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Spend Halloween with Hawaii Five-0

Mix Hollywood with Hawaii traditions and Halloween, and what do you get? We’ll know tomorrow.

The Halloween episode of Hawaii Five-0 seems so perfect – the show airs on Monday nights, and this year Oct. 31 is on Monday. The show’s hip cache allowed it to land top director Joe Dante and actor Robert Englund (Freddie of Nightmare on Elm Street). Behind the scenes, writing duo Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas bring experience from X-Files, Dollhouse and Reaper.

The Halloween Five-0 episode features a familiar face from a classic scary movie.

And yet … this is the show description from CBS: “When the Five-0s investigate the murder of a young couple filming a spooky documentary about a traditional Hawaiian burial site, they are threatened by a drifter who puts a curse on Danny.” A clip from the episode shows Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) interrogating the drifter (Robert Englund). The drifter is identified as a homeless Vietnam combat veteran. It appears that he was apprehended at a heiau – a traditional Hawaiian sacred site but not a burial ground. During the interrogation, he mentions that the couple was treading on the kupuna (elders), and that the land is kapu (sacred). Kapu was the ancient Hawaiian code of conduct. These days, the word usually means “forbidden.” He threatens Danno (Scott Caan) for his unbelief, saying that the dead will be looking for him now.

That description may be scary, but it’s not the way people in Hawaii look at any of those concepts. Rather than being “spooky,” spirits are beloved ancestors. They are revered and consulted for guidance. The places they are buried are treasured, as though the spirits welcome living relatives to an ongoing family reunion. As past locations of ritual, heiau are respected but carry no negative spiritual weight.

It is possible that the drifter, clearly not Native Hawaiian, has blended legitimate local concepts into some sort of cultural stew of his own making. It is also true that the problem of homeless military veterans is serious, and Hawaii certainly has its share. But part of me is really tired of fried Vietnam veterans used as plot devices. The continuing fall out from that war on families is way scarier than any movie or TV show.

I love the show and appreciate the many efforts it makes to respect the host culture of the Islands. I remain hopeful that the actual episode will be truer to tradition than the summary and clip seem to suggest. If not, we may at least agree with one line from the drifter’s interrogation: “They needed to learn respect!”

Photo Credit: CBS

Posted by: Bruce Fisher on Oct 30, 2011