Goes to show how timely I am at posting blog entries. On Saturday (so a week ago), Cale and I went to the finals of the 7th International Siva Afi competition.
First a little siva afi lesson:
Siva afi means fire dance, but it is also known as fire knife because the dancers are swinging around knives set on fire. According to Wikipedia:
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.
Check out the Wikipedia link for more information on the history of fire knife. There is also historical information on the Polynesian Cultural Center's website. The big fire knife competition each year is held at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. That competition determines the World Fireknife Champion. I am not sure where the competition we saw comes into play or if it is related to the World competition.
The dancers are performing with a large, sharp, hooked knife. A towel or some sort of absorbent material is wrapped around the blade and dipped in a flammable liquid. Since both ends of the knife appear to be on fire, I can only assume that the end of the knife is wrapped in a similar manner.
Now, back to our competition:
Our dancers had a two part routine. They first dance with only one lit knife. This routine usually began with one one end of the knife lit and the dancers lighting the other end during the performance in some clever and clearly dangerous way. A favorite way was to use their mouths to move the fire from one end to the other. I don't 100% understand how they do this, but they do. One that Cale was particularly impressed with was the guy that thrust his knife forward so quickly flames were left in the air and the back portion of the knife was lit when it passed through them.
Two of the performers began their routines by spraying a line of flammable liquid on the stage from the dripping knife and then setting that line on fire. It was quite dramatic.
The second part of the routine was with two knives. During this part the dancers would handle both knives independently and also link the two knives together at the hooks and twirl that around a bit.
I cannot even begin to explain how impressive this is to watch. Not only is the act itself difficult and dangerous and incredibly physically demanding, but many of the competitors were impressive showmen (or women). Their stage presences was all impressive and they were able to engage the audience completely. I am sure the fact that they were swinging fire around didn't hurt either.
The venue was a little unfortunate. The area in front of the stage was sectioned off for sponsors, so seats were only available on the sides. The way the building was constructed meant that most views were obstructed by poles. We set up camp at the bar which was directly behind the sponsors' section and had fewer poles in the way. Once the fun started, I went down front and knelt by the TV camera men to get better pictures.
I was also incredibly impressed by the intermission show. It had typical Samoan fiafia fare. There were lovely ladies dancing and a sāsā ([sah-sah] seated dance of sorts). However, there was also an interesting show that involved a capella harmonization/chanting singing and a dance/reenactment of the Samoan people coming to Samoa by longboat. It was awesome. One of my favorite things I have seen in Samoa so far. It felt very authentic. The music hadn't been corrupted by the casio keyboard or other modern influences. The intermission show also included what I am going to call the siva afi equivalent of a rodeo clown. These guys lit large fires on small, hip-height tables. They then proceeded to sit on these fires. I cannot even begin to explain in words. The pictures will have to suffice.
Overall, the fire dancing experience was wonderful and I look forward to next year's competition.
As always, more pictures are available on the Flickr.