By Virginia Beck

Aunty Nona Beamer and son Keola Beamer on Molokai, circa 2007.

In 2007, I had the privilege of spending time with the Beamer family on Molokai. A time that would alter my heart forever. Work stress, family illness and death laid heavily on my heart. I loved Hawaiian music and needed the break. It was a gift to myself that allowed rest and renewal of my spirits.

What was I even doing here?

I was only a beginner, having hacked my way into a personal style of slack key guitar, alone on 97 acres of forest in Connecticut in 1970. It was time out from the basic struggle to eke out a living on Kaua‘i.

Aloha Music Camp was at Kaupoa, near the old Molokai Ranch. We had little tents, up on platforms, real beds, close to the beach. Huge grey turkeys scurrying through trees were a surprise. Molokai’s version of our feral chickens.

We arrived at sunset at the main lodge, which was mostly a lanai, bathrooms and a meal service area.

I was a little shy, so many of these folks were accomplished musicians.

Apprehension melted at check in. OMG, it is Aunty Nona sitting there! Her face radiates aloha, welcome and gladness. As I greet her, she reaches up and puts both palms against my cheeks. Her warmth melts everything. It is like being in the presence of the sun.

Beamer is the right name for her. She beams love, kindness and aloha, effortlessly.

I wish I could be her, and have that loving effect on people.

“Aloha, honey. Oh, what soft skin you have!” It was all my grandparents’ fault, I said.

My shy self, apart from a professional persona, unfolds into the warmth of this relaxing environment. I realize I have been angry and outraged, to cover up the sorrow of what modern culture has done to oppress and shut down Hawaiian culture.

Aunty Nona Beamer with son Keola Beamer and his wife, Moanalani Beamer on Molokai, circa 2007.

I don’t want to be that way, and Aunty Nona’s gentleness is so nahenahe, or sweet, that I follow her footsteps. Later, I learn that more than just an amazing composer, songwriter, performer and hula expert, she is responsible for early activism for the Hawaiian culture. She was a feisty little girl, and never lost that spirit.

It got her thrown out of Kamehameha school at 9 years old, for performing hula, which was forbidden, and using ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, or Hawaiian language.

Later, she demanded to see Princess Bernice Pauahi’s will, and determined there was no restriction on Hawaiian culture or language. Eventually, Kamehameha Schools rejected the missionary-based curriculum and invited her back to teach.

Ironically, she would go on to become a major champion of the Second Hawaiian Renaissance, assisting the Hawai‘i Department of Education in their curricula. She coined the word Hawaiiana in 1948.

Different from common English, Ana means to measure, for excellence. A measure of quality to determine the best. She wanted to preserve and restore the best of Hawaiian culture before it was degraded and lost.

Nona was an educator and was called an entertainer, descended from a rich heritage of composers and musicians. Her performances were based on the hula she had learned as a little child. The songs started out as a way to interest children and engage them in Hawaiian language. “A little song makes you smile and children feel happy, so it makes education a pleasure.”

One morning, Aunty Nona greeted me singing, “How are you, Virginia?” A little smile dancing on her face, and twinkling eyes under a haku lei. Cheerful even with a cane and wheelchair, and an attendant who worried about Aunty Nona being “too frisky.”

The whole Music Camp and the Beamer family were amazing; warm, generously sharing and welcoming us into their ‘ohana. Maunalani, Keola’s wife, danced when Keola performed, and taught hula. Sonny Lim, Robyn Niebuhr (Emma Veary’s daughter) and many others sat around the campfire and jammed in the flickering light.

Virginia Beck

Liko Trapp Beamer, hanai son and accomplished professor of Hawaiian ʻŌlelo at the University of Hawai‘i in Hilo, shared culture, language, all the while joking and teasing his brother and family.

Ukulele making, oli (chanting), Hawaiian Puniu (coconut hand-drum making), hula, slack key.

It was so wonderful I wanted to come back every year. It was truly a celebration of aloha in every form.

Luckily for us, the Aloha Music Festival has moved to Kaua‘i, and offers visitors and locals an extraordinary opportunity to immerse themselves in the heart of aloha and Hawaiiana.

  • Virginia Beck, NP and Certified Trager® Practitioner, offers Wellness Consultation, Trager Psychophysical Integration and teaches Malama Birth Training classes. She can be reached at 635-5618.