HILO — “She was not only my mother. She was my best friend.”
That’s how Malama Solomon, a former state senator, recalls her mother, Flora “Tita” Leiomalama Desha Beamer Solomon, a fourth-generation hula loea, who died Feb. 8 at age 92.
“She was the one responsible for doing a lot of the choreography for the Beamer music — “Kimo Hula,” “Kawohikukapulani” — you know, all of her grandmother’s compositions,” Malama Solomon said. The grandmother referred to is Helen Desha Beamer, one of Hawaiian music’s greatest composers and herself a hula loea, or hula master.
Better known simply as “Tita Beamer Solomon,” she also formalized the Beamer Solomon method of hula taught by the Beamer Solomon Halau O Po‘ohala of Waimea.
“Our hula wasn’t a real robotic kind of hula where everybody looked the same, smiled the same,” Solomon said. “Her mana‘o (philosophy) was, as an individual, you were allowed to put a lot of yourself into the creativity of the dance, especially in the expression of the dance.”
Retired from active teaching, she passed on the mantle to her daughters — hula loea Hulali Solomon Covington, the halau’s kumu hula, or teacher, and Malama Solomon, the kakau ‘olelo, halau historian.
“My mother was just totally devoted to her hula art, and she believed the hula belonged to everyone, whoever wanted to take hula,” Solomon said. “You didn’t have to take it from us, but just take it. Because she believed that the hula helped not only to understand Hawaii, but it really helped you in understanding yourself.”
Solomon noted the family’s hula legacy “goes back to the Kalakaua dynasty, so it’s 160 years old.”
It began with Isabella Haleala Desha, the mother of Helen Desha Beamer. The latter, in turn, taught her own daughter, Louise Leiomalama Walker Beamer, the mother and kumu of Tita Beamer Solomon.
A 1944 graduate of Kamehameha School for Girls, Tita Beamer Solomon started dancing hula at 5, and by her teens, was working with her mother at the Beamer Hula Studio in Waikiki. In addition, she and her brother, the late C. Keola Beamer — who was later known as “Uncle Keola” — were a professional dance team featured at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Moana Hotel and Queen’s Surf in Waikiki, until her brother was inducted into the Army during the Korean War. She was also the sister of the late Winona “Nona” Beamer, Hawaiian scholar and cultural icon and the mother of entertainers Keola Beamer and Kapono Beamer.
When the family returned to the Big Island, Tita Beamer Solomon opened her own hula school.
“Her first studio was in Hilo above her grandfather’s (hardware) store — ‘Old Man Pete’ Beamer — on Kamehameha Avenue. Mom was there for 40 years, and then taught hula in all the rural districts,” Solomon said.
Tita Beamer Solomon was Hawaii chairwoman of Aloha Week for 18 years and was a founding committee member of the Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition. At the first hula competition in 1971 at the Hilo Civic Auditorium, Solomon’s mother, Louise Beamer, and fellow hula legend ‘Iolani Luahine were the judges.
“Every halau that came forward, they gave them a 10,” Solomon recalled. “So Uncle George came to my mother and said, ‘Tita, can you please talk to Mama and tell her she can’t be giving everybody a 10, because, you know, this is a hula competition.’ So my mama said, ‘Keoki, I can’t tell my mother that, because she and Aunty ‘Iolani feel very strongly that the hula schools, the way they’re dancing and performing, they’re sharing their hula style with us. And that’s their style of dance.’
“So she told Uncle George, ‘You want to change that, Keoki, you’d better be the tiebreaker judge.’ So that’s how Uncle George became the tiebreaker judge.’”
Solomon said her mother “believed hula was for self-enlightenment and for making you a better and a happier person.”
The legacy continues at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, as Beamer Solomon Halau O Po‘ohala celebrates Eia Ka Hula 10, a hula concert at Kahilu Theatre in Waimea. Tickets are $20 advance, $25 door. For advance tickets, contact Hulali Solomon Covington, kumu hula loea at 938-8620 or email Poohala1860@ymail.com.
“Every year we’ve dedicated the concert to a certain member of the family. This concert is dedicated to Mama,” Malama Solomon said.
The halau also will compete in this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival in late April.
The funeral is Saturday, March 9 at Imiola Church in Waimea. Visitation is 9-10 a.m. The service is at 10 a.m. with lunch to follow at the church.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.