Fireknife Drumming

Old Samoan traditions indicate the 'ailao or knife dance was originally done to rhythmic chants or songs, but today vigorous drumming on a variety of ancient and modern instruments accompanies each Samoan fire knife dance and adds to the overall excitement.

For many centuries Polynesians created slit-log drums — that is, a trench is gouged out of a section of tree branch — ranging from the small Samoan pate that may only be a foot or two in length and can easily be carried by hand, to huge Fijian lali created from sections of tree trunks: The smaller the drum, the higher the pitch. Depending on the size of the drum, the drum sticks, which are usually carved from very hard wood, range in size from about a foot-long and thin, to heavy mallets and even small tree branches for the larger lali.

More modern innovations might also include using bass and other musical drums, metal cracker tins, empty natural gas cylinders and even 55-gallon drums.

Anciently there were traditional rhythms for various types of dances and activities, but today’s fire knife dancers use a variety of rapid beats that might even show Tahitian and other island influence.