Unuolehua cohort of 11 becomes kumu hula

The cohort was trained to make possible the creation of cultural leadership through hula, part of a UH System initiative to make UH a leader in indigenous education.

By Kara Nelson.

Cohort in full traditional attire.
Unuolehua Cohort. Photo by Maria Andaya.

Eleven University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and Hawaiʻi Community College students, staff and alumni were bestowed the title of kumu hula as graduating members of the Unuolehua cohort of ​Hawaiʻi CC’s Unukupukupu hula hālau (dance group). The cohort underwent ʻūniki (graduation) rites in December led by kumu and Hawaiʻi CC professor of Hawaiian studies Taupouri Tangarō.

The Unuolehua cohort was trained to make possible the creation of cultural leadership through hula, an effort brought about through the tenets of the UH System initiative, Hawaiʻi Papa O Ke Ao, a plan to make UH a leader in indigenous education. The Unukupukupu hālau is home-based at Hawaiʻi CC and is an experiential program, directed by Tangarō, created to deliver an associate of arts in Hawaiian Studies with an emphasis on hula.

  • See Hawaiʻi CC Kauhale, Feb 2, 2015: Setting a Precedence in Cultural Leadership Grounded in Hula and the Institutional Learning Outcomes of Hawaiʻi Community College

Graduates included:

  • Kainoa Ariola (executive director of the Career and Academic Advising Center at UH Hilo)
  • Stacey Kaʻauʻa (Hawaiʻi CC hula track graduate, UH Hilo Hawaiian studies major, business owner)
  • Pele Kaʻio (Hawaiʻi CC hula track graduate, UH Hilo geography graduate, Hawaiʻi Life Styles lecturer)
  • Ryan McCormack (Hawaiʻi CC First Year Experience coordinator)
  • Wahineʻaukai Mercado (Hawaiʻi CC hula track and nursing graduate)
  • Gloria Pualani Muraki (retired bookkeeper)
  • Poliahu Naboa (Hawaiʻi CC hula track graduate, UH Hilo psychology graduate, mother of two)
  • Noʻel Tagab-Cruz (Hawaiʻi Life Styles Program Kūkulukuluua staff support)
  • Kehani Tejada (Hawaiʻi CC hula track graduate, UH Hilo history major, mother of one)
  • Jacqueline Uluwehi Van Blarcom (Hawaiʻi CC hula track graduate, UH Hilo biology major, Hawaiʻi CC Haʻakūmalae assistant)
  • Kāhealani Wilcox (Hawaiʻi CC hula track graduate, UH Hilo Hawaiian studies major)

Kainoa Ariola’s journey to become Kumu Hula

Kainoa Ariola
Kainoa Ariola

Of the Unuolehua cohort, Ariola is the only person employed at UH Hilo. (Three are current UH Hilo students and four are UH Hilo alumni.)

“Tangarō trained us to be wholly responsible for the passing on of familial knowledge, to steward traditions and practices, to be able to physically execute hula,” Ariola explains. Dancers also are taught to be proficient in mele, myth, and protocol, and to establish an intimate kinship to the environment and to the kuahu (hula altar).

“Above all else, he inspired me, through his cultural competency, to step into the role of conduit in a long tradition, endlessly prodding me to serve as an extension of that genealogy.”

Ariola joined Unukupukupu’s Kūkūʻena class as a learner in 2008. A year later, she was invited to Unuolehua, a cohort selected to work toward kumu hula.

“Most of Unuolehua had been dancing together for years when I joined, so I needed to learn at an accelerated pace and did so in five years,” she explains. “Skills and experiences amassed over the course of my lifetime, like dancing for eight years as a child on Kauaʻi and my BA in Hawaiian Studies from UH Hilo, helped me quickly hone my proficiencies, despite working in my current position.”

“Her journey was seriously quick and thorough,” Tangarō says. “Her accelerated learning was challenging on so many levels for her but because the process was transferable into her life and employment, it worked.”

The experience has enriched Ariola personally and added to her relationships with others.

“The process of becoming a kumu hula was a case of holographic epistemology, where mind, body, and spirit were in constant engagement and as a result, it allowed me to better understand all facets of who I am,” she says.

“Hula, for me, is about environmental kinship and fulfilling my role in that relationship and in relation to others. The process has been a massive hulihia (overturning) that continues to spur a natural and spiritual reordering, the most significant happening after ʻūniki.”

UH Hilo: A Hawaiian place of learning

Ariola’s accomplishment also allows her to contribute to making UH Hilo a Hawaiian place of learning.

“Having a cultural proficiency has allowed me to be more culturally competent in my work,” she says. “With this heightened understanding and appreciation of cultural differences and similarities, it’s definitely deepened my perspectives, clarified my educational philosophy, and refined my methodology at my work.”

She notes that the entire process of a journey is found in hula, myth, life, and education.

“Each step, from the innate desire to journey to the reintegration back into the community, hula and education, is based upon an individual phasing in and out of transition, so it helps to be able to recognize and be present when those transitions are happening,” she says. “The reemergence from each journey implies the death of a former self and rebirth.”

Ariola’s journey also has allowed her an increased understanding of student needs.

“In the work that my unit does with freshman student success initiatives or with any student we encounter, transition is constant,” she explains. “To be able recognize and support students during these times makes this training valuable to the work that we do.”

Surprisingly, this rich journey was not part of her original plans.

“I never expected to return to hula, but this generous invitation by Tangarō to study and train under him allowed me to immerse into the process of hula,” she says, expressing her gratitude for the experiences that have allowed her to see hula’s impact on people and communities. “Hula connects us on the most basic and human level.”

“The lore of myth and history, embedded in hula and oli (chant) were not just accounts of an older time. They were Tangarō’s stories and now, they are my stories, that are still relevant today. Through those mele (song), every generation, those kūpuna (ancestors) and the sacred geographies of our tradition prior to and after me, continue to live.”

Ariola received her master of arts in administration, curriculum and instruction from Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA. She is currently applying to several PhD institutions, looking for a program that will guide her desire to implement hula as a process for student leadership within higher education.

“I am excited to see her take this Unuolehua process into another manifestation that will service a larger population directly,” says Kumu Tangarō.

About the author of this story: Kara Nelson is a senior at UH Hilo double majoring in English and Communication. She is an intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

-UH Hilo Stories

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