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"Old Friends "
Midweek
Katie Young - April 13, 2001

Nona Beamer

     
When beloved Hawaiian kupuna Nona Kapuailohia Desha Beamer retired from her 40-year teaching career at Kamehameha Schools in 1987, she thought she'd have time to rest. "It's funny," she says, "but retirement really hasn't been too retiring."
     That's because the 77-year old Beamer has been busy touring the country performing, judging hula competitions, giving workshops, authoring books, releasing new albums and directing theater events. One of her 13 published works, the second volume of Na Mele Hula, a collection of Hawaiian hula chants, is due out in stores by summer.
     "That's the beauty of working in the Hawaiian culture," she says, "It's so exciting and all-inclusive."
     Come April 13, Beamer will bring that beauty to National Public Television as the first hula master to be featured on NPT's Egg: The Arts Show. Beamer, the mother of entertainers Kapono and Keola Beamer, also pioneered other firsts -- the first to perform the ancient hula at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1949 and the first to originate a "lu`au show" in Waikiki.
     Shortly after she appeared on MidWeek's cover in May 1986, Beamer left the bustling island of Oahu for a more peaceful setting in Puna. Perhaps her most exceptional endeavor is one that got its start on the Big Island in the 1950's. Beamer had taken years to painstakingly write 242 hula types, sub-types and sub-sub-types on butcher paper that lined her study walls.
     Everything was lost in a fire. For years, Beamer says she didn't want to re-create the information because it had taken her so long the first time around. But she changed her mind.
     "Some of our greatest kumu hula have passed away, and many others are very old," she says. "Sadly, when they're gone, their hula styles go with them and the knowledge is lost forever."
     Working with hanai daughter, Maile Kapuailohia Beamer Loo, she began the journey to re-create this information in 1998. They founded the Hula Preservation Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to documenting the hula. They have also received financial support from the Folk Arts Program of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts for the past two years as a master and apprentice.
     "This time we not only use pen and paper," Beamer says, "but video, picture and sound, too."
     "I know how much she appreciates that her and (Helen Desha Beamer's) teachings will live on," says Loo.
     Beamer has come a long way from her days as a rebellious teen who was expelled from Kamehameha Schools in 1935 for dancing hula. She subsequently returned and graduated with her class in 1941. -- Katie Young
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