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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 15, 2002

'The Shimmering' melds Hawaiian tradition with baby-boomer sensibility

"THE SHIMMERING: KA 'OLILI" by Keola Beamer; 'Ohe Books, paper, $14.95

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Books Editor

In his first short-story collection, Keola Beamer shows the enterprise, deft touch, willingness to take risks and sensitivity that have characterized his career as a musician, composer, theatrical producer, teacher and launcher of projects from storytelling CDs to online guitar classes.

He is a scholar with a deep understanding of Hawaiian traditions in music, dance, chant and storytelling, and he holds a firm belief in mana (spiritual power) and 'aumakua (the other that brings the ancestors' wisdom and support to today's people). Equally, he is a baby boomer — an island boy who grew up listening to KPOI, who considers Kenny Rankin his favorite singer, who has been around a few blocks and learned more than a few things the hard way.

These pieces are distilled from a half-century of life — not autobiographical, but containing Beamer's mana'o (thought) as a 21st-century Hawaiian.

He dashes off a pidgin tale ("Stalking Haunani") that's the literary equivalent of a Cane Haul Road T-shirt — funny and right on, about a local boy who grows into a sensitive, modern man. ("It is a paean," he says, "to all my ex-girlfriends who are so glad I'm out of their lives.")

In another ("Hanau Hope," "last born"), he offers a sad and sweet aloha to Hawai'i's native birds.

Several stories, including the title piece, "The Shimmering/Ka 'Olili," "Na Iwi" and "It Swims When You Sleep," draw on that small-kid-time, kahuna-and-kapu part of every Islander that shivers with mixed fear and delight to hear of the perils of defying the gods or the old ways. These are satisfyingly chicken-skin to read, but multilayered and thought-provoking.

It is a very interesting time in Hawai'i literature, as writers get past mere nostalgia and the amazing idea that island stories and island language could in fact see print at all. Something new is emerging, and Beamer's collection is a very pleasing example of it.

A brief postscript: Beamer's brother, Kaliko Beamer-Trapp, is to be commended for the detailed and informative glossary of non-English terms used in the book, which goes beyond definition to context. Maika'i loa!