Tradition of 'Unkiki
What Are The Requirements To 'Uniki as a Traditional Kumu Hula?
What is being shared on these pages are the traditions given to me in my training as Kumu Hula. Other traditions may vary
The most often asked questions are:
What is required to achieve a traditional 'uniki rite?
How long does it take to achieve the various levels?
Can the training take place with the student and the kumu geographically separated?
"Always remember that all knowledge is not held in any one Halau or Hula Tradition"
1st step on the journey to 'uniki
In our tradition, candidates are required to make many of their own hula implements. This is the way we perpetuate this knowledge of the craft to the next generation. They make their own 'uli'uli (feathered gourd) including creating their own traditional style feathered cap that graces the 'uli'uli. They harvest their own guava stakes to make their long and short kala'au (wooden striking sticks). They skin the kala fish for the drumhead as they make their own puniu (knee drum). They must make their own lei hulu for the head, or traditional feather lei, binding each individual feather three times. As 'uniki draws near, they must gather kukui nuts (candle nut) and roast them so as to extract the oil to be used in painting on the traditional design on the pa'u hula (hula skirt) that the candidate will wear during the 'uniki. Each of these steps is an important part of the training process so as to completely transfer the knowledge from one generation to the next.
At various times in the training process, the candidates are required to demonstrate their mastery of the material given thus far by performing the numbers in front of other Kumu Hula who have agreed to participate in the process. In this way the candidate's progress is tested and measured. When the entire body of material has been transmitted and the student has shown mastery of the material, a date is set for the 'uniki rites and for the public 'uniki which acts as the candidate's graduation ceremony. Both the private 'uniki rite and the public 'uniki ceremony must have other traditional Kumu Hula present to act as witness to the achievement of the candidate. In an oral tradition, this is their "diploma". This is what is required to achieve the title of 'Olapa, or expert dancer in our tradition.
Perhaps the place to start in understanding the 'uniki process is to compare the process to the educational system with which we are familiar in our public schools. In our educational system, the student starts class at age four or five and spends 12 or more years in school to prepare for college admission. If the student's training in the hula begins as a child, this would correlate to the preparation required to qualify for an invitation to train as an 'Olapa, or expert dancer. If the student is an adult, it is possible to shorten these prepatory years to three to five years of intense study. This is the foundation necessary to begin training for the rank of 'Olapa.
The time period for training to achieve the status of 'Olapa is a minimum of two to five years (or more) of focused study. This is comparable to achieving a B.A. degree from college. The candidate must achieve mastery of a large body of traditional hula numbers that are a part of the Kumu's hula traditions. This includes gaining mastery of each of the hula implements (i.e. 'uli'uli, kala'au, ipu, etc.). The process involves the imparting of knowledge by the Kumu relating to the historical background of the hula being studied. The Kumu also explores with the student the many levels of meaning encoded in the text, which is called kaona. In addition the student must do additional research on mele (hula) and oli (chant).