Hale Motuapuaka of Aiea was crowned the 2018 World Fireknife Champion this past weekend, edging out competitors Matsushima Yuya of Japan, who placed second, and former champion Joseph Cadousteau of Papeete, Tahiti, who came in third.
Competitors from Samoa, Japan, Tahiti, California, Florida and Hawaii took to the stage in their respective division at the 26th annual World Fireknife Championship at the Polynesian Cultural Center from Thursday through Saturday.
Motuapuaka, a senior at Punahou School, started fireknife dancing at the age of 3, and began competing as an exhibitor at PCC’s World Fireknife Championship at the age of 4. He has since won multiple titles in the Intermediate Division for competitors ages 12 to 17.
“As a junior and intermediate competitor, I remember watching the World Fireknife Championship competition and being in awe of the competitors’ skills,” said Motuapuaka, who plans to attend Utah State University in the fall on a football scholarship. “Being the 2018 World Fireknife Champion has been a dream and I’m thankful for all of the support from my family, friends and coaches throughout my fireknife dancing career. I am blessed to have come so far.”
Fireknife dancing draws its roots from the Samoan ailao, a warrior’s knife dance performed before battle with the nifo oti, or “tooth of death.”
A panel of six judges who are highly esteemed in the fireknife community scored contestants’ performances based on overall speed, height of each throw, degree of difficulty, choreography and warrior-like presence.
“Year after year, we are wowed by the caliber of competition, and it’s a credit to the thousands of hours they put into refining their craft and preparing for this championship,” said Eric Workman, PCC’s executive vice president in a statement. “We thank all the competitors for how they are elevating public awareness about the artistry of this Samoan cultural tradition.”
The three-day World Fireknife Championship began with the opening round on Thursday, featuring 19 top fireknife dancers in the elite Senior Division (ages 18 and older). Six advanced to the semi-finals on Saturday, from which three finalists performed their best routines for the World Fireknife Championship title.
On Friday night, Mose Lilo, 10, of Ewa Beach took first place in the Junior Division (ages 6 to 11), while Jeralee Galeai, 17, of Laie, took first in the Intermediate Division (ages 12 to 17).
The World Fireknife Championship is the main attraction of PCC’s We Are Samoa Festival, Hawaii’s largest annual Samoan cultural celebration.