Wednesday 24 May 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Art, Features
Jeralee Galea’i, who is of Cook Islands and Samoan descent, is the 2023 Polynesian Cultural Center’s World Fire Knife Dance female champion, winning the event for the second time earlier this month.
The Rarotonga born represented the Cook Islands at the annual World Fire Knife Competition in Laie, Hawaii on May 10 in which dancers of diverse ages and skill levels compete for the coveted title.
Galeai’s maternal grandparents, Rarotonga residents David and Isobel (nee Williams) Akanoa are delighted by their granddaughter’s achievement.
David said: “I’m proud of her, it’s not an easy sport, you get cuts and burns, but it seems like nothing to her.”
Galea’i is the first female soloist fireknife or “Siva afi” dancer at the Polynesian Cultural Center’s night show.
“She gets cut sometimes during her shows and she has had bad burns, but she carries on,” said Akanoa.
“She was born with the talent which runs in her father’s family, the Galea’i family, and one of her twin cousins came in second.”
Galea’i’s father, David Galea’i, is a three-time world fire knife champion who represented the Cook Islands in 1999, 2000, and 2003.
Born on Rarotonga, Galea’i moved to Hawaii with her parents Grace (nee Akanoa) and David when she was five.
In Hawaii her father was teaching her older cousins when she started to fire knife dancing.
Her father saw her potential and started working on her craft which she grew to love.
Since she was 12 Galea’i has been trying to break into the male dominated sport of fire knife dancing.
Fire knife makes her feel proud and coming from a family that does the art makes her want to continue the tradition.
In 2015 at the age of 15, she was the first runner up in the intermediate section of the World Fire Knife competition, and in 2017 she took out first place in the intermediate category competing with the men.
Then in 2019 the rules changed and the women had their own category which Galea’i joined, becoming the champion.
Galea’i has said she would like to pass on her talent of fire dancing to young people and anyone else who would like to learn the art.