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Lahaina resident Aunty Nona Beamer remembered in new documentary, ‘Hawaiiana’

By Staff | Aug 13, 2020

PBS Hawaii will present the world premiere of “Hawaiiana,” a new documentary about the late Aunty Nona Beamer, on Thursday, Aug. 27, at 9 p.m.

LAHAINA – On Thursday, Aug. 27, at 9 p.m., PBS Hawaii will present the world premiere of “Hawaiiana,” a new documentary about the late Winona Kapuailohiamanonokalani Desha Beamer, or Aunty Nona as she was fondly called.

Credited with coining the term “Hawaiiana” as early as 1949, Aunty Nona used it to describe the absolute best of all things Hawaiian: the people, their knowledge, culture, wisdom and aloha.

Keola Beamer, Aunty Nona’s oldest son, and his wife, Moanalani, assisted by veteran Maui-based filmmaker Tom Vendetti, made the documentary about the much loved Hawaiian heroine who was known for her integrity, scholarship and love.

“My mother’s legendary wisdom continues to spread much-needed aloha around the world.,” said Keola, a Hawaiian slack key guitarist and Grammy Award nominee.

“My mom was a revered Hawaiian cultural treasure and is warmly remembered by thousands of her students.”

Keola reflected, “Mom lived in Lahaina in the later years of her life starting from about mid-2005. She died at our home in Lahaina on April 10, 2008. She remained a lifelong teacher of helping to nurture the love of hula and mele in Hawaii and the world, touching many lives. In addition to being my mother, she was an educator, author, hula dancer, artistic collaborator, wise councilor and beloved friend. When my wife, Moanalani, and I think of her many contributions, we are filled with gratitude. Her existence on this Earth was a blessing to all.”

Aunty Nona was the granddaughter of Helen Desha Beamer and cousin to Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame inductee Mahi Beamer.

Before she was a teenager, Aunty Nona was composing meles by adding melodies to ancient chants.

In 1949, she became a high school instructor of Hawaiian culture at Kamehameha Schools and served in that position for almost 40 years. She also took over her mother’s hula studio and taught hula in Waikiki for 20 years.

She was an early proponent of the ancient form of the hula being perpetuated through teaching and public performances.

Vendetti said he was asked to do the project by his dear friend, Keola.

“Even though there have been other films made about her, with basically people talking about her, this film is focused on her telling her own story, along with family members,” Vendetti said.

“After hearing Aunty Nona’s definition of Hawaiiana, I thought it would make a wonderful title for the film, as she explores, in her own words, the journey of her life and her fight toward preserving, perpetuating and creating awareness of Hawaiian culture. I was truly touched and honored to take on the project.”

Aunty Nona published numerous books and musical scores, as well as audio and video recordings on the subject of authentic and ancient Hawaiian culture. She brought international attention to hula and other forms of Hawaiian storytelling through music and the Native Hawaiian arts.

After retiring from classroom teaching, Aunty Nona founded and operated the Aloha Music Camp with Keola and Moanalani.

There she spent her days sharing her extensive knowledge of Hawaiian culture with various groups and at numerous workshops. During Aloha Music Camp, she shared the meaning of Hawaiiana and told stories of growing up as a Native Hawaiian.

The film serves to educate people in Hawaii and around the world about traditional Hawaiian culture and how it can serve as a way of bringing people of all backgrounds together. The stories in the documentary pay tribute to how Aunty Nona has achieved being recognized as one of Hawaii’s treasures of aloha.

She dedicated her life to the education of Hawaiians and those who have a desire to learn about Hawaiian culture and hula.

Included in the film is a rare black and white film of Aunty Nona dancing hula as a child. There is also an excerpt from Aunty Nona’s 2007 episode of PBS Hawaii’s “Long Story Short” with Leslie Wilcox. Aunty Nona was the first person ever interviewed for the series.

Additionally, the Hawaiiana program was delivered to American Public Television, the leading syndicator of high-quality, top-rated programming to the nation’s public television stations.

“Hawaiiana” will be distributed this fall around the nation and beyond.

“The wisdom of indigenous cultures is disappearing rapidly around the world,” said Vendetti. “Aunty Nona was committed to preserving the pure and authentic Hawaiian culture. Her wisdom of spreading aloha around the world is something that everyone should hear. Considering the current cultural issues that we are confronting; I think her message will resonate and offer hope for the world. She was truly a Lady of Aloha – a pioneer, alii, musician and a humanitarian.”