her manao on finding
peace and aloha
Respected kupuna Nona Beamer glows recalling her childhood growing up on the island of Hawaii. She learned chanting to the ocean from her grandmother Helen Desha Beamer, a gifted composer and hula master. Those family outings also inspired Nona to compose one of the most beautiful lullabies ever written -- "Pupu Hinuhinu," a song about children gathering seashells at the beach. It's a song I fell in love with as a child, and I wasn't alone. Ever since Nona wrote it in 1950, the song has continued to enchant children not only in Hawaii, but around the world.
After teaching for nearly 40 years, Nona officially retired in 1987. Today, she remains one of the last direct links to the art of Hawaiian storytelling, chant and traditional hula, and is credited as being one of the pioneers in the struggle to keep Hawaiian culture alive.
"Have there been many heartaches and heartbreaks?" I ask Nona, who will turn 80 in August and now lives in Hilo
"Lots," she replies. "All related to being Hawaiian. But now brown skin is beautiful, so maybe there's not so much stigma now, as there was then."
Nona prefers to focus on the positive. "It helps when you have a few years of practice," she says. "I don't get side-tracked by any heartache. The hurts are so small, compared to all the joys in my life."
One of her joys has been her relationship with Maile Loo, whom she has embraced as a hanai (adopted) daughter. Maile is carrying on the Beamer tradition of hula through "Halau Hula O Kahooilina Aloha" ("The Legacy of Love"). The halau's name was given to her by Nona.
Maile says Nona is a blessing to us all. "She reminds us to think about what's important -- our relationships with others and to always try to be a good, loving person to those around you."
Nona was honored this month with a City and County of Honolulu Commission on Culture and the Arts Award. She was recognized for her contributions as a hula master, musician and teacher who has enriched our community and our lives.
But while the ceremony was taking place here, my thoughts turned to the other side of the world, where people are putting their lives on the line, fighting a war in Iraq -- a place once known as Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, an inspiration for art and culture. I found myself thinking about the impact of war and also of people like Nona, who believe in nurturing the depth and beauty of a culture.
Earlier this month, some of my halau sisters and I were volunteering at the office of the Hula Preservation Society in Kaneohe. The nonprofit organization is developing the first multimedia hula library available online for research. Using modern technology, HPS offers kupuna, like Nona and her peers, a way to share their manao (thoughts) about hula and life. We were helping to organize a few boxes of archival materials Nona had donated to HPS when I came across some old clippings on arms control she had saved from her teaching days.
When I asked Nona about them, she recalled those were some of the topics she taught students back in the 1980s, to soothe their fears. They were afraid of the worldwide buildup of nuclear weapons.
Those same fears are making headlines today. Here in the "land of the free," where we have much to be thankful for, people can express their beliefs and deep feelings about war.
"War is such a sad and tragic thing. How will war serve any purpose, killing people and destroying cities?" says Nona. "I don't think of it in a political manner. The humanitarian manner far outweighs the politics."
Whether you're trying to cope with the turmoil of war in Iraq or the war on terrorism, Nona has this advice: "Keep the philosophy of aloha alive."
Each time my halau meets, we share a beautiful oli aloha (greeting chant) with each other. It brings to life Nona's comforting words of hope.
"It doesn't matter where you have come from or where you go from here. What does matter is this time of aloha. The time we share together. The sweet puana of the chant (moral of the story) is at the end," says Nona. "May all good be with you, to fill your hearts with love."
She adds, "And if you believe it and live it, the world's gonna be a much better place. Aloha is the key to the peace of the world. Not piece. But peace."
To find out more about the Hula Preservation Society's community work, you can visit its Web site at www.hulapreservation.org, call 247-9440 or e-mail email@example.com.
Heidi Chang is a freelance writer and producer. She is one of four local columnists who take turns writing "This Sunday."
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