We all love the Shaka sign! But where does it come from?
The Shaka sign gesture owns a special place inside surf culture since the 1960s and quickly became way more than just saying “hey” or substituting a thumb up: it is a symbol of the “Aloha spirit”, of being part of the surfing community, and a sign of respect!
We can understand the deep meaning and importance of the Shaka sign worldwide by having a look at all the theories concerning its origins: every country reclaims its invention! Hawaii-related are the ones we prefer, but there really are tons. Some even come from Italy (a salutation gesture made by southern Italy farmers) and from China (a sign made to count to six with just one hand).
Let’s have a look at the most widely held theories:
– Local inhabitants of Honolulu credit it to Hamana Kalili of Laie (June 18, 1882 – December 17, 1958), who was a leader to the local community. He was a fisherman, tug of war champion and hukilau (an ancient Hawaiian fishing technique) organizer of the community.
He had lost his three middle fingers on his right hand, while working at a sugar mill in Kahuku. After the accident, he was assigned to guarding the sugar train, and when in need to signal “all-clear”, his gesture resulted in waving his thumb and pinkie. Children imitated the gesture and it evolved into the Shaka sign.
Hamana Kalili is still much loved and a statue of him is displayed since February 2015 at the Polynesian Cultural Centre’s new Hukilau Marketplace.
– Spanish immigrants, unable to communicate with the natives in Hawaii, used to fold their middle fingers and took their hand to the face imitating the gesture of drinking (in a way we still use nowadays), to invite locals to share a drink with them.
– Whalers: looks like they used to signal a catch with the Shaka gesture, with the meaning of “tails up”.
– Hawaii again: it is said that the Shaka sign was a measurement that the Polynesians held against the stars to guide their canoes to the Hawaiian Islands.
A honour mention goes to the late Lippy Espinda. You might have seen him in some Hawaii Five-O and the The Brady Bunch episodes. He was a used cars salesman and used the term and the sign during his television ads in the ’60s: it is unlikely that he envented the sign, but he surely contributed to increasing it popularity.
With regard to its name, “Shaka”, it is believed that the name may come, along with its positive association, from the gesture of “victory” we all know (raising your index and middle finger). In Hawaii, during World War II, this sign was made rotating the hand rapidly: “shaken” changed into “shaka” over time, and this is what some of us still do….we shake it!