HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Most kumu hula normally take a few dozen dancers to compete in Merrie Monarch, but last year one halau only took a select few: Their first ever uniki class.
Halau I Ka Wekiu held its first uniki ceremony last August, but it's customary for graduates to give a public performance to showcase what they've learned. And there's no bigger stage than in Hilo at the Merrie Monarch Festival.
"It can be emotional watching because for myself, I would love to be in the line, and I know my hula sisters who have graduated as kumu feel the same way, yet we are excited to be a part of a different aspect and see all of our collaboration and ideas unfold," said kumu Wehi Romias, graduate of Halau I Ka Wekiu.
The recent kumu graduates will be returning to the Merrie Monarch stage, but this time in a whole new support role for their hula brothers and sisters.
"I feel like we'll have to be as ho'opa'a and as kumu for that moment to be solid, solid as a rock I like to say," Kumu Aukai Reynolds said. "But for us to be that solid pillar so that they can shine as well."
They're not just in charge of choreography: One of the new kumu also composed the kane 'auana.
"I get chicken skin, you can't even explain it," Kumu T.C. Southard said. "To see the boys step on stage when we're responsible for them. And we'll have our kumu on stage with us, so that'll be the moment, that'll be the moment where we still have them with us, which is still important because someday we're expected to go off and leave, and for us, that's bittersweet."
For now they're cherishing their time together as Kumu Hula Michael Casupang and Karl Veto Baker guide them along the way.
"They're just awesome and they always strive for the wekiu, which is the summit, or the best that they can do, and that's all we pretty much ask for, for them to strive to hit their wekiu," Kumu Karl Veto Baker said.
The new kumu say its an honor to be entrusted with perpetuating their hula lineage, and the aloha they share is undeniable.
"This is our family and we want to carry on the traditions that our kumu has instilled in us to make sure we do it right and to make sure that those that will be watching are proud too," Kumu Wehi Romias said.
After 13 years of competing -- the last 6 consecutively -- Kumu Baker said Halau I Ka Wekiu will take a break from Merrie Monarch following this year's festival.