A to Z Abroad: Fire Dancing in French Polynesia


Fire dancing has its roots in Samoa with an ancient tradition called the “ailao.” Warriors showed off their battle prowess via artful twirling, throwing, and catching of a war club on fire. This tradition also extended to chieftain daughters during ceremonial processions.

Photo by: c.b.w. 2001

The art of Samoan fire dancing spread to other Pacific regions such as Hawaii and French Polynesia. While the dance of the warrior is relegated to the past, natives still perform the ritual for tourists.

In one of my more touristy excursions, I visited the Tiki Village on the French Polynesian island of Moorea. Not only was I treated to a traditional Polynesian feast (with a pit roasted pig and fruit buffet), but I was lucky enough to watch an incredibly talented group of people put on one heck of a show.

The show started with a little audience humiliation, in that the dancers snagged a few people and pulled them into the middle of the sand filled stage. Lucky me – I was one of them. I have no rhythm, so I was able to go back to my seat pretty quickly! Word from the wise, don’t sit in the front row if you are shy.

After watching a slew of bad tourist dancers in Bermuda shorts and straw hats, the real show began with an ensemble performance of various traditional dances. Between swiveling hula hips and incredible acrobatics, I was mesmerized.

Soon, the fire dancers appeared holding flaming batons and staffs. Along with intricate dance routines, they did their ancient warrior ancestors proud with impressive displays of athletic skill. Flames danced across the stage, seeming to write the history of tradition in the air.

A little fire-eating never hurt anyone!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2001

Like the chieftain daughters before them, the ladies grab fire sticks, too!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2001

Despite my general rule about avoiding obvious tourist attractions, I was glad to make an exception for the fire dancers.  The ritual may no longer have a place in the modern world, but thanks to the concept of tourism the practice is not in danger of becoming extinct.

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Part of the A to Z Blog Challenge!


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c.b.w. 2013