January 7, 2016

2194 UNITED STATES (Hawaii) - The Samoan Fire Knife Dance

2194 Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu -
The Samoan Fire Knife Dance

The fire knife is a traditional Samoan cultural implement that is used in ceremonial dances. It was originally composed of a machete wrapped in towels on both ends with a portion of the blade exposed in the middle. Tribal performers of fire knife dancing (or siva afi as it is called in Samoa) dance while twirling the knife and doing other acrobatic stunts. The towels are set afire during the dances thus explaining the name. In modern time, the dance was revived by Tavita Vaoifi, after WWII.

The siva afi was originally performed with the nifo oti (war knife) which is very dangerous as the steel of the nifo oti heats up and burns. The modern fire knife dance has its roots in the ancient Samoan exhibition called ailao - the flashy demonstration of a Samoan warrior's battle prowess through artful twirling, throwing and catching, and dancing with a war knife. Fire was added to the knife in 1946 by a Samoan knife dancer named Letuli Olo Misilagi.

It seems that the history of this dance began during a birthday celebration for the King of Tonga (the Tongans had ruled Samoa for 200 years). At this festival, the Samoans buried weapons in the sand all around the area, as they plied the Tongans with sini ai-vao (bush gin). Their bush knives were similar with those used in the past to decapitate the enemies. As the party progressed, the Samoans performed a dance.

They had wrapped both ends of the knife with dry palm sennit which was then dipped into the fires to create a blaze on one end of the knife. They danced and pointed out the locations of the buried weapons to warriors who waited, in small paopaos (canoes) off shore. The warriors then stormed the beach, recovered the weapons and proceeded to drive the Tongans from east to the westernmost point of Upolu, where the Tongans boarded boats and left Samoa for good.

Today, modern competitions are held annually at the Polynesian Cultural Center (a Polynesian-themed theme park and living museum located in Laie, on the northern shore of Oahu, Hawaii) to name the World Fireknife Champion. The competition began in 1992 and is always held during the third week of May. In 2007, the championships were expanded to welcome competitors in a duet category and a women's category. In 2010 the event expanded to four nights including a two-night, three-person final competition.

About the stamps
About the first stamp, featuring a portrait of George Washington, I wrote here. The first stamp is the one issued in 2013 for celebrating Kwanzaa, about which I wrote here.

References
Fire knife - Wikipedia
The Samoan FireKnife - Polynesian Cultural Center official website

Sender: Denise 
Sent from Greenvale (New York / United States), on 25.03.2014
Photo: James Randklev / 1996

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