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Know Your Personal Hula Intention

One of my "cyber-space haumana" asked me about the possibility of achieving her `uniki as Kumu Hula even though she lived far from the motherland of Hawai`i.   After completing my response, I was requested to share it with others who might have the same question in their mind.  The following is my response.

The first thing I want to say is that `uniki does not mean a right of passage only.  It is the statement to the community of keepers-of-hula-traditions that this person has received the hula traditions of the Kumu's lineage.  It is also an agreement between the Kumu and the trainee that he/she will perpetuate those hula traditions and carry them forward into the next generation, re-creating herself in time to perpetuate those traditions when her Kumu is gone.  If there is not a deep intent to carrying that style and those traditions then the `uniki ceremony would be a mockery. 

In response to the question about continuing to teach while you are training to become a Kumu Hula, I would tell you that I myself continued teaching hula at my studio throughout the entire time of my study with my Kumu Hula, Aunty Lani Kalama.  I was still entering hula competitions at that time, so I was dealing with the kahiko as well as `auana.  She was fine with that. I did not teach the material we were working on until I had achieved my `uniki at the first level of `olapa.  Then she considered I owned that material.  I followed the same path with my student Manumele (Sandii) I allowed her to open her studio after her 'uniki at the level of `Olapa.  She was free to teach the material that I had taught her up to that point.  It was a ritual as Kumu Hula. We continue to study together and work together to this day.

`Uniki is the beginning - not the ending.  Manumele carries my traditions exactly - as do I carry the traditions of my Kumu Hula.  To the best of my ability I pass them on exactly as they were given to me.  I have also studied with other teachers - my Kumu encouraged me to broaden my base of knowledge.  The material that has been shared with me from other Kumu I keep in the style and with the mannerisms of their traditions.  I am a purist, and I believe when you alter the style and presentation you rewrite hula history.  In time nothing authentic exists from the past.  What happens when the student has a style of dancing that differs from the tradition of the Kumu Hula?  One must ask oneself where does that style come from?  Perhaps a Kumu who perpetuates that style would be a more appropriate choice for the student to study with.  Perhaps the student is well enough grounded that there is no need for further study.  Many successful and deeply respected teachers have never received their 'uniki rites.  They are free, therefore, to develop their own unique style.  The `uniki is the statement to the hula community that you have received and now carry the traditions of your teacher and your teacher's teacher and your teacher's teacher's teacher and so on.  So `uniki may not be appropriate for everyone.  My advice boils down to being clear about your intentions.  When you are clear on that point you will know what path to follow.


There was never any question for me - I am proud to carry the traditions of my Kumu - both Bella Richards for my `auana and Lani Kalama for my kahiko.  The greatest compliment I can receive is for another hula person to recognize my Kumu in our dance.  I also knew I needed to legitimatized.  Especially so since I am a mainland ha`ole teaching hula in Hawai`i.  So I never took any short cuts - I did it by the "book".  It allows me to stand tall and know the ground on which I stand.  I did the same thing for my student, Sandii.  Eight long hard years of study after she began the training.  She was already an accomplished dancer when we started, mind you.  I think that you see that the question is much bigger than you realized.  My advice: get clear about your intentions.  The answer will reveal itself.

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