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By Tina Mata'afa

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, May 9) - After lighting up the Tony Solaita field in Tafuna and making away with this year's junior championship in the 4th Annual American Samoa Fire Knife Competition - the territory's own Brandon Lee Tulei Lavata'i now prepares to compete against the world's best at the Fireknife of Samoa World Fire Knife competition in Laie, Hawaii.

"I can't wait," said 13-year-old Brandon Lee.

Lee received US$1,000 for his win, plus a Blue Sky phone plus phone cards. His older brother, 16-year old Malakai Donny, who won the championship in the junior divison last year, took second.

"When Brandon was announced the winner, Donny had such a big smile on his face," said Trish, mother of both boys. "He was so proud of Brandon Lee."

Two years ago, in 2003, it was Brandon Lee who took the championship title at the Los Angeles competition. The boys plus a third brother 15-year old Jeurell, who also dances, are all members of the American Samoa based Nifo Oti club of Fogagogo.

"I was actually surprised when I won," said the Manumalo Baptist Academy eighth grader. "It feels really good."

Jeurell was kept out of the competition because he was sick but Brandon and Donny rallied to claim the top two spots and in third place was Barryneta Leilua of the Siumu group of Samoa. Barryneta won the A.S. junior championship in 2003. Altogether, ten competitors competed in the junior division. Five came from the Siumu Group and five were local boys.

The Lavatai parents, Mel and Trish will accompany the boys to the compeitition in Laie, that spans over three days with all junior competition held on May 19.

Hogan Toomalatai, of the Ailao Club of Samoa, this year's senior champion, will not be participating in the Hawaii competition. He has recently signed a contract to dance in Thailand but is planning to compete in the Los Angeles competition in July.

Toomalatai was named the Senior champion in the competition sponsored by the Flaming Sword of Samoa Association. It's his second consecutive win. The senior division started out with eight competitors on Friday night, including one female-Melanie Leilua from the Siumu Group of Samoa.

The best three from both divisions, who were scored by a panel of judges, re-appeared on Saturday night for the finals round. Senior Champion, Toomalatai, won the title in Laie, when he was 9-years old. This is his second championship win in American Samoa. He and members of the Ailao Club left the territory on Sunday. Toomalatai took home $3,000 plus a cell phone and free phone cards courtesy of Blue Sky Communications.

"He is an excellent performer," said Trish Lavatai, also one of the event's coordinators.

"He's good. He's real good and he's fast," said one spectator on Saturday night.

Toomalatai's fast-paced moves, showmanship and skill moved him into Saturday's final round, where he and fellow Ailao Club of Samoa member, Kome Feagaimaalii, battled it out for the title. Feagaimaalii took second place and finishing in third place was Komasi Isaako from Savai'i, who used three knives. Isaako won the senior championship in 2003. Five of the senior competitors came from Samoa and three were locals.

Providing the drumbeats for the competition, were the drummers of Loso's South Seas Revue, led by Loso Iaulualo. Entertainment was provided by Loso's Revue as well as dancers of 'Evalu Hawaiian Halau, under the direction of Kumu Hula Lupelele Letuli and Kumu Hula Legava'a Tafaoa.

A solo Tahitian performance was also provided by granddaugter, Taliilani Goeas, of Fire Knife master, the late Paramount Chief Letuli Olo Uluao Misilagi, who traveled from Hawaii.

After going solo on Friday, Master of Ceremony Abraham "G-Man" King was joined by Fagafaga Daniel Langkilde on Saturday.

The Flaming Sword Association, recently earned 501 status which makes them eligible to apply for federal grants. Their annual competition is to "showcase the talented young men and women of the South Pacific who have dedicated themselves to understanding and learning the fire knife dance," they said in a statement.

"It is a culturally unique form of dance that originated in and belongs to Samoa," they added.

The organizers paid a special tribute to the governor for supporting the event. He too once danced the fire knife dance or 'siva afi'. He was once a student of the inventor of the siva afi, Paramount Chief Letuli.

"Through Paramount Chief Letuli Olo Uluao Misilagi it became an art that is uniquely Samoan and it is a proud feeling to know that it is celebrated and performed across the globe as the Samoan Fire Knife by people of different nationalities and cultures," said Governor Togiola.

He commended the association and performers for "maintaining the Siva Afi as the most exciting and hottest act in Polynesia and around the world."

"May God Bless you all and the memory of Paramount Chief Letuli "Freddie" Olo Misilagi, who up in heaven is screaming out loud that signature, all to familiar on-stage cry: Sau ia!."

May 10, 2006

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