Falaniko Penesa of Samoa wins 2019 World Fireknife Championship

Falaniko Penesa won the title of the 2019 World Fireknife Championship at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Saturday.

Mikaele Oloa of Waialua, Hawaii, and Joseph Cadousteau of Tahiti rounded out the top three.

 Penesa's victory concluded the four-day We Are Samoa Festival, May 8-11 which is Hawaii's largest annual Samoan cultural celebration. 

The festival featured fireknife competitions in four divisions, the High School Samoan Cultural Arts Festival, and daily exhibits of Samoan culture and artwork throughout the grounds of the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Penesa, 28, whose home is in Aele and Puipaa, Samoa, bested the other two finalists,  to win the elite Men's Division of the World Fireknife Championship. Tonight's championship round culminated three days of intense competition that began with 24 contestants in the opening round on Thursday (May 9), from which six semi-finalists performed last night seeking to advance to tonight's finals.

Alfred Grace, president and CEO of the Polynesian Cultural Center, said, "Falaniko Penesa is a gracious winner and fan favorite. He is a brilliant fireknife dancer and an excellent role model. We applaud his winning performance and how he got better with each round of competition."

Dressed in a traditional lavalava and performing to the pulsating beat of eight Samoan drummers, Penesa's championship performance featured an amazing routine that had him spinning the flaming blades at dizzying speeds with his arms extended from his side and in front of his body, behind his back, above his head, and under his legs while sitting and laying down.

Other highlights of Penesa's performance included the juggling of two fireknives and tossing them 20 feet in the air without breaking the rhythm of his routine. He also did a one-handed cartwheel while twirling the fireknives and, spun in a circle while lying on his back, arching it and using his head used to pivot his movement.

Penesa, who dropped to one knee and got emotional upon learning of his victory, also won the World Fireknife Championship in 2017. He said of his second championship, "I am so happy and want to congratulate all of the contestants. Thank you to the Polynesian Cultural Center for keeping the Samoan culture alive and bringing people together for this festival."

Penesa has been training and practicing for the past year to win back the title and encouraged all up-and-coming fireknife dancers with his message to "always practice and never give up."

This year's World Fireknife Championship featured competitions in four divisions. In addition to Penesa winning the Men's Division, Jeralee Galeai, 18, of Laie, Hawaii, won the Women's Division, Matagi Lilo, 13, of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, won the Intermediate Division (ages 12-17) and his younger brother, Mose Lilo, 11, won the Junior Division (ages 6-11).

Now in its 27th year, the World Fireknife Championship was established by the Polynesian Cultural Center in 1993 to showcase this proud Samoan tradition and encourage future generations to perpetuate this amazing combination of artistry, skill and bravery. 

Fire-knife dancing is rooted in the Samoan ailao, a warrior knife dance traditionally performed before battle utilizing the nifo oti, or "tooth of death."