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Hawaiian legends and folklore help to inspire a ghostly case

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    At Halloween, Five-0 must investigate a string of murders that mirror stories from well-known Hawaiian folklore.

Everyone loves a good spooky story. If you are from Hawaiʻi, where the tales are ingrained into your childhood and Camp Erdman campfire memories, you have probably heard all of the stories of disappearing hitchhikers, ghostly dogs, faceless women, and kolohe menehune. So this week’s “Hawaii Five-0” was an interesting treat, as McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and the Five-0 team, work to solve a string of strange murders that seem inspired by the folklore of our islands.

Today, Hawaiʻi folklore is made up of more than just the Hawaiian legends and myths. Many of our well-known tales are derived from traditional stories from the different ethnic groups that came to Hawaiʻi to work in the sugarcane industry during the 1800s. Once these groups mixed and married with indigenous Hawaiians– the stories birthed from these unions have been passed down for generations. These tales are shared to scare– and to warn– children and adults alike.

This week’s episode, titled “Kamaʻomaʻo, ka ʻāina huli hana” is based on an ʻōlelo no‘eau, or Hawaiian proverb and poetical saying. It literally means “At Kamaʻomaʻo, land of activities.” It’s an unusual title, as most people would ask– what kind of activities? But the meaning refers to the Hawaiian belief that ghosts who do not go to the pō of their ancestors wander about in certain areas. Kamaʻomaʻo, Maui, is one of those areas. The saying refers to the fact that the activities of such ghosts– usually annoy the living.

For McGarrett and Danny (Scott Caan)– along with Tani Rey (Meaghan Rath), Jerry (Jorge Garcia), and Junior (Beulah Koale)– it is not a ghost who is annoying them– it’s a killer with a strange penchant for making her victims look like they have been killed by Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. Or turned to stone by the menehune, the legendary race of small people who worked at night, building fish ponds, roads, and heiau. Or kidnapped by the Green Lady of Wahiawā, the ghost of a heartbroken mother who is often seen covered in green moss and seaweed. Or abandoned on the side of the road to die, like the Half-Faced Girl of Old Pali Road.  

The killer’s themes come from our own folklore– well-known by Hawaiians and kamaʻāina alike. The stories were expertly used within the episode by writers and fellow executive producers/showrunners, Peter Lenkov and Eric Guggenheim. While the duo expertly focuses on the familiar character arcs of the main cast, they also consistently include an intriguing case to expertly frame a strong episode.  

The episode was skillfully directed by Bronwen Hughes who also directed two strong episodes in season six– “Hū ʻaʻe ke ahi lanakila a Kāmaile” (“The fire of Kāmaile rises in triumph”) and  “Pukaʻana” (“Exodus”). Hughes obviously understands the characters– especially McGarrett and Alicia Brown, played by recurring cast member, Claire Forlani. Forlani returned this week to conclude the season seven storyline of Alicia, a former FBI profiler, helping Five-0 hunt serial killer Dr. Madison Gray.

Alicia is currently on trial for murdering Dr. Gray, and McGarrett is helping her through the court proceedings. This secondary plotline is one of two in this episode, with the other focusing on Lou Grover (Chi McBride) making a strange visit to a death row inmate hours before his execution. Both eventually intersect with the main storyline and help to wrap up all three plot strands, yet if I had one issue with this episode it was the almost-too-perfect way that Alicia’s trial ends, and how Lou finds the just-right evidence to finally close the door on his Clay Maxwell investigation.

While Alicia’s storyline merges with the Halloween murders when McGarrett pulls her to help profile the suspect the team is chasing– Lou’s story takes him to Florida to meet death row inmate Sebastian Wake (James Frain), who has requested to have Lou witness his execution. Wake seems to be on death row in 1999, which is the last time Florida used the electric chair in an execution, but it did make for a very dramatic moment for Lou. Wake promised to give Lou the evidence that would prove Clay Maxwell killed his wife if he would delay his execution.

Of course, Lou’s request is denied, but as he is leaving the prison, a guard gives him a note that Wake left for him. It is a map that leads Lou to a box of mini audio tapes. The tapes seem to be of Wake’s conversations with Clay and all the evidence Lou needs to prove he had been right about Clay killing his wife. Lou’s emotional reaction to finding the evidence– and his phone call to McGarrett– was a very satisfying moment in the episode.

Besides the Lou storyline– I did love having Danny back in the episode. He has a really nice moment with Junior when they meet for the first time when Danny comes over to McGarrett’s to scare him with a creepy Halloween mask. Junior “yes, sirs” him to death and Danny kindly tells him he doesn’t have to call him sir– except maybe every three minutes. It’s a great moment between the two and solidifies my thought that Junior will blend in just as well as Tani has with the team.

Danny and Tani working the first murder together was classic– Danno with his east coast skepticism out in full-force was perfect. After last year’s Halloween case in “Ka Hale Hoʻokauweli,” (“House of Horrors”) when the spooky story of the Kaimuki House was used to scare someone to death– I think Danny might understand ghostly issues a little better.

Well, I think he understands it, but he still needs to keep his skepticism up. And it does make for several funny moments between the Veteran and the Rookie– as Tani is completely sold on the spook factor. Her explanation of the legend of Pele and Kamapuaʻa was told well, and I love how she amped up the hot romance between gone bad angle. Many of know that story, and Tani– and Jerry– are right to abide the rules.

I also loved that Noelani (Kimee Balmilero) was the one who told Danny about the legend of the menehune turning those who catch them in their nightly work were turned to stone. Menehune were famous for building huge fishponds and heiau and other massive structures that helped the Hawaiian people– in one night.

Jerry continued to add to the use of the folklore by referencing some of the other famous haunted places of local fame– the Kaimukī House (which is the same story used in last year’s Halloween episode), Kīpapa Gulch, Morgan’s Corner, as well as The Pali, are four of the most well known haunted places on Oʻahu.

Really, each island has its own stories and legends. While some are legitimate stories based on real-life happenings– like the Kaimukī House which is based on two police reports about paranormal occurrences at the same address during the 1940s and 1970s. And the legend of Morgan’s Corner is based on the real-life murder of Mrs. Therese Wilder, a wealthy widow who was kidnapped by two escapees from an Oʻahu prison.

Pork over the Pali is a superstition that exists until today– but now also affects those traveling on H-3 because of all of the sacred sites that were disturbed when the freeway was built. The sad story of the half-faced girl of Old Pali Road is a warning to parents to keep their children close and out of harm’s way.

The story is based on a similar case to what poor Marissa Walker (Michele Carrol) suffered through– without the wild boars. The legend of the half-faced girl is that she was jumping rope along Old Pali Road and she was kidnapped and pulled into the forest where she was assaulted and strangled with her own jump rope. People who have seen her ghost see her jumping her rope along the road, and when they see her face, her eyes are bulging and the lower half of her face is gone.

This is the case Marissa is “teased” about after her ordeal because half of her face is gone from being left for dead and the wild boar attack. Her desire to kill others like the legends seem to come from the torment of her own story being added to the folklore. She seems to long for her family, which seems to be why she kidnaps her own niece Lacey Bell (Rylee Brooke Kamahele) to suffer a similar fate. Maybe it is to get back at her sister Hannah (Vivan Durge) for not protecting her, or because she wants someone who can relate to what she has gone through by experiencing it as well.

If nothing else, I did enjoy how all the folklore was used in the episode, but also how the team was able to save the little girl by working together– Tani and Junior seem to be starting an interesting friendship– as well as with Eddie using his own special talents to help find the little girl. I do like it when the team comes together– and in this case, it was the collective knowledge of Hawaiian legends, folklore, and superstitions that helped bring it all together.

I just hope that our new half-faced girl doesn’t continue to kill to find her place in the world. The only hiccup was that the team did not catch her– but finding Lacey was happy ending enough.


This week’s review of the Halloween episode could have been a 1000 more words if I had written all that I know about the Hawaiian legends and folklore referenced by “Hawaii Five-0.” If you want to hear an expert Hawaiian storyteller share a few of these stories and more, join Lopaka Kapanui on one of his Mysteries of Hawaii tours. Kapanui offers walking tours of Fort Street Mall on Mondays; Waikīkī on Tuesdays; and of Old Honolulu, which is basically the area around Five-0 headquarters, on Thursdays.

If you are in town next week for the “Sunset on the Beach” activities, I highly encourage you to check out one of Kapanui’s tours. Don’t forget to get his autograph, as he has also been in two episodes of “Hawaii Five-0.” Last season, he was the murder victim, Akamu, in “He Moho Hou” (“New Player”). Unfortunately, his characters have died in both the episodes he has guest starred in, but I suppose in his line of business– he can understand that kind of cinematic irony.

Check out his website Mysteries of Hawaiʻi for tour information, dates, and times.

Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright, and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


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