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The shaka sign, sometimes known as "hang loose", is a gesture often associated with Hawaii and surf culture. It consists of extending the thumb and smallest finger while holding the three middle fingers curled, and gesturing in salutation while presenting the front or back of the hand; the hand may be rotated back and forth for emphasis. The shaka sign was adopted from local Hawaiian culture and customs by visiting surfers in the 1960s, and its use has spread around the world.
Meaning and use
Hawaiians use the shaka to convey the "Aloha Spirit", a concept of friendship, understanding, compassion, and solidarity among the various ethnic cultures that reside within Hawaii, lacking a direct semantic to literal translation. The shaka can also be used to express "howzit?", "thanks, eh?", and "all right!" Drivers will often use it on the road to communicate distant greetings and gratitude.
In American Sign Language, the shaka is one of the two signs used to refer to surfing. In California, the shaka sign may be referred to as "hang loose" or "hang ten"- both associated with surfer culture.
A symbolic interpretation of this kind and peaceful gesture can draw on the fluid dynamics of surfing in which the shape of the hand shows the use of strength of wave to move harmoniously from peak to valley to lofting exit. This is represented by the uplifted pinky as point of departure to the power slope, the three folded middle fingers as the power of the wave in its rolling face, and the return to a lower peak and lofting exit for turning on the ramp of thumb. This gesture in this way could also be used to represent the Taoist concept of wu wei, or effortless effort of going with the flow.
The gesture enjoys common use in American hang gliding culture, for both sentiment and word play, in part due to the simultaneous rise of surfing and hang gliding in California in the 1960s and 70s. It is also widely used among skydivers.
There are three textese glyphs for the shaka sign - \.../, \, / and \m/ - the first known use of the first two is in c. 2006. The third version, with a lower case 'm' bearing more resemblance to a hand's three middle fingers, c. 2009.
The sign can also be used to gesticulate the imbibing of a bottled drink, as attested to below, by placing the thumb to the mouth and motioning the little finger upward as if tipping up a bottle's bottom end.
With the thumb held near the ear and the little finger pointed at the mouth, the gesture is commonly understood to mean "call me", as it resembles a hand held telephone.
In the Caribbean, particularly the Lesser Antilles Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, it may be used to suggest a sexual exchange; for such, the thumb points to the gesture and the little finger toward the subject of the proposition as the hand is moved forward and back.
In China, this gesture means "6".
In Australia and Russia raising the thumb to the mouth while pointing the pinky to the air is seen as invitation for one to smoke weed, the posture resembling the use of a pipe. Similarly in New Zealand, this gesture symbolises smoking a "P" (methamphetamine) pipe, as well as variations of the shaka sign being the recognised gang salute for the Mongrel Mob
In the Southeastern region of the United States, fans of the South Carolina Gamecocks raise the gesture as a reference to the spur of a gamecock.
According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, prevailing local lore credited the gesture to Hamana Kalili of Laie, who lost the three middle fingers of his right hand while working at the Kahuku Sugar Mill. Kalili was then shifted to guarding the sugar train, and his all-clear wave of thumb and pinkie is said to have evolved into the shaka as children imitated the gesture.
Another theory relates the origin of the shaka to the Spanish immigrants, who folded their middle fingers and took their thumbs to their lips as a friendly gesture to represent sharing a drink with the natives they met in Hawaii.
Yet another theory relates the origin to visiting Whalers who signaled a catch with a "tails up" Shaka.
Shaka and its very positive associations may simply derive from the popular World War II "V for Victory" hand sign, in Hawaii often held up and rotated rapidly back and forth, "shaken", hence Shaka.
The late Lippy Espinda, a used car salesman and Oahu-based entertainer, has also been named as a possible creator of the shaka. Espinda, who frequently appeared as an extra in Hawaii Five-O as well as the The Brady Bunch episodes shot in Hawaii, used the term and the sign during his television ads in the '60s. Though the claim that he is the originator of the shaka sign is debatable, he is credited with increasing its popularity and of Hawaiian Pidgin as well.
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