The first night — All senior ‘warriors’ compete: As far as our guests and visitors are concerned the Polynesian Cultural Center’s 24th annual We Are Samoa Festival World Fireknife Championships began the evening of Thursday, May 12, 2016, in the Hale Aloha, and featured 18 open division or senior men (ages 18-and-up). They came from as far away as New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, Samoa, the US east coast and, of course, from throughout Hawaii, hoping that first night to claim one of six semi-finalist positions, as determined by a respected panel of widely experienced judges.

 It could be said, of course, that the actual planning began as soon as the 23rd annual event ended in 2015 — or for that matter, even as far back as the PCC’s first event in 1993 – CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT THIS.


Kuinisē Leiataua,



Our 2016 fiery action began right after introducing all the competitors, judges, sponsors, VIPs, drummers and emcees . . . and what a spectacular event it was. Now, some people might think several hours of Samoan fire knife dancing might be too much, but just as the powerful drumming kept the pervasive rhythm moving, each competitor seemed to add his own touches to the more traditional moves that originated with ancient Samoan warriors and victory celebrations.

The crowd loved to see the different ways the “warriors” lighted their knives, some literally doing it with fire on their tongues, or hands, or legs. Then there was an array of amazing agility and moves — rapid spinning with one hand, then two hands, above the head, behind the back, through the knees, under the back, laying down with the flames resting on the soles of their feet; then all of the above with two knives, then some with three and even four knives. Well, if you’ve never seen a Samoan fire knife dance, it’s simply hard to imagine the bravery and skill the competitors shared.

At the end of the first evening, however, the judges selected the following as semi-finalists (in no particular order) to compete again the following evening:

  • Falaniko Penesa of Samoa (via Hong Kong Disney)
  • Matuni Vaiaoga Jr. of Orlando, Florida
  • Viceson Galea’i of Laie, Oahu
  • Kuinisē Leiataua, San Diego, California
  • Mikaele Oloa, Waialua, Oahu
  • Kepanipa’a Damaso of Waikoloa, Hawaii.


The other entrants included (in no particular order): Tuika Faumuina of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Kane Anzai, Fukushima, Japan; Ghislain Ani and Leon Teai of Faaa, Tahiti; Okuto Horiuchi of Okinawa, Japan; Wallen Te’o of Henderson, Nevada; Tino Luafalealo of Auckland, New Zealand; Lasi Reed of Hauula, Oahu; Keenan Chung of Kaneohe, Oahu; Wendell Pedro of Anchorage, Alaska; Chiyonofuji Peleihonlani Brown from Waikoloa, Hawaii; and Jako Pupualii, Waianae, Oahu.

— Bring on the Intermediates, Juniors and Semi-finalists —

The second night: Back in the Hale Aloha venue on the second sold-out evening, Friday, May 13, 2016, the action began with seven junior (ages 6-11) and 10 Intermediate division (ages 12-17) competitors. Though younger than their senior counterparts, these smaller “warriors” demonstrated more than enough skill to thrill the audience and judges, or as people around here sometimes say, unlike most other children they’ve been encouraged well to play with both sharp knives and fire. After watching them, it’s safe to say the future of fire knife dancing is solid for years to come.

As always, however, it came down to the judges’ decision to award the following:

Junior division winners (ages 6-11)

1st place: Isaako Milford, 10, of Laie, Oahu

2nd place: Mose Lilo, 8, Ewa Beach

3rd place: Matagi Lilo (Mose’s brother), 10, also Ewa Beach

Intermediate division results (ages 12-17)

1st place: Hale Motu’apuaka,16, of Aiea, Oahu. Motu’apuaka, who first appeared in this event as a three-year-old exhibition-only entrant 13 years ago, also won the Intermediate division title in 2014 and 2015.

2nd place: Jeralee Galea’i, 15, of Laie, Oahu — the only female in this year’s competition. She also placed second last year.

3rd place: Hunter Nery, 15, of Waialua, Oahu

Open division finalists selected: After intermission, the six semi-finalists selected the preceding evening, again took the stage; and based on their efforts, the judges selected three finalists (in no particular order):

  • Falaniko Penesa, who is from the Apia area of Upolu, Samoa, has been working for the past four years for Disney Hong Kong. He was previously a World Fireknife Championship finalist.
  • Mikaele Oloa, who has previously won the World Fireknife Championship four times. He regularly performs at the Chief’s Luau on Oahu, teaches fire knife dancing and recently started a business making fire knives.
  • Matuni Vaiaoga Jr., who grew up in Orlando, Florida, said he has been knife dancing all his life. He has been working for Disney Orlando for the past six years.

…And the winner is: From the beginning of the PCC World Fireknife Champion event, the finals have been held during the evening show, but there have been some changes:


Mikaele Oloa

wins first-ever
5th World Fireknife Champion title

Unlike in some years past, the three finalists came on stage this year during a special intermission of the PCC evening show, Ha: Breath of Life, drew lots for their order of appearance, and then immediately took their respective turns. In a single word, they were spectacular.

Each of the three thrilled the sold-out audience with tremendous creativity, speed and risky routines. Near the end of his routine, for example, Oloa took a face-up horizontal position, and while arching his back and balanced only on his head and feet, scooted backward to the center of the stage — all the while rapidly twirling double fire knives.

Many think his daring move may have tipped the judges’ decision in his favor, as at the end of the evening show:

  • Mikaele Oloa claimed his first-ever five-time World Fireknife Championship, as well as a large ceremonial chromed knife trophy and a $4,000 cash prize.
  • Falaniko Penesa  came in second, earning a ceremonial knife trophy and $2,000 cash prize
  • and Matuni Vaiaoga Jr. placed third, winning a similar knife trophy and a $1,000 cash prize.

“We congratulate Mikaele Oloa for being the first-ever five-time world champion,” said PCC President & CEO Alfred Grace. “The competition was so close in skill and the creativity each finalist showed tonight was incredible. What’s especially impressive is how good the quality of competition has gotten at all age levels. We are fortunate there are so many excellent young men and boys who are perpetuating this proud tradition of the Samoan warrior.”

As usual members of the PCC evening show cast paraded Oloa around the stage, and then family, friends and fans thronged the stage to congratulate all of the finalists.

The Polynesian Cultural Center’s 24th annual World Fireknife Competition had come to an amazing conclusion, and people are already looking forward to the silver anniversary of the event in May 2017.

Story by Mike Foley


Mike Foley, who has worked off-and-on

at the Polynesian Cultural Center since

1968,  has been a full-time freelance

writer and digital media specialist since

2002, and had a long career in marketing

communications and PR before that. He

learned to speak fluent Samoan as a

Mormon missionary before moving to Laie

in 1967 — still does, and he has traveled

extensively over the years throughout

Polynesia and other Pacific islands. Foley

is mostly retired now, but continues to

contribute to various PCC and other media.