I was nine years old and in the 4th grade at Kamehameha Schools –the original campus in Bishop Hall next to the Bishop Museum. That’s where I first met Aunty Edna Pualani Farden Bekeart and I didn’t know it then but it was of the first pockets of light towards the resurgence of Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian protocol and Hawaiian language. These classes served as stepping-stones towards what became known as the Hawaiian Renaissance 10-12 years later in the beginning 1970’s.
Fast forward to 1997-98 where I became the Artist in Residence to the Mauian Hotel in Napili, which was owned by the Aluli Ohana, one of the last native Hawaiian families who still owned beachfront property, let alone a hotel on Maui. The Alulis are related to the Fardens through marriage. Aunty Irmgard Farden married an Aluli so that’s how I became hihia (entwined & tangled) with the Alulis. Aunty Irmgard’s son Nane Aluli still heads the Mauian hotel today. Aunty Edna is the younger sister of Aunty Irmagard Farden Aluli (1912-2001) and Aunty Emma Farden Sharpe (1904-1991).
At the time, The Mauian was barely scraping by financially and every June, the 44-room hotel was a ghost town. I had to help. With the financial backing and suggestion of friends Ed & Helen Bigelow, we started a Hawaiian Slackkey Workshop and Sing Along and I brought in my friend Dennis Kamakahi and other artists to help teach. It was our way to help fill the Mauian hotel and keep it in business! The first workshops were slow with less than 10 students and the workshop lost money but thankfully, Uncle Ed & Helen Bigelow believed in us and supported us into the black by covering any shortfalls for the first 5 years.
As fortune would have it, it was at this time that I got reintroduced to Aunty Edna again! I was making about a thousand pounds of poi a week, so I would stop by to drop off five one-pound bags of poi at Aunty Edna’s! Sometimes Aunty would make Hawaiian stew with string beans in it, and we would share a meal together with her husband Robert Bekeart when he was still alive. She was living at Aunty Emma’s old place in Kahana called Koaniani on lower Honoapiilani Road. Aunty would have me pick a basket of mangoes, give me some and then sell the rest to tourist! She called it their “ice cream money”.
She became our regular mentor and kupuna at our yearly June workshops in Napili from 1999 to 2009, where she composed songs for us. Her first makana (gift), to us was the song Ka Beauty O Napili. Then in 2006, when we won our first Grammy, she gifted us with another song Lanakila – Victory!
In 2003 the next-door resort was having jack hammer work done right during our workshop so we retreated to the serene calmness of Aunty’s Kahana home to continue our workshop. Aunty would bless us with her presence teaching our youth about song composing, and demonstrating augmented and diminished chords on the Ukulele that no one ever heard of or saw before. Her composing and playing style represented the romantic era of days gone by, such as her original Ginger Memories, that she wrote for her husband Uncle Robert. She was a magnet to the Keiki at our workshops and everyone would gather to hear her stories and share in her music. Everyone looked forward to our Saturday night workshop luau where we would cook, share and eat Hawaiian food: kalua pig, poi, sweet potatoe, squid luau, chicken long rice, laulau, lomi salmon, opihi, poke fish, fried fish, kulolo and haupia made by Aunty Nani. Aunty Edna always joined us, leading us in song during our jam sessions after we shared prayer and food. When Aunty reached her 90’s she went to live with her daughter in Waimea on the Big Island and then she moved to Pohainani in Kailua Oahu.
My son Keoki and I played for my nephew’s wedding near Haula on Oahu so we brought Aunty Edna on an adventurous outing to our family Haula wedding and ate her favorite Hawaiian and Chinese foods. We were able to play music for her and her friends at Pohainani luncheons on several visits after that! Here’s a video of her nephews Paahana, a classic Hawaiian trio, performing her beautiful song Ginger Memories.
Aunty Edna we all miss you! Mahalo for sharing your music and Hawaiian culture with all of us! Mahalo for keeping our Hawaiian culture Alive for us to share with others! Mahalo Nui loa!