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Womens’ Fire Knife Competition makes debut in Samoa

The highly anticipated International Siva Afi Competition made a blazing return to Samoa’s annual entertainment scene in a three day heated event last week held at the Samoa Tourism Authority Cultural Village in the heart of Apia.

As part of the 20th anniversary celebrations, this year’s event debuted the very first Womens’ Competition which took place on Friday 25th November and coincided with the first day of 16 Days of Activism and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Samoa.

The founder of the International Siva Afi Competition Leota Lene Leota said they were excited to welcome local and international female fire knife competitors as part of their goal to increase female participation in the sport.

He acknowledged the assistance from the events major sponsor in making the first womens’ competition possible with provision of cash prizes.

“This year we have been trying to grow the sport in Samoa by taking Siva Afi to the rural communities and getting the young children involved as a way to preserve and promote our Samoan ailao afi tradition” said Leota. “We could not have done this without the support of No1Currency and Western Union who not only supported our rural outreach programs in Savaii and Upolu but also made it possible to include a womens’ division in the competition to help encourage the participation of females in sport of Siva Afi”

The female warrior competitors from Samoa, New Zealand and Hawaii provided the X factor to a typically male dominated event. The ladies showcased their high speed spinning skills, strength, creativity and energy which won over the audience including the Minister of Tourism, Honourable Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster who felt the womens’ competition can only enhance and develop the competition into an iconic event for Samoa.

“I thought the girls’ performance was excellent which didn’t surprise me at all. It just surprised me that it’s taken this long to recognize and develop the womens ‘competition. Nothing surprises me with Samoan girls and women and how talented they are.” Said Toeolesulusulu.

“Our country is just opening up and to have an event like this should definitely help promote tourism. We had Toa Samoa celebrations the other week and now the Siva Afi competition which continues to build our tourism.”

Toeolesulusulu added, “Congratulations to the girls’ who competed and expanded on the spectrum. Hopefully with the work Leota and Clare are doing in taking Siva Afi to the villages, we will see more young people participating and carrying on the traditions not just in hotels but also in the villages. This can become a real iconic event for Samoa.”

In the end, it was two-time World Fire Knife Champion, Melanie Tia of New Zealand who wowed the judges with her agility, high speed spinning skills and energetic performance, taking the top prize of $3000 Tala. The 35 year old started spinning the fire knife at 5 years old and hasn’t stopped since.

The Ladies bring the fire to this years International Siva Afi Competition. Pictured: Melanie Tia (far left) Chandae Ava (middle)

“It feels so good to be back in Samoa for the competition, I feel like staying here” said Ms Tia. “Thank you to all the organizers and sponsors who made it possible to have the competition especially the womens’ division this year.”

Coming in second place for the SAT$2000 prize was 21 year old Chandae Ava from Hawaii who has been performing since she was 7 years old while local Ailao Afi dancer, Sulumai Lesoa from Siumu took third prize of SAT$1000.

During the finals on Day 3 of the event, Chandae performed with her twin sister Aliyah and cousin Jerilee Galea’i who is the reigning Womens’ World Champion. Together the “Triple Threat” put on a performance to remember with Chandae appealing to other aspiring female Siva Afi dancers to get involved in the sport and keep Samoan culture alive.

“I’m Samoan, born and raised in Hawaii but this is my first time visiting the Motherland. I feel so proud to perform here in Samoa especially in front of a different audience” said Ms Ava. “ I started fire knife dancing when I was just 7 years old. Fire Knife Dancing is a family tradition that I’m continuing by performing and competing. I want to encourage other girls who are interested in Siva Afi to just go for it and don’t hold back. You can make a career out of it and have fun at the same time.”

The overall winner of the 20th International Siva Afi Competition and recipient of SAT $20,000 was local Ailao Afi protégé, Vaelaa Iloa who has won the title of Samoa’s best knife dancer ten times in a row. Coming in second place for the SAT $10,000 prize was Ieti Toomalatai while Alema Alema took third best and SAT$5000 prize.

The judging panel consisted of former fire dancers Galumanamana Patrick Rasmussen and Matagofie Kome Feagaimaali – who is also a founding member of the Ailao Club, and David Galeai, a three-times World Champion of the Polynesian Cultural Centre’s World Fire Knife Championships in Hawaii.

Each performance was judged based on 4 categories. ENTRANCE – Tiotio ma le ola (Excitement), ACTIONS – Taga Eseese (Variety), Tiotio ma le ola (Excitement), Uiga o Aga Eseese (Showmanship), Taga Faigata (Difficulty), CONCLUSION – Tiotio le fa’auma (Dramatic Impact) and Overall Entertainment with single knives and double knives.

  • This content was made possible with funding support from No1 Currency and Western Union

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