Veteran fire knife dancer encourages young generation

Samoans are slowly losing the traditional fire knife dancing skills they are known for.

The concern was expressed by famous Samoan fire knife dancer, Vaea Vaaulu Vaiaoga, during an interview with the Weekend Observer.

Vaea said even at 60 years old, he has never let go of the God-given that allowed him to provide for his family and to travel the world. He is now working at Delta Airlines, but still does dancing as a side job. 

“I left Samoa for 36 years and even though I left Samoa too long I am always proud to be a Samoan and the culture that I have and the dance that I have been blessed with,” he said. 

“I have been around the world many times because I travel and every time people hear about fire knife dancing they get so excited especially when they find out that a Samoan is performing this dance. This is how some people come to know of Samoa is through fire knife dancing.”

Vaea was here earlier this year as one of the Judges for the International Siva Afi competition. He said it was a very difficult task trying to judge the young performers because they were all talented and creative as well. 

But how did he get into dancing?

“I never went to Samoa College, I did not attend the National University of Samoa or any other universities, I just completed my school with a diploma from Pesega College,” he said.

“I started at Vaimoso, I just picked up a stick and just started spinning, but my eldest brother, I saw him dancing and I always see him at our backyard getting hurt, getting cuts from what he was doing but he just kept going.

“So eventually I started doing what my elder brother was doing and I got hurt so many times, I got cuts and got burned from what I got myself into, but I did not give up.”

Vaea said he danced at the Tusitala Hotel back then (now Tanoa Tusitala Hotel) before his parents sent him to Florida where he danced at the Sea World as a fire knife dancer for two years.

“Then the Walt Disney World member came and watched me dancing on the stage and then they ask me if I want to go to dance there mind you Walt Disney World is like the next level. So I got the opportunity and silently thanking God for the opportunity so I have been dancing with them for 21 years.”

In the past five years of his career at Disney, he had the chance to perform at one of the top show in Disney it’s called the Lion King show which is the festival of the Lion King.

“So I performed just me and my knife performing in front of thousands of people and it was just an amazing feeling and I was so happy,” Vaea said.

“Let me just say that I am not the best dancer in the world but the minute I step on the stage I don’t think of anyone else but me, just me and stick doing our thing and showcasing my Samoan culture and where I am from and who I am.” 

He reiterated that fire knife dancing can help an individual get a better life.  

 “I’m not a smart person and when it comes to the educational side I am very weak and so I started praying asking God to give me the strength and help me and most especially show me the way where I can be able to succeed in life.”

Vaea’s son and two nephews are also fire knife dancers. He encouraged the young people of Samoa to have faith on what they do because it will help them in the future. 

Fire knife is a traditional Samoan cultural implement that is used in ceremonial dances.  According to history, fire knife 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 or even “Ailao Afi” as it is called in Samoa) twirl the knife while doing other acrobatic stunts. The towels are set alight during the dances, thus the name. 

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