Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Siva Afi champion credits family for achievements

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Ann-Tauilo Motuga | Reporter/Videographer

For Aaliyah Ava, winning a siva afi competition is no easy feat, but winning two titles in one year is testimony to her hard work.

Based in Hawaii, the 22-year-old competed in the World Fire Knife Championships held at the Polynesian Cultural Centre. Aaliyah remained the Wahine Toa champion for a second year and also secured the title of the 2024 World Fire Knife champion in the senior women’s category.

Hailing from a longline of siva afi icons and champions, Aaliyah says it’s not easy to compete.

“No matter how much pressure I feel, I know it’s very important to represent my family and keep my papa’s legacy alive,’ she says.

“There were times I felt like giving up. But when I think of my papa and my family, they keep me going.”

Pulefanolefolasa Feagaimaali’i Galea’i with David Galea’i. Photo: Left – Mike Foley. Right – Aaliyah Ava.

Her papa, the late Pulefanolefolasa Feagaimaali’i Galea’i, is the founder of the World Fire Knife Championship in Laie, Hawaii. He won his first fire knife championship in Hawaii in 1964 and placed second in the American Samoan Intercontinental Competition by the Office of Tourism.

Aaliyah credits her papa, her mother Maliana Galea’i Ava and her uncle David Galea’i for their teachings and knowledge.

“[My papa] has taught me so much about our culture and some old traditional moves,” she shares.

Aaliyah’s mom Maliana Galea’i Ava. Photo: Provided.

“My mom has been around us, managing a lot of gigs especially at the Polynesian Cultural Centre. Even to this day, she coaches us and continues to push us to be the best we can be.”

At the age of seven, Aaliyah developed a fascination with siva afi and wanted to learn more. Her brothers and boy cousins were learning siva afi at the time, and alongside  Aaliyah, was her sister Chandae and cousin Jeri Galea’i who were the only females willing to learn. 

A true family affair, Aaliyah’s uncle, David, created the family siva afi group called “Vaimatina.”

Aaliyah with her family. Photo: Provided.

David and Maliana guided the girls to create their own siva afi team. They are known as the world-renowned Triple Threat.

And while they perform as a trio, the girls have  flourished as solo siva afi performers. Aaliyah competed in 2019 for the very first women’s category at the Polynesian Cultural Centre and won the 2019 Masters of the Flames competition held in California. Her sister Chandae was this year’s 2nd runner up for the World Fire Knife Champions in the women’s category, and Jeri is a two-time former winner (2023 and 2019) in the same category and competition.

Aaliyah’s most proudest moment in her career to date, was being a part of the World Fire Knife competition with her sister and cousin.

(L-R) Chandae and Jeri. Photos: worldfireknife.com

“This competition was my biggest challenge and I felt so grateful to be able to enter it,” she says.

“It took a lot of training. I made sure I practised day and night. It definitely was not easy, but I learned that consistency is key.”

Aaliyah is looking forward to honing her skills for any upcoming siva afi competitions and she hopes to inspire women to give siva afi a go.

To keep up to date with future siva afi workshops, visit https://www.sivaafiaotearoa.co.nz/workshops

To witness a live siva afi event, you can check out the following:

Samoa – 1st – 7th September 2024

Brisbane, Australia – 27th – 28th September

New Lynn, NZ – 12th October

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