I had been hoping to go to the Methodist Church in Kailua this morning, but because of the way bus schedules overlap I won’t be able to go to church and also make it to the public ‘uniki ceremony. I leave at 9:50 and bump into Gay, the woman who owns the house. We chat for a couple minutes before I run off to the bus stop. I nearly miss both of the buses that I have to catch, but make them both just in time.
I get off one stop late in Lanikai and walk backward to Lanikai Park where there are supposed to be shuttles to the ho’ike and public ‘uniki ceremony. Because I don’t see anyone around, and the park says “private,” I decide to walk out onto the beach. Yet another beautiful beach day. I feel the incredibly soft sand underneath my feet and feel the wind and listen to the waves for about 20 minutes before checking out the park again. Eventually I think to look at the ticket and find out it’s just down the street…or so I think.
I probably walk about two miles when I see hula girls outside of one of the houses. I walk through the front yard and across the open house into the backyard where there are tents and tables set up. I take my seat. A few moments later Kumu tells us they are opening up the imu (underground oven). The crowd rushes over and we are told the meats and squash have been cooking in this underground oven since 8:30 last night. They are wrapped in banana leaves and burlap to keep the heat in and then covered with dirt. After sweeping off the dirt some men remove the burlap, unleashing a pungent smell. The little girls standing in front of me plug their noses. Finally we can see the meats…and smell them. Later we get to taste.
Now the public ‘uniki begins. It is the same performance we watched at midnight with a few distinct changes. The dancers wear more colorful costumes and there is applause after each number, and conversation among the audience. During the number with the PBC pipes they surround the tables. It begins to rain and they go on as if it wasn’t. We can still hear the percussion sounds and their chants over the rain and it’s quite effective in surround sound.
At the end of the performance the girl going for her ‘olapa comes out in a new blue skirt. This means that she has passed the ceremony. The two girls going for their ho’opa’a also pass and get blue shawls that they had died with kikui nut juice. They are given dozens of lei and when they come out to dance in larger groups later they stick right out with all their lei and big smiles. Each of Kumu’s other groups perform, both hula kahiko (ancient) and hula auana (modern). There are classes from 5 and 6 year old to 70.
After the dancing we get to try the food. The meat all tastes very smokey which works with some of the flavors (like pork and chicken), but not as much with others (like the beef). The squash is delicious and most of the other food is gluten-free as well. The Hawaiian diet doesn’t have much gluten or lactose so I’ve been doing pretty well here with the food.
During the show my phone battery has died, Lanikai has horrible service, and I’m desperately trying to figure out how to get back home. Luckily one of the Kumu Hulas visiting offers me a ride back. We talk on the way as she remembers her own Kumu Hula and when she drops me off she tells me to enjoy Hawaii. She eyes my neck and reaches for her tea leaf lei. “This is for you Rachel.” she says. She tells me it will last a long time if I put it in a Ziploc in the freezer. I thank her excessively and go into my room.
I haven’t gotten any lei up until this point, passing several opportunities I may have had earlier in the week. I didn’t want to buy the plastic lei at the ABC stores, or to pay someone at the Polynesian Cultural Center or the Airport to greet me with a lei. Lei are very important to Hawaiian culture and represent love and welcome and it didn’t seem right to pay someone to be given one. I am overjoyed with my new lei, and speechless as to what has just happened. I do as the woman told me and put it into a bag in the freezer, to dry when I get home later.