One of the strongest elements of “Hawaii Five-0” is how it uses the unique culture and stories of Hawaiʻi to enrich its plotlines and character arcs. It is also one of the features that helps to separate the show from other police procedurals. While executive producer Peter Lenkov has always called Hawaiʻi one of the main characters of the series, there have been times when the islands sometimes have just provided a gorgeous backdrop to case of the week. Still, I have loved watching how the show has grown into a series that cannot take place anywhere else, but in Hawaiʻi nei.
Of course, McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin), and the entire Five-0 ʻohana– this includes Danny (Scott Caan), Chin (Daniel Dae Kim), Kono (Grace Park), Lou (Chi McBride) and Jerry (Jorge Garcia); as well as Sgt. Duke (Dennis Chun), Kamekona (Taylor Wily), Flippa (Shawn Mokuahi Garnett), and Officer Pua Kai (Shawn Thomsen)– make it such a distinct series.
Their stories, as well as those of Hawaiʻi, are also integral to the strength of the show. The fact that McGarrett and Jerry were born and raised in Hawaiʻi; Chin, Kono, Duke, Kamekona, Flippa, and Pua are all part-Hawaiian; and Danno and Lou are raising their families in the islands– all helps to weave into the fabric of their characters everything that is truly special about Hawaiʻi.
I’ve written about this before– the idea that by the writers using Hawaiian culture and language as part of their focus– really helps to center the show. When they highlight the ancient Hawaiian martial art of kapu ku‘i a lua, reenact the Battle of Nu‘uanu, or use our cultural beliefs of sailing and surfing in their storylines– we understand that the show can only take place in Hawaiʻi.
This week’s episode, “Ka laina ma ke one” (pronounced Kah Lie-nah Mah Keh Oh-nay), which means in Hawaiian “Line in the Sand,” spoke to me on so many levels. As a Kanaka Maoli, a descendant of the indigenous peoples of Hawaiʻi, I have very strong feelings about the subject of Hawaiian sovereignty. Mostly my feelings come from deep within my naʻau, my gut, about my people, our language, and our culture. So when “Hawaii Five-0” works hard to explain and celebrate Hawaiian history– I’m always on board.
The episode, written by Sean O’Reilly, whose only other writing credit for “Hawaii Five-0” is the teleplay for the season 6 episode “Ka Haunaele”, was so well done. Along with a strong script, the episode was expertly directed by Peter Weller, a fan favorite among repeat Five-0 directors. Not only has Weller helmed several well-received episodes, he also starred in “Hookman” from season three.
Add in the amazing Five-0 actors, and a strong performance by Bumpy Kanahele, head of state of the Nation of Hawai’i, the episode was powerful. Overall, I thought how they handled the sensitive and divisive issue of Hawaiian sovereignty and Kanaka Maoli rights was realistic and completely respectful. I hope that it made people think about issues that are sometimes too hard to discuss in casual conversation about a television show.
I have to take a moment to explain a bit about where the belief in Hawaiian sovereignty comes from. I know for the most part, the fact that we were a sovereign independent nation until 1893– is rarely taught outside of Hawaiʻi. Everyone knows we’re the 50th State– and I think that could have something to do with the title of “Hawaii Five-0,” but sometimes I think many on the continent forget us and tend to think of us as a vacation destination where you do not need your passport. Unless you are Hawaiian, or perhaps once lived here because you or your parents were in the military, most do not know very much about Hawaiʻi.
Bumpy Kamahele, who played himself in this episode, isn’t trying to take over a sweet piece of property in Waimānalo and call it “The Kingdom of Hawai’i.” He is a legitimate leader, supporter, and protector of Kanaka Maoli rights and cultural practices. What you saw and heard him say on “Hawaii Five-0” is so close to reality, that the fictional lines were mostly represented by the parts of McGarrett, Chin, and the rest of the Five-0 team, as well as guest star Lou Diamond Phillips, showing up as big bully US Federal Marshall Lincoln.
When Kanuha Noe (played by the amazing Native Hawaiian actor Kalani Queypo) runs from HPD at the start of the episode, he seeks sanctuary with Bumpy and The Nation of Hawaiʻi at their compound Pu‘uhonua o Waimānalo. In Ancient Hawaiʻi, if a kapu, or law, was broken, anyone could make their way to a place of refuge, a puʻuhonua, and no harm would come to them once they reached sanctuary. Sometimes it was the victims of war or defeated warriors who sought refuge. Most of us learned about the idea of seeking refuge for crimes, from one of the few remaining puʻuhonua sites– Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau, on Hawaiʻi island, which is now a National Historical Park.
So Bumpy is correct when he tells Chin and McGarrett that they cannot enter as HPD or as the Five-0 task force. The Nation of Hawaiʻi “regards itself as a sovereign government under international law, acting as a successor state to the independent Kingdom of Hawai‘i and therefore not subject to United States rule.” Which means that they do feel their land is not the property of the United States of America. Entering it without permission would be an invasion of their nation.
The independent Kingdom of Hawaiʻi existed from 1795, when Kamehameha the Great unified the Hawaiian Islands, until Jan. 17, 1893, when our Queen, Liliuʻokalani, was deposed by a group of American and European business men. She temporarily gave up her throne in hopes that the United States government would restore the monarchy. Two years later, on Jan. 24, 1895, she abdicated her crown in order to secure the commutation of the prison sentences and the death sentences for six leaders of a failed effort to restore Liliuʻokalani and the monarchy. Our Queen’s sentence of five years hard labor was commuted to house arrest in ʻIolani Palace until October of 1896 when she was pardoned by the United States backed Republic of Hawaiʻi.
I know some kamaʻāina might read this and wonder why I’m explaining all of this history, but many who watch “Hawaii Five-0” often comment when I add history or cultural explanations to my articles, it gives them more insight into Hawaiʻi. This week, I hope you learned a little more about Hawaiʻi and her indigenous people. We are a people filled with aloha, but it came at a great price. One that is still incredibly painful today as it was 124 years ago.
I think what moved me the most, was McGarrett and Chin’s actions in the episode. How they understood, and related, to Bumpy and his people. I loved that Chin had a history with Bumpy. Even though it was fiction– it worked. And when McGarrett pleads for patience from an unrelenting Lincoln, it was so sincere and heartfelt– it reminds me of when McGarrett told the story of why his football number was 50– because even though he wasn’t Native Hawaiian, he still had a tie to this land, to his birthplace. When he tells Danny that Bumpy is not a criminal for invading ʻIolani Palace because “it was their palace first,” that really showed me about how much McGarrett understands his home, his culture, and his history.
Really, this episode was more about what it means to be Hawaiian, Kanaka Maoli, and from Hawaiʻi. Sometimes they are all the same, and sometimes they mean different things. But it is the understanding of those differences that came make the world a more peaceful place. I loved the ending lūʻau– when Hawaiians gather to eat, talkstory, sing, and hula– it is always a celebration of life and a reminder that we are still here. We are still here.