Having fixed the internet connection problem, here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s entry!
I wake up this morning at 6AM, this time being careful not to wake the other three girls in the room. I eat my yogurt and granola outside and catch the bus to Kailua. I couldn’t have picked a better route. While on the trip I google route 57 and find out that people ride this bus just to get a scenic tour of the island. We go right along the coast passing the southern tip of Oahu and onto the leeward side of the island where I get off the bus and walk a half mile through residential neighborhoods to the hula studio.
It is creepily quiet as I walk down the street and I am hyper-sensitive to the noises around me. I speed up when I walk by people– for no good reason, but I’ve always felt safer in cities than suburbs. Finally I reach the address, but it looks to be someone’s home (bearing one of the many “beware of dogs” signs seen all over the street). I knock on the door because I really have nowhere else to go at this point.
When I introduce myself there is a moment of blankness. She doesn’t remember me I think… Finally she makes the connection and welcomes me into her home. Kumu (or teacher) is a larger woman with long dark hair and purple eye makeup. She welcomes me in and introduces me to the 10 Japanese girls who are here visiting from their sister hula studio. They are all smiles, but not many of them speak English. Kumu, smiling, tells them that when I asked if I could visit she said, “I don’t have time for you! But you can come be a fly on the wall!” I don’t remember the conversation she’s talking about, but that’s all I t need to hear to alter my approach. I wait quietly in the other room while they all eat breakfast.
At some point one of the Japanese girls shows me what they have been working on. She says that they’ve pulled out the insides of coconuts to begin to make them into instruments for the uniki (similar to maracas), and she points out the gourds that they will use for percussion that they will glue together. They’ve been doing a lot of hard work. I admire the instruments while I continue to wait.
Finally Kumu comes into the next room and sits down to chat. She explains to me that the ‘uniki tomorrow night will take place at the zenith of the day (right over midnight). She says that there are three levels of ‘uniki. The first is to be declared an expert dancer, the second, an expert chanter and the third a Kumu Hula. There is an incredible amount of work that goes into preparing for these events. Not only is there much preparation to be done directly before (making lei by hand, making skirts and costumes and gourd instruments from scratch), but the dancer must know the steps and meanings so that she could repeat it all back verbatim in 5, 10, 50 years. Hula was once used as a way to remember stories and I think that is where this idea comes from.
Kumu tells me that at the end of the olapa, the second of the three events, the dancer will come out a perform a piece that she has created that she would pass on to her students when she became a Kumu Hula. When that time comes she will either be wearing a blue skirt or not. If she is not wearing the skirt she has not passed the test and will have to go through much of her work again. “You can pay now,” she says. I pay the girls for the ‘uniki public ceremony on Sunday and the tour of the city on Monday. Kumu is very knowledgeable, but she has reminded me most of a mainlander on my trip so far. She is not shy and tells it like it is. When she is upset later in the day that we are not on schedule, she says so. Maybe it’s a dance teacher thing. That’s a pretty familiar attitude to me.
She decides we will not have the class like it was planned, but instead make hala lei because of a little mix-up called….she-invited-other-students-to-make-lei-at-the-same-time-as-their-rehearsal. O well, I’m game. She tells us about the hala plant. Ha meaning breath of life and la meaning sky. She says the fruit is often associated with death and funerals because it denotes a sort of passing on, but it was also her Kumu’s favorite fruit and it can also symbolize a passing forward with something, like hula knowledge. With the fruit in the room, she says, tearing up, she is reminded of her own teacher.
We must smash the fruit from the second floor of her house to break it into smaller pieces and collect the ones that are not moldy. Then the girls will cut off the ends and string them, along with tea leaves, onto hala lei they are making for the ceremony. I have to leave to catch my bus, but I’m glad I got to spend some time with these girls smashing fruit. Their kumu, standing on the second floor of the house says, “Rachel! You thought hula was graceful right?” and smashes a hala on the ground. Everyone laughs and I say goodbye for today.
I take the bus back to Honolulu to get ready for my interview at the Kuma Kahua Theater. I find a cafe to eat at and order a bland salad, no dressing, no croutons and a creme brulee. I’m pretty excited about the creme brulee. In the end, the dairy is a total shock to my system since there is effectively no dairy in the Hawaiian diet (which I’ve been following pretty faithfully as I’ve been here). That or it had gluten in it. I’m hoping it is the former or the next few days will be awfully pukey.
After lunch I walk to the post office to pick up some stamps and onward to the theater. I speak with Harry for a while, the artistic director of the theater and get a lot of great information from him. I hope to see a couple of the shows they will present in the next two weeks. He shows me around the theater briefly as well and I’m headed back to Waikiki.
At this point I’m feeling very confident about my bus riding skills. I should have known something would go wrong. I was very humbled today as I got stuck in a moderately sketchy part of town that I was unfamiliar with, unable to catch a bus with a route I recognized. Nothing very terrible happened, it just took me a few more hours to get home than expected.
Back at the hostel I go through some receipts and things for the TIPIT program and decide to walk out to the beach to watch the sunset.I buy a beach mat at the ABC Stores that cover Honolulu and take a seat on the beach. I read for a while and take a short nap, waking up just in time for the sunset. It is lovely and peaceful. As the sun sets I hear ukulele music from somewhere nearby. Once the sun in below the mountains I follow the sounds of the music to the Tiki Bar.
There is live Hawaiian music and dancing tonight so I seat myself at a table and listen to the music. I get a Virgin Lava Flow that is very sweet and very good and my waiter calls me “sweetheart” all night. This restaurant actually has gluten-free menu items marked so I get wasabi pork ribs (which I don’t think even had wasabi in it). It’s glazed with something that tastes similar to soy sauce and there are hints of pineapple and other island fruits. I mine as well have licked the plate clean. Deciding not to have dessert I go back to the hostel.