that the event sparks the beginning of a fire knife dance revival in Samoa,

 “Even though the World Championship [fire knife dancing] started in Hawaii, we always recognise that Samoa is the Motherland, this is where it’s from and that’s why we are here. I’m hoping to spark that connection again because we really need the presence of actual competitors from the Motherland at the World Championship.”

Galea’i’s pilgrimage to Samoa last week was also an opportunity to pay tribute to the birthplace of Siva Afi. Accompanied by his daughter Jerilee who is also the reigning Womens’ Siva Afi World Champion, they made a special trip to Savaii where they re-charged and reconnected to what he describes as the soul of Samoa.

 “Coming here for me and my daughter, who is the women’s world champion, gives us a deeper sense of pride.  We went to Savaii and it was a beautiful experience. I’m glad my daughter is here to experience it so next time she and her cousins perform – they will have a lot more mana in them.”

In paying his respects to the Motherland of Siva Afi, Galea’i also reflects on the role his mother played in strengthening the legacy and tradition of Siva Afi that has defined the Galeafi dynasty since the early 1940s when his parents moved to Hawaii and began performing Siva Afi around the United States of America.

 “My father is from Manu’a, my mother is from Tutuila but they were always dancing fire knife and we just grew up performing in Hawaii, promoting Samoa – it’s been beautiful. My mother was the one who taught me. I also got help from everybody growing up but she was my main teacher, she started me up early.”

Following his last performance as a competitor in 2007, Galea’i opened up his own Fire Knife school ‘ Vaimatina’ which he named after his late mother and sister.  

“I wanted to do it because my mother taught a lot of people in our community in Hawaii about the Samoan culture and I wanted to continue doing what she did and keep her name alive. My daughter is also gifted and my neice will also be competing in the International Competition here in Samoa  – it’s like a family tradition.”

Although Galea’i hasn’t competed for many years, he knows exactly how the Fire Knife competitors will be feeling before their performance and his main advice for any Siva Afi competitor is simple; bring the fire.

 “Any competition you go to, the stage will swallow you up if you are not confident enough or not ready because of the pressure and I don’t think people understand the pressure that comes with competing in a competition. They use real knives, real fire and it’s just you out there’s nobody to blame so everything falls on you.

“I know it’s a lot of pressure but for those competing forget about everything and just give everything you got and leave it on stage because you never know and if not come back again next year.”

  • This content was made possible with funding from the International Siva Afi Competition major sponsor, No1 Currency and Western Union

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