The Baker Orange

Savaiinaea carries on Samoan culture

Sophomore+Niko+Savaiinaea+grew+up+watching+his+father+perform+Siva+Afi+and+soon+began+performing+himself+as+part+of+his+family%27s+business.
Sophomore Niko Savaiinaea grew up watching his father perform Siva Afi and soon began performing himself as part of his family's business.

Sophomore Niko Savaiinaea grew up watching his father perform Siva Afi and soon began performing himself as part of his family's business.

Sophomore Niko Savaiinaea grew up watching his father perform Siva Afi and soon began performing himself as part of his family's business.

Story by Kaysie Nielson

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From the western islands of Samoa to a small town in New Jersey, just 10 minutes from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, BU junior Niko Savaiinaea, a football player and wrestler, carries on his culture’s traditions. Specifically, a pre-war dance ritual which involves a war knife with the ends lit on fire.

Fire knife dancing, also known as Siva Afi in Samoa, is a dance performed only by men. It symbolizes that Samoans are ready for war.

Savaiinaea grew up watching his father, a chief in Samoa, perform Siva Afi and soon began learning how to dance and properly use the war knife himself. He didn’t like it until his younger brother picked it up. He and his younger brother began to practice together frequently, and at the age of 6 he added fire to his knife.

“I liked learning from my dad,” Savaiinaea said. “However, my little brother got really good, and it made me want to be better than him. You could say the competitiveness got to me.”

Savaiinaea’s family owns a Polynesian dance business just off the shore in Ocean City, New Jersey. This gives the business an ideal location to host birthday parties, weddings, traditional celebrations and other special events.

Savaiinaea has performed at many of these events. Since moving to college, though, he hasn’t been able to dance often, but when he returns home he tries to be a part of as many events as he can.

“After college, I hope to be involved with my family’s business,” Savaiinaea said. “I don’t see myself owning it, but I will always dance there and will definitely encourage my future children and nephews to learn and participate.”

As Savaiinaea has grown up and learned how to fire knife dance, he’s also been actively learning and participating in football and wrestling. Sports weren’t a focal point for his family when he was growing up, but many of his friends persuaded him to get involved.

Savaiinaea said he has always loved playing sports, but playing on the defensive line for the football team has been his favorite part.

“The D-line is the goon squad – a ruthless, unstoppable pack full of goons,” he said.

Following football season, Savaiinaea switches to wrestling. While growing up, he began to notice that his ability to fire knife dance helped him with wrestling.

Fire knife dancing requires participants to dance in a squatting position, have good hand-eye coordination and execute a continuous series of moves. Those requirements apply to wrestling. Dancing helps Savaiinaea with better flexibility and gives him a better ability to concentrate on what’s in front of and surrounding him.

“I love sports and all, but if I’m really honest, my passion is within my culture, and fire knife dancing is one of my passions within my culture,” Savaiinaea said.

Along with being passionate about the dance, Savaiinaea has picked up drumming from his Tongan cousin, Daniel Ofa. Drums are a popular instrument in Tonga, mostly used for background music in dances such as the fire knife dance. For Polynesians, music and dance provide cultural expression for respect.

Savaiinaea isn’t the only student on Baker’s campus dedicated and passionate about Polynesian culture. Sophomore Lela Hautau is too.

Hautau’s family comes from Tonga, a group of islands in the Southern Pacific. Much like Samoans, Tongans express rituals and symbolic messages through dancing. A well-known dance in Tonga is Tau’olunga, which is done by a single woman who dances with bent knees and uses graceful hand gestures to explain a story.

“Our culture is very beautiful, as are all Polynesian cultures,” Hautau said. “Many of the Polynesian islands have similar traditions such as our language, music/instruments, the foods we eat and the events we hold.”

Savaiinaea said he is honored to share his passion from his culture whenever he has the opportunity. Whether he is returning to visit his family business in New Jersey or spending a month and a half in Samoa every two years, he’s out there performing.

“For this year’s Mr. BU, I’ll be performing a fire knife dance, and I’ll have Danny as my drummer,” Savaiinaea said. “I’m excited to dance here at Baker. I’ll always jump on a chance to show people what I can do.”

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