comscore Hawaiian actors show real aloha in their 'Hawaii Five-0' characters | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Five-0 Redux

Hawaiian actors show real aloha in their ‘Hawaii Five-0’ characters

    Taylor Wily as Kamekona with Kekoa Kekumano as Nahele in "Hawaii Five-0."
    Shawn Mokuahi Garnett as Flippa Tupuola and Taylor Wily as Kamekona in "Hawaii Five-0."
    Taylor Wily as Kamekona shares 'ha" with Steve McGarrett played by series star, Alex O'Loughlin.

Hawaiians believe that we should always greet a friend warmly, with a hug and a genuine kiss. To say aloha without a pūliki, which means to hug or embrace, or a honi, our word for a kiss, is disingenuous. Traditionally, Hawaiians share ha, or breath, especially when we want to convey our deep love and aloha. Many “Hawaii Five-0” fans have seen this share of ha between the characters on the show, most recently between Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Kamekona (Taylor Wily) in the season eight episode, “E uhi wale no ʻaʻole e nalo, he imu puhi” (“No Matter How Much One Covers a Steaming Imu, The Smoke Will Rise”). It’s a visual confirmation of true pilialoha, or friendship.

No one who watches “Hawaii Five-0” will dispute the truth behind the aloha shared by McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Kamekona, played by Hawaiʻi actor and series regular Taylor Wily. Fans also love watching Kamekona’s cousin, Flippa Tupuola, played by Hawaiian actor Shawn Mokuahi Garnett, work and play alongside Kamekona, along with McGarrett’s hānai brother Nahele, played by Hawaiian actor Kekoa Kekumano.

“Hānai” is Hawaiian for foster or adopted child, and while McGarrett didn’t take Nahele into his home, he certainly mentors and protects him. Nahele works for Kamekona and is often seen working at the shrimp truck and with Flippa. Nahele also worked at Cousin Flippa’s North Shore shrimp truck, until it was blown up by Joey Kang (Reggie Lee) early in season nine. Flippa often is seen with the Five-0 team singing and playing the ʻukulele at their ʻohana gatherings. Off camera, Garnett is a popular singer/songwriter and entertainer.

It seems as if all three characters have become part of McGarrett’s hānai ʻohana. Both cousins Kamekona and Flippa help the Five-0 Team with information and island insight. Kamekona’s shrimp truck gives the team a place to meet for pau hana, when a case is finished, and they can relax and unwind with each other. And Kamekona, Flippa, and Nahele all help with island insider information, which helps the team stay safe while they work their cases.  

Kamekona Tupuola
Taylor Wily’s Kamekona is a character unlike anything else on network television. A man big in personality and stature, Kamekona is an ex-felon, confidential informant to Five-0, as well as a successful businessman and philanthropist. While his business acumen comes from his years of living on the streets and orchestrating several illegal enterprises since he was a young boy — he has nonetheless built himself a successful way of life through his now legal business ventures. He also has created a safe place for himself and others away from a life of crime.

Kamekona has been a friend to Five-0 since the beginning. Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim) introduced him to McGarrett in the Pilot episode at Kamekona’s Waiola Shave Ice Stand in Ala Moana Beach Park. Since that first meeting, Kamekona has taken his shave ice business to new levels. Kamekona is no fool — he knew from the start of his legal business life that ice had “a high-profit margin.” He went from a beachfront shave ice stand and rolling cart to his existing shrimp truck. Then he added Flippa’s Shrimp Truck, helicopter tours, and tried to launch a catamaran tour. Unfortunately, Flippa’s truck was destroyed and the catamaran sank– but Kamekona doesn’t let much keep him down.

Now he has a new business venture — as a silent partner in McGarrett and Danny’s (Scott Caan) Italian restaurant — “Kamekona’s Italian Bistro.” It looks like McGarrett and Danny will finally open the restaurant with Kamekona’s influence, and his two suitcases full of cash. We’ll have to see if his name for the eatery sticks, but he is right — name recognition counts in the food industry, and everyone knows Kamekona serves the best shrimp plate on the island.  

In season nine, it looks as if Kamekona may be upping his shave ice game as we have seen the Kamekona’s shave ice jeep in behind the scenes pictures shared by executive producer Peter Lenkov. But what really makes Kamekona such a special character is his penchant for helping others. Sure, he makes everyone pay for his information — mainly through the purchase of shrimp plates — and he may have taken stolen money to open a community center for a well-deserving community and their keiki — but he still tries to do the right thing and gives everyone a chance. Flippa and Nahele are learning how to do business from him, before Jerry (Jorge Garcia) officially joined the Five-0 Task Force he worked delivery for Kamekona’s Shrimp Truck, he invested in Gerard Hirsch’s (Willie Garson) crime scene cleaning business, and now he’s helping Danny and Steve open their restaurant. The man with big plans also has a very big heart.

Flippa Tupuola
While Kamekona became an important part of the show right from the start, his cousin Flippa, played by Shawn Mokuahi Garnett, joined the cast as a recurring character in season three of the series. In “ʻI’ike Ke Ao” (“For the World to Know”), Flippa’s real name —Shawn Tupuolu, possibly taken from the actors actual name, was revealed. For the most part, everyone calls him Cousin Flippa. But Flippa is more than just comic relief — he seems to be the one member of Kamekona’s blood ʻohana who supports Kamekona, and they seem to be connected through more than just running the family business.

They have worked together from little kid times when they sold “traditional Hawaiian artifacts” to tourist in Waikīkī, skipping school to make money for their families, to Flippa working beside him in the shrimp truck business. Flippa has done everything his cousin has asked him to do — blow-up Sumo wrestle a female Olympic wrestler, dress like an elf for Christmas, rent a tux to guard Victoria Secret models, be his First Mate on an inaugural catamaran cruise. He has proven over and over that he is completely loyal to his cousin —and loves him, no matter what crazy sales tactic Kamekona comes up with to sell his shrimp.

Flippa is Kamekona’s right-hand man and he trusts Kamekona’s business sense and it’s too bad his North Shore truck was destroyed. Flippa definitely would have made that truck as much of a success as the Waikīkī truck. Now that it’s gone, Kamekona just needs him to sing at night and start a shrimp truck nightclub vibe and they can now make money on Flippa’s musical talents.

Yes, there was one time when Flippa went on strike against his cousin because he felt he was being taken advantage of — but I suppose when your cousin apologizes and gives you your own shrimp truck, all is forgotten. Maybe we need to see more of Kamekona’s loyalty to Flippa in season nine.

Yet it seems as if Flippa will always be by his cousin’s side, as even Danny sees them having a bright future together. In “I ka wā mamua, I ka wā mahope” (The Future is in the Past”) Danny envisioned Charlie’s Uncles Kamekona and Flippa owning two luxury resorts and still partners twenty years in the future. No matter how humorous Flippa is or how beautiful his singing voice — he is loyal and true to Kamekona, and the Five-0 ʻohana.

Nahele Huikala
While Flippa always has Kamekona’s back — Nahele, played by Kekoa Kekumano, is another part of Kamekona’s inner circle who is also going through Kamekona’s business school of hard knocks. But Nahele seems to be another lost young man who seems to have found a place within the Five-0 ʻohana — thanks to McGarrett and with Kamekona’s help. Nahele was a homeless teenager who once stole McGarrett’s prized Mercury Marquis, his father’s car that he had been trying to rebuild. Nahele stole his car to sell for parts because he was hungry having run away from his foster home. His mother was dead and his father in prison and McGarrett gives him a chance and Kamekona gives him a job.

McGarrett soon becomes more of a mentor and big brother to Nahele. While McGarrett could be his father, I think he treats Nahele more like an older brother, teaching him things his father would not — like throwing a football or having him pick up the engagement ring he was going to give Catherine (Michelle Borth). Their banter and trust is like that of brothers– Nahele obviously admires McGarrett, but he also feels comfortable enough to give him a hard time about women and cars.

But Nahele trusts McGarrett and goes to him first when he finds a friend overdosed in the school locker room. Both Kamekona and McGarrett try to protect him after his father Kaili (James Duval) gets out of prison and wants to gain full custody of the teenager. McGarrett sensed that it more than just teenage angst that kept him from wanting to be returned to his father. And when Nahele tells McGarrett that he knows his father killed someone and may have been the only witness to the murder, it is McGarrett who ensures him that he and the rest of the Five-0 ʻohana will be there for him no matter what.

And we see that McGarrett was right — the ʻohana has taken care of Nahele — especially Kamekona and Flippa. Nahele seems to have grown from it. When Kamekona decides to feed the firefighters and policemen who are helping to contain the huge forest fire Jason Duclair (Randy Couture) sets in the season eight opener, Nahale is there with Kamekona, passing out food and water, and helping others like others have helped him. He is also the one who is trapped in Flippa’s burning shrimp truck when Kamekona is kidnapped and Nahele tells McGarrett all that he knows in order to help find their friend. He is no longer a scared teenager, but a true member of their ʻohana.

While season nine is only weeks away, perhaps there will be more Kamekona, Flippa, and Nahele as a hard-working, smart, business trio. If nothing else, we know that their aloha and friendship truly runs deep in their characters and the relationship we see in their ‘Five-0’ characters.

Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright, and teacher. Follow her Twitter and Instagram.


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