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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 5:32 p.m., Thursday, April 10, 2008

Nona Beamer dies on Maui at age 84

 •  PBS to air interview with Nona Beamer tonight
Photo gallery: Nona Beamer remembered

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hawaiian entertainer Nona Beamer died peacefully in her sleep this morning in Lahaina.

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Winona "Auntie Nona" Beamer, matriarch of a prolific Island entertainment family, died this morning at her home in Lahaina. She was 84.

The legendary Hawaiian entertainer died peacefully in her sleep, said her son, Keola Beamer. She had been ill in recent months.

In reporting her death, Keola Beamer spoke of how much he will miss his mother.

Information below is by Mike Gordon from The Advertiser's 150th special edition.

Nona Beamer is revered as a guardian of Hawaiian culture and the foremost champion of authentic hula.

But the retired Kamehameha Schools educator Beamer taught Hawaiiana at its Kapalama campus for nearly 40 years may best be remembered for publicly challenging the authority of the school's powerful trustees, a criticism that ultimately led to their removal in 1999.

Beamer was born in Honolulu in 1923 but spent much of her childhood on the Big Island. Before she was 3, she had begun hula lessons with her "Sweetheart Grandma."

Beamer attended Kamehameha where, as a freshman in 1937, she was briefly expelled for standing up to dance the hula forbidden behavior that was considered vulgar in those days.

After studying anthropology in college, Beamer began teaching at Kamehameha. She started the school's Hawaiian Studies Department and coined the term "Hawaiiana."

She spent a lifetime researching Hawaiian culture and became a noted chanter, a composer and a storyteller. And she helped reintroduce standing hula for women into the school's curriculum.

During the 1950s, she did not like the direction hula was taking the form often called "nightclub hula" and became a relentless promoter of the ancient forms.

Beamer composed "Pupu Hinuhinu," a simple song beloved and sung by Hawai'i school children for decades.

In the late 1990s, Beamer gave a voice to simmering frustrations in the Kamehameha Schools 'ohana.

When the school's five trustees canceled a plan to update the Hawaiian language curriculum, Beamer challenged the authority of the trustees of what was then called the Bishop Estate. Speaking for students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni, Beamer issued an angry complaint in a 1997 letter to the state Supreme Court, which at that time appointed the trustees.

Beamer took particular issue with trustee Lokelani Lindsey. "Mrs. Lindsey's micromanagement methodology is an utterly diabolical plan of a self-serving egoist," Beamer wrote.

The protest movement the letter sparked would lead to widespread reform of Kamehameha Schools.

Beamer did not want a funeral, and the family said in lieu of flowers, donations in her memory can be made to:

Mohala Hou Foundation

843 Wainee St., F5 865

Lahaina, HI 96761-1685