In Hawaiian language, kūpale means defense or to defend or ward off, and this week’s offering from “Hawaii Five-0,” titled “Kūpale,” definitely brought the idea of the “defender” to the foreground. We also had some pretty great guest stars on board to help the show’s defense of their Monday night time slot: Olympic speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno and Hawaii’s own “Flyin’ Hawaiian,” Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino.
Victorino got the party started with his portrayal as Shaun, an eager team-building trainer, who while leading a group of corporate stiffs wanting to bond in the middle of a tropical forest rather than getting massages on the beach, leads the Five-0 team to the crime scene du jour. The victim is dressed as an ancient koa or warrior, in traditional malo and tattoos, and while Max’s theory of time travel bringing our victim back to Five-0 territory was extremely humorous, it was almost reassuring to see the Hawaiian warriors running down the valley. For a moment there, I thought we might have been doing a “Lost” reenactment.
The reenactors were portraying King Kamehameha’s battles, though his most famous was the Battle of Nu‘uanu, a key battle in his quest to unify the Hawaiian Islands. Nā koa means “the soldiers” or “the warriors,” and many contemporary military groups use the term to symbolize our brave warriors still out in the field. Members of the Hawaii Air National Guard uses an image of nā koa on their shoulder patches, and the USS Chung-Hoon DDG-93 uses the nā koa helmet, as well as the term, on the ship’s crest: Imua e nā koa kai, which means “Go Forward Sea Warrriors.”
Nā koa of Kamehameha’s time were trained like elite special forces, much like our McG was trained to be a SEAL. According to the Bishop Museum’s “Hawaii Alive” website: “These “special forces” trained in pā lua (schools in the art of breaking bones), becoming highly efficient in the use of the assorted weapons that populated the Hawaiian battlefield.” We saw many different weapons used in this week’s episode, and I was interested to see their effort in trying to make the scene look as authentic as possible. Yet unlike the Civil War reenactor groups who dress up like Union and Confederate soldiers and act out the fall of the South or Lee’s last stand, I don’t think I have ever heard of a group donning faux feather cloaks and brandishing leiomano (shark-tooth weapons) and pololū (long spear) to run through Kaʻaʻawa Valley to pretend to push their enemies off the Pali.
I have to say, if any show on television is trying to highlight Hawaii and Hawaiian culture in a positive way, it would be “Hawaii Five-0.” I know there will be those who pick apart the show and make reference to every misrepresentation or false detail, but whenever an episode uses a page from our Hawaiian history book, it does help to open the eyes of those outside of Hawaii to our rich culture and often tells them more about Hawaii than what they would learn at a lu‘au or at a shopping center hula show.
I think “Hawaii Five-0” is kind enough to make the effort to try and make everything as accurate as possible and still work within the confines of network television. Remember, folks, “Hawaii Five-0” is not a documentary, so their need to be accurate is very low. I do appreciate that they want to be accurate. Mahalo nui to Peter Lenkov and the rest of his crew for making that happen on a network television show. I think it is probably a small victory every week to accomplish any kind of cultural accuracy on the small screen.
A lot of what Dr. Gabby, Danno’s current love interest and resident expert at the Bishop Museum, said about the lei niho palaoa, the necklace that was taken from the stand-in warrior victim, which is a braided necklace of human hair with a carved whale tooth pendant, was very accurate. Only the highest ranking ali‘i, or chiefs, wore this symbol of strength and mana, or spiritual power. Most lei niho palaoa are passed on through royal families, and the hair used to make the necklace is usually hair from their family kūpuna, or elders. It is a very special artifact, one perhaps a reenactor would think twice about wearing into a battle, no matter how authentic he might want to be. But Seth, played by Apolo Anton Ohno, was correct — they are worth a fortune to our people. They are perhaps not so much financially valuable but culturally valuable. And to Hawaiians, that would outweigh its worth in gold.
Perhaps that is why the victim, Brandon Koruba, had a change of heart when deciding about his Superferry taking over the interisland seas. The episode concentrated on the financial motive for his murder, but that was just because the Hawaiian partner decided he didn’t want to endanger the environment. ‘Āina was more important than kālā (money) to Koruba, and that was what got him killed. In the end Koruba was more than just a defender reenacting a great battle, but a defender of his home and land.
And as always, Five-0 shows up every week to defend their time slot, and to show us how they can also defend Hawaii and its culture in more ways than one.
Redux Side Note:
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much fun this episode was, with all of the funny Danny and McG scenes and the sweet ‘ohana dinner at the end. Danny setting up a controlled environment to have Gracie meet Gabby was a great moment and definitely gave me some hope that our whipping boy will have some happiness this season. But the best parts were the reminders of why we first fell in love with the show, McG putting out Danno’s frittata fire, carguments, a “Book ’em, Danno” — all warm reminders of why the fans defend their Five-0 Team on a weekly basis.