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Samoan Fireknife

by Rick Bernico, webmaster

Samoan pride was on display at the Polynesian Cultural Center, May 12 to 19. Samoans came from all around the world – from Samoa itself, of course, Japan, Tahiti, Hanover Park – 16 men who ranged from 18 years to 40. They all looked different – short hair, long hair, poodle hair, blonde hair, brown hair, no hair – but they all had one thing in common: they were competitors in the 2001 Samoan Fireknife Competition.
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Many faces were new, some faces were familiar. Some of the old, familiar faces were not there, including David Galeai, the 1999 and 2000 winner. He was not eligible to compete because he had won both previous years.

This year’s competition had a format similar to that of previous years. All competitors performed in the preliminaries on the first night. The nine men with the highest scores then competed in three semi-final rounds, three men per round. The winners of each semi-final round competed in the finals on Saturday.

The competitors were judged by several criteria:

  1. the height of the throws
  2. the speed of the spins
  3. the difficulty of the tricks
  4. Showmanship
  5. Competence: no knives were dropped


Competitors Scott Zuziak and Thomas Kato came all the way from Illinois, and they brought a group of supporters with them. During their performances, their following was so loud that the audinece might have thought the Cubs had won the World Series. All the support paid off when Zuziak made it to the semi-finals.

Kalamalama caught up with Zuziak at a special reception after the preliminaries, sponsored by Cultural Center. “There are about 10 to 15 fireknife dancers in the Chicago area,” said Zuziak, who had been “a juggler and acrobat in the circus” before he took up fireknife.

David Ahuna, 18 years old from Kane‘ohe, made the semi-finals for the first time. “Did you see him? He did really well and had a lot of confidence,” said his father Joseph Ahuna, who was videotaping his son’s performance.

Pati Levasa, Conan Higa, and Teo (Kap) Tafiti had the three highest scores in the semi-finals and performed in the final round, held during the intermissions of the two PCC Horizon shows. The finals generated a high level of anticipation and excitement, as all three dancers had their own signature moves, spun their knives at incredible speeds, and put on dazzling shows.

In the end, speed and experience won out as Pati Levasa won his third championship. Kap Tafiti was second and Conan Higa third. When asked how this win compared to his previous ones, Levasa replied through a translater: “It was the same. There were only 16 others and the competition was not as high this year.”

Levasa has an incredible one-handed “helicopter” spin that he created and perfected. Many other dancers have tried to imitate it, but no one even comes close to Levasa’s flair. Asked how long he worked to teach himself the move, he answered, “One day.”



©2001, Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.
This site designed & maintained by Rick Bernico.