Five-0 Redux: All that is kapu

Nov. 1, 2011 | 11 Comments

Robert Englund of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" fame was the featured guest star on this week's episode of "Hawaii Five-0." (Courtesy CBS)

BY WENDIE BURBRIDGE / Special to the Star-Advertiser

For a Halloween episode, “Hawaii Five-0″ definitely worked at making this one not only a spooky experience, but one steeped in our own unique Hawaiian culture and beliefs. I found it interesting that the three locals on the team seemed to sit back and let the “mainlander” make the common mistakes of brushing off a serious belief, chalking it all up to “silly superstition.”

And poor Danno, he paid for his cultural faux pas with two broken windows of his precious Camaro, as well as a visit from a very friendly — albeit five years dead — neighbor. Not at all that strange, and I personally don’t know anyone who would be afraid of the talented Marlene Sai, who played the ghostly Mrs. Kekoa, but to those of us who have met long dead friendly folks who have warned us of current troubles or dangers, Danno’s experience was a little close to home.

There was a lot to like about this episode, and I found myself focusing not so much on the movement of the plot and action, of which there was plenty of — a severed hand, an empty casket, a crazy girl in a padded room who could not sleep, a scary homeless man who wielded a bloody machete, explosions, and did I already mention the ghost sighting?

I’m not sure which part of the episode I liked the most, Max dressed as Neo from “The Matrix” and his decorated lab or the homage to the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” story. Was I the only one to get the veiled, “I’m a crazy girl who can’t sleep because I’m being haunted by a bad man?” similarity — or maybe I’m looking too deeply at the whole Robert Englund as the supposed bad-guy-serial-killer set up?

For those of you reading this who have visited Hawaii, have ever lived or are currently living in our fair islands, you might know locals and Hawaiians alike are very spiritual people. Some may call that being superstitious. Others may call it a little silly. But we tend to believe that if we respect our ancestors and the ancient beliefs, life will stay pretty copacetic.

We surround our homes with ti leaf plants to protect our families from spirits and from the nightmarchers who tend to still march on the paths of their original battle lines. We tell tales of little men, those we call menehune, who steal special items we love, only to replace these items after we leave out money or food as an offering of goodwill. We whisper about a beautiful wahine who walks down a lonely road and what happened to our car after we passed her and did not recognize her as the goddess Pele.

Nightmarchers (the huaka’i pō), the legend of Pele, and tales of menehune who come in the night to make mischief are all part of local folklore. Even small keiki can tell you a tale or two about experiencing friendly ancestors or hearing the not too distant drum beats that foretell the marching of our ghost warriors. In local culture, ghost or spirit folklore are called “obake stories,” after the Japanese word for ghost.

The late Hawaii folklorist and historian Glen Grant, who collected stories and tales from around the islands and published them in his most famous text, “The Obake Files,” made many of these traditional local stories famous. Hawaiians were polytheistic and worshipped many gods, which over time wove into the material of local folklore. With the introduction of different ethnic groups, called to Hawaii to work in the cane and pineapple fields, the mix of urban legend, Japanese obake stories, and all manner of ghost and spirit stories from the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Korea, and China have woven their way into the combined superstition of local residents.

In Hawaiian culture, there are less ghost stories as there are legends and mythology. According to my Hawaiian language expert, T. Ilihia Gionson, ghost stories are more a western concept and not really a Hawaiian concept. Hawaiian stories are less about scaring someone and more about warning you away from something that may harm you.

For example, when Chin Ho and Kono tell Danno to wait for the Kahu to bless them before entering the heiau or when Mrs. Kekoa warns Danno away from the elevator, they all do so to protect Danno from being harmed — not necessarily to scare him.

The interesting part of the story, which I really admired, was the care and respect it gave to our belief in the sacredness of our iwi, or bones, and for our heiau. In Hawaiian language, “kapu” does mean sacred or forbidden, but something that is deemed kapu is usually forbidden out of respect for the place or action. It is not a random declaration; it is made to help and is usually stated so as to steer people away from danger.

To Hawaiians, iwi holds our mana, and mana is our internal or spiritual power. So the treatment of our bones is as sacred as the treatment of the dead. That might seem like a given to most of you, but this is always an argument — even in today’s news as we find more and more iwi as we build and expand our modern world.

So even though scary Robert Englund swears to protect the heiau, he really is protecting the people who are trespassing more than the heiau itself. That’s because the person who trespasses has more of a chance of being harmed than the ancient artifacts or the rocks that make up the heiau. He is more like a warning siren than a protector of an ancient and spiritual place.

Overall, I thought this episode brought to light much of what makes Hawaii so special. It’s our culture and beliefs and even our treatment of friends who perhaps don’t share our spiritual nature that sets us apart from other places. This episode was a great showcase of what Peter Lenkov keeps saying is one of the major characters in the show — Hawaii itself.
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Wendie Burbridge is a published writer, playwright and a teacher of literature and fiction writing at Kamehameha Schools-Kapālama. Reach her on Facebook and on Twitter.

  • http://twitter.com/ssigafoos Stephanie Sigafoos

    Another wonderful read, Wendie.
    It was interesting to me that they had Danny pretty much confess to being an agnostic, but given the scene in 1.02 where he presented Kono with the St. Michael’s medallion — a Catholic symbol of faith — one would certainly think he holds on to some sort of belief regarding deities, or other metaphysical claims.

    I also find it neat that Hawaiians have these different sets of beliefs, and that the ghost and spirit stories of the islands have also come from places like the Philippines, Portugal,
    Spain, Korea, and China. Back when I was in school, I meticulously studied Día de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” and found it interesting how celebrations varied not only town-to-town, but country to country.

    Ghost stories are indeed a fascinating subject. My own family pastor is a member of a paranormal investigative team and has been called to bless and ‘cleanse’ dwellings that spirits are thought to inhabit. He treats these areas with the same respect one would give the body or the bones of the deceased, because he doesn’t want the spirits to believe he’s merely trespassing on their ground.

    Fun question to wrap this up — is Danny going to have the ability to see dead people now? ;)

  • http://twitter.com/fiveophans Joey

    i love reading this wendie i learn sooo much from you every week and makes me want to live there more and more- what a beautiful culture and traditions. you are very blessed to be part of it and coming from a family of teachers- you rank rite up there with your delivery – your students are lucky. i was in somewhat of a coma last nite after 3 miles of walking kids thru the neighborhood (4 moms and me and 15 kids-guess who had to carry their toddlers after 3 houses) and the candy i stole from my boy didnt help so i nodded off only to awaken to the local news so i rewatched it DVR style and went off to bed. definetly have to rewatch for the details but – wow  #sluttywonderwoman cracked me up. the last 10 min and dannos apartment fiasco was so funny and they pulled together as a ohana to help him, although it didnt work out – it was nice to see! steve was funny teasing danno in front of his girlfriend and the two of them staring lori down over the costume party was priceless! this show just keeps getting better and better. such a fun way to cap off a fun evening.

  • Anonymous

    WOW Wendie!  I know I say it every week but thank you so much for that wonderful lesson in Hawaii culture.  They say that history repeats itself because people didn’t listen the first time.  It would also seem that the spirits of those who have gone before us are trying their best to keep us safe too.  Joey is absolutely correct.  Your students are extremely lucky to have you as their teacher.  If my teachers had put as much passion into their delivery as you do I might not have slept through so many history classes. 

    I loved this episode because it was pure fun!  I loved all the horror movie cliche’s and the lighthearted banter between everyone. It was great to have a genuine cargument, Ohana time, sister-bonding between Lori and Kono…just a completely enjoyable episode.  So I suppose next week we’re back with the heavy drama, eh?

  • Anonymous

    Wendie,
    Thanks again for your wonderful insight into the episode. I agree with some others that this was a great episode with just a lot of fun stuff.
    Paul

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HF6JKCX2ROZI5GH4GNY4AHDYSM Dirty Commish

    I was incredulous that the locals on the team would not try a teensy bit harder to stop Danno from stepping on sacred ground… oh say… like a flying tackle??? I know that when my friends from the mainland are about to do something that goes against our beliefs or superstitions I go out of my way to stop them. Like trying to take rocks back home. Or when they try to stick some chopsticks straight up from a bowl of rice, I slap it out of there right away and they look at me like I’m insane. It’s just the things you grow up with that are ingrained and you believe as truth.

    Did any one else geek out with Max and Charlie Fong in the same room? Wonder twin powers activate!One small complaint about this episode: not enough Autumn Reeser. I got a fever, and the only prescription is more Reeser! (With apologies to Christopher Walken.)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VZLZ6VLPARQHH4EP6I2OZ6JR7Q AmyD

    Wendi, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode because of the culture aspect. I have never been to Hawaii and I don’t know a whole lot about the islands but I have heard about some of the legends and myths of the island, so even I was thinking ‘Danny, you are SO asking for it.’

    In fact, my personal favorite line from the entire ep. was Chin saying to Danny “No, brudah, the other one.” Hee Hee Hee.

    At the end of the ep. when Danny learns that Mrs. Kekoa is a ghost and sprints out of the apartment, were I Steve or the rest of the team, I would drag his TUCKUS back and MAKE him sign the dang agreement! Either that or he could move the stuff out by himself!

    I can honestly say that I have never seen loved ones that have passed on, I have gotten a sense of ‘something’ from time to time and I most certainly think that our loved ones are still with us in spirit.

    Amy

    P.S. I just LOVED seeing Max as Neo, that cracked me up.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ILXXMUHUGYOTXZJLQOFJM5WBZY JoAnne

    Loved your blog, as always!  This was the best treat of all for Halloween –better than candy!  Loved the Kahu blessing the heiau before the investigation started.  Brings peace of mind to all (including the crew filming, too – I imagine!)  Mfrs. Kekoa finally made a believer out of poor ole’ Danno!!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OFRFT7KNRUOHO5C5AJZEL5XLJU Valerie L

    Oh fantastic review Wendie as always. I love the history lesson about Hawaiian culture and traditions that you share with us and I couldn’t agree more that Peter Lenkov and the filmcrew team of clever writers always find a way to make their stories refreshingly unique and entertwined with Hawaiian tradition and culture.  Peter Lenkov has done brilliantly in showing us just how uniquely beautlful Hawaii is – for so many of us Haoles living abroad, there is so much for us to learn and appreciate.

    I for one have a great deal of respect for culture and traditions, though some of it from my own culture carry things a bit too far and I don’t have the same stringent belief (referencing the Chinese culture) as my traditional ancestors, because some of it seems so harsh and stringent.

    With Hawaii, there is such gentle grace about the island with all its natural beauty and all the flowers just simply so breathtaking to see each week.  I’m very grateful to learn so much from all our friends in Hawaii.

  • Anonymous

    I have been reading your H5-0 Redux blog since last season. I have always found it to be very positive and informative. This is my first time to comment. I enjoy your writing style and I know that I learn something new each week being taught by you in your “online” classroom. Mahalo Nui Loa

  • http://twitter.com/jlopie1 Lynnette Janssen

    Ooh! Wendie! Thank you so much for enlightening your readers on so much of the Hawaiian culture.  I really look forward each week to seeing your take on how the television show, Hawaii 5-0 highlights and showcases another aspect of Hawaiian life.  I can’t wait to get back to the islands – I will have such a better perspective! 

    This week’s episode was such a delightful treat! I’m not big on fright shows, but this one was a fun fright! It was a nice break from the nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat drama we’ve been enjoying.  Everyone looked like they had fun working on this episode. 

    Thanks for continuing your blog this season, Wendie. 

  • http://twitter.com/NeilYamamoto Neil Yamamoto

    Wen, another awesome blog!  Robert Englund was a homeless bum living near the heiau… nah… Robert Englund was the “Konohiki” the protector, he was protecting Danno from his own ignorance, and maybe that’s what this world needs more of.  Our team, they’re Konohiki too… protectors of each other…  You may disagree that Robert Englund was the Konohiki of the Heiau, but you can’t disagree that Robert Englund’s character was trying as best as he could to be Danno’s Konohiki, protecting Danno himself, from himself…  Just my two cents. ;o)