Most halau normally take about 30 ladies and around 20 men to Hilo when they compete in Merrie Monarch. This year – one halau is doing something quite different. Only 13 dancers from Halau i ka Wekiu will be performing – 6 men and 7 women.
This is a very special Merrie Monarch for Halau i ka Wekiu.
"This year because of the 50th and because we're going through an uniki ceremony in August, we've decided to take just the uniki class to Merrie Monarch," explained Kumu Hula Karl Veto Baker.
This is the halau's first uniki class. Haumana (students) who graduate can then go on to become Kumu Hula and open their own halau. So this could be the last time they share a stage.
"Yeah, I know-- that's a sad thing to think about. I guess, it's nice in a sense -- we all knew it was coming. Our kumus told us that they had a plan-- this is part of that plan -- so, it's just trying to concentrate on enjoying the moment and enjoying everybody's company before it's, you know, the end," said 'Aukai Reynolds, who's in the uniki class. "We jokingly kind of say, 'Oh maybe we should all just fail, you know?" Reynolds adds with a laugh, "'Maybe we can't make it and we end up having to stay back', but you know -- not that that's an option."
It's a huge honor, because they know not every dancer even gets the chance to uniki.
"To have your Kumu ask you to be a part of the uniki class comes with a large responsibility to carry on the beliefs and the values that they've bestowed on us as students, as dancers and now to further into something else," explained Toni Joy "Wehi" Kawehionapua Romias.
Most of the class has been with the halau, which just celebrated 15 years in March, from the very beginning.
"When uniki started we of course, did not know that this was where we would be today -- to be on stage representing Halau, being the uniki class," said Romias. "It was something he shared with us later. This is something he-- his dream almost -- that he wants our story to be told."
But getting through uniki is no easy task.
"It's like a second job-- really, it's a lot of work for us. In addition to the normal practices, we have uniki class as well, so we have a lot of things we have to learn that we didn't have to learn before, so it is very demanding," described Reynolds.
But that's exactly why Kumu Veto Baker says they were chosen -- for their life dedication to hula.
"It's really special 'cause Merrie Monarch quite frankly has risen the bar for hula and it has -- I was there the first year, in 1976, competed as a dancer-- and the caliber of dancing now compared to 1976 is just -- is just such a widespread difference," Kumu Veto Baker explained. "I was part of the renaissance and started to learn it-- my daughter who is in class -- they live it, and that's the difference. They're all special people going through a ceremony that for us goes generations back to Kaua'i and because of this we're hoping that down the road, they're gonna pass the torch and our genealogy will keep going. It's a huge responsibility but yet, very special to be a part of this 50th Anniversary with all of these haumana of ours."