There’s the peace sign, the thumbs up, and of course, the Shaka! You may have also heard it referred to as “hang loose.” The hand gesture, synonymous with long haired surfers and beach bums, crosses language barriers and has become the symbol of a generation.
The Shaka came to prominence in the 1960’s when surf legends began using the hand sign to show their support out on the waves; a speechless gesture that transcended language and became understood across continents. Its meaning is unique, in that it can change depending on the situation. It can be used to say hello, goodbye, take it easy, thanks, or just to show Aloha.
Originating in Hawaii, the story of the how the Shaka came to be is mixed in urban legends and tales that have been passed down. One of the most widely accepted is the story of Hamana Kalili from the Eastern side of Oahu. There are a couple different variations to the story involving Hamana Kailili. One involves a terrible accident at the sugar mill where he worked, which left him with only a thumb and pinky finger. After the accident, he worked as a security guard for the sugar train and was responsible for keeping the trains clear of kids trying to hitch a ride. He would wave his hand to give the “all clear” and thus, the Shaka was born.
Another story tells of Hamana Kalili working as a Fisherman who uses dynamite to make his catch. One day, his wires get crossed and he blows off three of his fingers. Instead of getting upset, Hamana is thankful that he still has a pinky and a thumb. The incident and subsequent hand gesture that followed, became a way to convey a “no worries” state of mind. Just hang loose.
Today, the Shaka is commonly used on a daily basis on the islands and around the world. Its meaning has not been lost to routine and continues to be a symbol of the Aloha Spirit.