Kūnihi Ka Mauna


"Kūnihi" is a hula student's entrance or password chant. In the old days of hula, haumāna were required to ask permission to enter their hālau. They did this by standing outside and chanting "Kūnihi." If their kumu approved, she chanted her own "Yes, you may enter" chant ("E hea i ke kanaka e komo ma loko..."), and then they were allowed inside. If she didn't approve, they would have to chant again (and again) until she was sure of the sincerity of their voices. 

‘Anakē Māpu doesn't require you to chant "Kūnihi" every time you come to class, but we definitely use "Kūnihi" on special occasions.  Our visit to Keahualaka (the pā hula at Kē‘ē, Kaua‘i) is definitely a special occasion. We are working on "Kūnihi" so that you will be able to ask permission to enter that special place when we dance there on the last day of our trip.  Keahualaka is probably the oldest and most special hula site left in all Hawai‘i.  When we go

there, we want to do things right.

‘Anakē Māpu learned "Kūnihi" from Aunty Edith Kanaka‘ole. The words above are Aunty Edith's; the translation is ‘Anakala Kīhei's. 


Kūnihi ka mauna i ka la‘i ē

‘O Wai‘ale‘ale lā i Wailua

Huki a‘ela i ka lani

Ka papa auwai o Kawaikini

Alai ‘ia a‘ela e Nounou, nalo Kaipuha‘a

Ka laulā ma uka o Kapa‘a ē

Mai pa‘a i ka leo

He ‘ole ka hea mai ē.

Steep is the mountain in the calm

It is Wai‘ale‘ale as seen from Wailua

Pulled away into the sky is the bridge leading to Kawaikini

The path is blocked by Nounou, hidden is Kaipuha‘a

The broad plain inland of Kapa‘a.

Donʻt withhold the voice

It takes little to respond.

Listen to ‘Anakē Māpu

chant "Kūnihi."


We stop to practice "Kūnihi" at the Kapa‘a Post Office because the chant was probably composed from somewhere nearby. We stand in Kapa‘a, just past the Wailua River, and we look toward Kawaikini, the highest peak of Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale. Between us and that mountain peak is Nounou ridge (now called "The Sleeping Giant"). On the other side of Nounou, blocked from our view, is the broad plain of Kaipuha‘a. If we could climb over Nounou and make our way through Kaipuha‘a, we would eventually reach Kawaikini.

The chant tells us, then, that we are a long way from becoming experts at hula (Kawaikini is way up there, and we are "stuck" (pa‘a) way down in Kapa‘a. The path to hula knowledge is steep (kūnihi), and there are many obstacles and difficulties (nounou: to throw, pelt, beat) ahead of us. But we will still get there if we take the hidden path of humility (Ka-ipu-ha‘a). So we call out politely, and ask permission to take that path. Basically, what we say is "Please allow us to enter, travel, and learn here."

Kaua‘i  Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3