VIDEO: TOA OLE AFI FIRE KNIFE ACADEMY REVIVING THE TRADITION AT MOSO’OI FEST
The traditional art of fire knife dancing hasn’t been seen in American Samoa for quite some time now — not since the popular appearance of the Lavata’i Brothers, who had a majority of our Samoan youth thinking that they were just American (palagi) boys playing with fire. Well — it’s making a come back, if Loso I’aulualo has his way — he’s the leader and instructor of the “Toa Ole Afi Fire Knife Academy”, which is trying to bring the fire back to where it actually started.
“Olo Letuli was the first one who added the fire onto the “nifo oti” and that’s how it became a fire dance, so fire knife dancing isn’t only in American Samoa, it is also popular around the world. Olo toured the world and took with him the art of fireknife dancing, and basically put Samoa on the map,” I’aulualo said.
I’aulualo_ is known in American Samoa for teaching and organizing Polynesian cultural performances and has coordinated plays (skits) for the youth of American Samoa. He has also been helping the youth on island for a long time in football, as well as coaching not only at the high school level, but also in the AYFS.
I’aulualo told Samoa News he started the “Toa Ole Afi Fire Knife Academy” in American Samoa, after seeing the absence of the fireknife dance in our recent government celebrations and local cultural performances held on island.
“The Toa Ole Afi started two months ago, I’d say maybe the end of July. I had some friends who called and asked if I knew any fire knife dancers who would be able to do a show, and it’s sad to say that here in American Samoa, we don’t have any more fire knife dancers. The last people that I knew of, were the three Lavata’i boys, who have done fire knife dancing here in American Samoa, and this was the reason that I wanted to start this school — just to get something started.”
He explained, “Some of the kids who were out on the football field after practice, and then there were some other little kids who were just running around on the field, so I asked them if they were interested in fire knife dancing, and all these kids were saying “yeah yeah yeah”, so with some broom sticks and some towels, that’s how we started. Later on, we started spinning the knife and a few weeks later, I went out and searched for some funding to help our program.
“I would like to acknowledge Monali’a Seui from Intersections Inc. and also Patricia Letuli of the Flaming Swords of Samoa, and that is basically how it all started,” he said.
I’aulualo said, “We started out with 15 kids, and eventually it grew to 25 kids, and as of now, we are about at that number, and we’re going on our second month.”
He added, “I also coach football, so we’ve been practicing our dances at the Tafuna High School Football Field after our football practices in the evenings. The kids are so excited that right after our football practices, they are _ lining up on the sidelines waiting to see what time fire knife practice starts — and it’s something that I feel we need here in American Samoa.”
I’aulualo noted there are more fire knife dancers in Samoa, as he observed during the Teuila Festival this year. “I was part of a team who came from Hawai’i and we were able to watch, and some of the members of our group were judges for the fire knife dance competition that was held there.”
Toa Ole Afi instructor I’aulualo told Samoa News that as of now, they are preparing to showcase their debut performance of Toa Ole Afi for the upcoming Moso’oi Festival, which is celebrated this month (October) in American Samoa.”
“We are also rehearsing for an upcoming event that will take place on the 23rd of this month, and it will be held at the Tafuna High School gymnasium. This will showcase the Toa Ole Afi students, to try and promote the art of fire knife dancing here in American Samoa,” he said.
I’aulualo encourages the public to come out and support our youth to boost their self esteem, and to let the kids know that they are playing an important part of history, not only on island, but in the culture or the Fa’aSamoa.
“I hope and pray that you will all come out and support our kids, and if there are any youth out there who are interested in joining the Toa Ole Afi Fire Knife Academy, we will be holding registration and sign up for those who are interested in bringing the art of fire knife dancing back here to the territory.”
He added, “I would like to call out to the parents and the community to come out and support our youth, come out and just give them a chance to build their self esteem, get to know their culture, and also to bring back the flames to American Samoa.”
I’aulualo highlighted an invitation to the youth of American Samoa, “Again, we will be having registration for the kids who are interested in joining our fire knife program, there will be a table with our parents or volunteers who will be taking names and phone numbers, and then we’ll be calling and we’ll be giving out more information on how to apply to join our fire knife school.”
“This school is strictly based on volunteers, there is no fee for the students, so there is no income coming in to help fund some of the things that we need. The knives are about $200 a piece, they are very expensive. A complete set for one student would range around $600.”
He concluded, “If any of you out there are willing to make any sort of donation that could help our youth or our school, please feel free to contact us (684-733-5313) and drop by to see the kids at Tafuna High School — or just to make a small donation for the youth of our community who hold the continuation of this cultural tradition of fire knife dancing for future generations to come. Fa’afetai.”