Fiafia (Happy Happy) Night is exactly that – a colourful, fun night of singing, dancing, drums and fire put on by the ultra-happy local villagers of Matuautu-uta Lefaga – that makes everyone, well, happy.
Although Shane and I see the show every week, we’re never tired of it as the dancing is so athletic and fun, and they change it up. Kevin just gets a glimpse from the kitchen but sometimes can come and join us.
Fatu, whose name means “heart”, is the leader who welcomes everyone to Return to Paradise with the biggest smile you will ever see.
He and his sister Helen sit cross-legged in front of a large wooden bowl filled with kava, which if you remember my blog about the kava ceremony in Fiji, tastes like dirty bath water.
If Fatu calls out your name preceded by a long tribal yell, you become an honorary matai (chief) for the night. A small wooden bowl is brought to you, and you must pour a little on the ground for the Lord, then down the rest. Those who are wise and have done it before know to pour most of it out first.
Then the drums and music start, with men dancing first, really athletic, and everyone smiling and whooping it up, looking like they are having the time of their lives. The women join them wearing beautiful traditional puletasi (dresses), swaying to the music and delicately moving their arms and hands in a wavy pattern – I’ve tried to copy this, but am completely hopeless.
Throughout the show, you will hear Fatu yell out “Hey, Hey”, and the rest answering “Ho”, a tradition that is done at most Fiafia shows on the island and any other large event.
The Samoan slap dance is one of my faves, with men and women sitting on the floor cross-legged and slapping their knees and clapping, then standing and doing more.
Then the men pretend to dance like women, swaying their hips and looking feminine. Fatu really hams it up. Cross-dressing is an accepted part of the culture here and in Fiji, where these people are respectfully considered a 3rd gender. Bruce Jenner might want to consider a change of address.
Then the fire show begins – the fire-eaters put the fire stick to their tongues, take a bite and we watch them blow out fire – fantastic. One of the fire dancers told me afterward that the secret is to breathe in first, then when you exhale the oxygen blows the fire away from your mouth – but even with this inside information I think I would have a black tongue and burnt cheeks.
Next, two boys, aged 10 and 13, show their skills and bravery as they twirl the fire sticks and toss them back and forth to one another. I’m hoping that the youngest one will teach Shane how to do this one day, without the fire of course.
Danger is definitely part of the show. We’ve seen some of the grass “socks” worn by the men light on fire, and you often see them throw the fire stick to the ground if they mishandle it or need a break from the heat.
For the finale, all fire dancers, usually 7 – 10, show all their tricks and it is spectacular, the pictures and video don’t do it justice.
When the drums end, Fatu asks everyone to return to their seats for a song where everyone is invited to come up and dance with the performers. Shane usually runs off during this one, but I look forward to dancing with the young warriors every week. One final song features the Village Queen who steps on the backs of those lying down in front of her, and a pot is laid out for people to give a donation then go up and dance one more time.
The final song is a version of “Edelweiss”, but the words are “When you return to Paradise, we will be waiting to greet you”.
Shane and I look forward to Tuesday Fiafia night, then rush back so Shane can do his homework for the next day.
I haven’t seen a Hula Dance, but I imagine there are some similarities between here and Hawaii, and likely some of the other Polynesian islands. The fire show in Fiji was very similar, and we’ve seen fire dancers doing similar tricks in Koh Phagnan in Thailand. But the Samoan costumes, music and songs, and the beautiful ways of these happy people make it truly unique.
Fiafia Night is definitely a happy way to spend a Tuesday night at Return to Paradise.