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As soon as you arrive in the islands on your Hawaii vacation, you’ll see it: Locals gesturing to each other with their thumbs and pinkies extended, their middle three fingers curled into their palms with the back of the hand facing the person being greeted. Sometimes the hand is rotated back and forth to emphasize the gesture.
It’s’ the ubiquitous shaka sign. It can mean just about anything — “all right,” “cool,” “thanks,” “hang loose, “all right!” – but it’s always used in good spirit, a gesture of friendship and understanding among the various ethnic cultures that live here.
It’s used when driving as a signal of thanks to other drivers who let you into a lane, or to wave to someone who’s a considerable distance away. President Obama was seen making the shaka sign on his inauguration day.
How did it originate? Good question
One theory is that of a worker who lost the three middle fingers of his right hand while working at a Sugar Mill. After the accident, the worker was shifted to guarding the sugar train, and his all-clear wave of thumb and pinkie is said to have evolved into the “shaka.”
A second theory is that the “shaka” sign had to do with marble playing. The position of the hand after shooting the marble is in the form of a shaka, which came to mean “sharp” or “accurate.”
Still another theory is that the word was originally “shark eye.” Holding the hand with the pinkie and thumb extended represented the shark head, with the thumb and middle fingers being the eyes.
It’s generally agreed that the shaka sign was popularized in Hawaii through its use by a used car salesman to close his television commercials, which were broadcast throughout the state in the 1960s and early 70s. It was adopted as a salutation of friendship by the local culture at large from then on. One of the Honolulu TV stations ends its evening newscasts with a group of people who happen to be at the site where a story has just been covered. They’re all smiling and waving shakas at the camera.
The shaka sign is an effortless but meaningful way to advise locals and vacationers alike of how people should always keep an eye out for one other on these islands. It is also a reminder to make an effort to share the aloha spirit every day.
Don’t hesitate to use it while you’re here.