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Biography: Aunty Nona Beamer

Picture of Winona  Kapuailohiamanonokalani Desha BeamerWinona Kapuailohiamanonokalani Beamer was born in Honolulu but spent much of her childhood on the island of Hawai`i, with her parents in Napo'opo'o and her grandmother, Helen Desha Beamer, in Hilo. Before she was three, she began her studies with her "Sweetheart Grandma," whom she considered her primary cultural influence.

She was a noted chanter, composer, and author who had spent a lifetime researching and teaching Hawaiiana. She served as an adviser to the Hawaiian Club at The Kamehameha Schools in 1949, and over the next couple of decades helped reintroduce the standing hula for women, and many other aspects of traditional Hawaiian culture, into the school's curriculum. Mrs. Beamer's contributions as a teacher, a performer, a storyteller, a composer, a kumu hula and a published author have indisputably enriched Hawaiian culture and art, and inspired generations of students to follow in her footsteps. Auntie Nona, as she was affectionately called by her many friends, is revered for her scholarship and accomplishments in the education of Native Hawaiian children.

While peacefully at her home in Lahaina, Hawaii, that she shared with her son, Keola, Winona Kapuailohiamanonokalani Desha Beamer transitioned from this life on April 10, 2008. She will always be remembered.

A Short Story by Nona Beamer: The Whirlwind of Mauna Kea

It was a clear, crisp morning - lots of blue sky and lazy clouds. We had left Beamer Ranch in Kamuela, Hawaii on my father's (Papa) four wheel drive truck. Papa was not coming with us because this trip was to the top of Mauna Kea. It is the highest mountain in the world if you measure it from the ocean floor. Above sea level it is 13,796 feet in elevation. It is much too high for Papa to risk the trip, with his heart condition. Mauna Kea is a State park and forest reserve. Now it is the site of an International Astronomical Observatory, with France, Canada, England, Austrialia and The United States participating.

We Hawaiians refer to the area as "Ke-ana-ka-ko'i". The word means "the adz making cave". Very special shale basaltic rock was quarried here by ancient Hawaiians to make an exceedingly high quality of adz, the strongest in Hawaii. An ancient quarry site was at the 12,400 foot level. A pit crater is still in evidence at the 3,468 foot level. An adz quarry in the pit crater was buried by a volcanic eruption in 1877.

The name Mauna Kea means "White Mountain", so named because the mountain is often covered in snow. Today however, all that remained of a recent snowfall were small areas of melting puddles to remind us of how glorious the mountain looked only yesterday when it was heavily draped with snow, clear down to the sloping flanks.

My son Keola was driving, my mother (Dambie) sitting between us, was keeping up a sweet, lively chatter. She is such a dear! I was thinking of the times we sat together at church. Her small face lovingly enraptured by the words of her good friend, "Kahu", the minister. I hugged her to me and kissed her soft cheek. As Keola shifted into four wheel drive, he surveyed the landscape and an enthusiastic "WOW" burst forth! His handsome face reflected such eagerness and excitement, my heart melted ... looking at him.

The terrain was beginning to change. We were at the 6,000 foot level. A modern aesthetically pleasing building was on our right. The sign identified it as Hale Pohaku (Stone House). It is a visitor information center and recreation center for the scientists. (I was to visit there years later to see Halley's Comet, as a guest of Dr. Don Hall, Director of the Institute of Astronomy, University of Hawai'i.)

We were winding upward on a fine wide-paved road. The vegetation was sparse, scraggly shrubs and grasses, but mostly cinders and rocks along the roadway. No other cars were on the road. It was almost noon. The dense cloud cover obscured the view of the surrounding landscape and suddenly, we were at the top with the four observatories in full view.

The atmosphere was breathless, literally and figuratively. Keola walked closer to the edge, his footsteps crunching in the red cinders beneath his Zori - slippered feet. The land does not drop off abruptly. It eases away from the summit and slips into irregular mound shapes as it moves downward.

Mother had found a suitable rock throne and seemed comfortably ensconced as she began to unpack our picnic lunch. I bent over to pick up a handful of air-filled cinder stones, light in my hand like pumice rock. I had to bend over very slowly. In the rareified atmosphere, I was light headed and felt like my body was off balance. I was afraid that I would topple forward.

Suddenly we heard a lound roaring noise. Keola walked over toward us, scanning the area. Other cars would logically seem to converge here where the paved road ended, but there were none in sight. "A truck?" he asked. "Maybe a helicopter", I said. Mother's eyes were wide and questioning as she stood up slowly. We clustered there close together as a curious chill went through my body. It was not really cold, though we were wearing jackets. It was not cold enough to see your breath.

At that instant, the roaring sound subsided to a whooshing noise. The cinders around us began to lift and spin, making us captives within our own self made circle. Faster the cinders danced and spun. We followed the sighing cirle of stones no more than a foot high encircling us. It was a whirlwind, our own personal "makani wili". Yet somehow... gentle...the little stones singing in the wind and hovering like a blessing. Our eyes told us that this was a very strange phenomenon. All three generations of Beamers could not speak,we just clutched each others hands and stood there transfixed. Thoughts of ancient Hawaiian chants that I had learned as a little girl raced through my mind. "E Ho'okupu E!" "A Gift!" A gift to touch our hearts. Were ancient Hawaiian Gods communicating with us? Were we interlopers trespassing on sacred ground? No.. the feelings were not terrifying. Instead, they were love stirred.

Suddenly, my dear mother began chanting a prayer in Hawaiian, her face and arms uplifted to the broad expanse of cloud-space, her small voice barely audible above the swirling cinders.

The Makani Wili disappeared. No cinders stirred. No sounds hung in the rareified air, only the the sound of our own quiet breathing. We knew that mother had given our ho'okupu (gift) to the God Spirits of that vast mountain. We reflected silently in the warmth of each other and the beauty of the sky.

Keola gathered up our picnic basket and we walked back to the truck still not speaking. The spell lingered, like a warm Kapa, a blanket enfolding the three of us as we made our way, slowly, down the white mountain.
If you liked this story - check out The Golden Lehua Tree - Stories and Music from the Heart of Hawaii's Beamer Family - a recently released CD by Nona Beamer

Nona Beamer
Pahoa, Hawaii
February 1986

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