Shaka sign

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The "shaka" sign is a common greeting in the Hawaiian culture and New Zealand subsequently also used in surfer cultures.

The shaka sign, sometimes known as "hang loose", is a gesture of friendly intent 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. While the shaka sign has spread internationally from its Hawaiian cultural roots to surf culture and beyond, the hand gesture also bears a variety of meaning in different contexts and regions of the world.


According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,[1] prevailing local lore credits the gesture to Hamana Kalili of Laie,[2] 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.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10]

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.[11][12][13][14][15][16]

Yet another theory relates the origin to visiting whalers who signaled a catch with a "tails up" shaka.[citation needed]

Shaka and its very positive associations may simply derive from the popular World War II "V for Victory" hand sign[citation needed], in Hawaii often held up and rotated rapidly back and forth, "shaken", hence shaka.[citation needed] In American sign language the extended thumb and 'pinky' with mid-fingers folded, quickly rotated at wrist, means 'to play'.

The late Lippy Espinda, a used car salesman and Oahu-based entertainer, has also been named as a possible creator of the shaka.[17][18] Espinda, who frequently appeared as an extra in Hawaii Five-O as well as 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.[1] The shaka has achieved great popularity in Australia, primarily among teenagers on social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook.

A shaka sign foam finger used in Brian Schatz's 2014 election.

The Oxford English Dictionary claims that shaka's etymology is uncertain, speculating a Japanese byname for the Buddha stemming from Sanskrit śākyamuni.[19] Oxford defines shaka as being, "Used to express affirmation, approval, solidarity, etc., often when greeting or parting from someone.'." [20][failed verification] Oxford derived dates its definition to an article in the May 1986 issue of the now defunct Surfing Magazine.[21][failed verification][22]

Hawaiian meaning and use[edit]

Residents of Hawaii use the shaka to convey the "Aloha Spirit", a concept of friendship, understanding, compassion, and solidarity among the various ethnic cultures that reside in 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 California, the shaka sign may be referred to as "hang loose" or "hang ten", both associated with surfer culture.[23]

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 1970s. It is also widely used among triathletes, skydivers, base jumpers, wakeboarders, scuba divers, paragliders, pilots, skateboarders, and speed-flyers.[citation needed]

Along coastal Brazil, the shaka sign, known as the "hang loose" (also derived from an eponymous clothing brand, which uses the shaka as a logo), is a common gesture; Ronaldinho usually celebrated the goals he scored by giving the crowd a double shaka. It is also associated with the Brazilian jiu jitsu community internationally.[23]

There are several Emoticon representations of the shaka sign - \,,,/, \m/, and \,,,_. The earliest known use of the first two, with three commas or a lower case "m" corresponding to a hand's three middle fingers, is from 2006.[24] The last, similar to the first except that it represents the thumb extended horizontally (as if perpendicular to the wrist) is reported, together with the first form, from Brigham Young University in 2016.[25]

In South Africa, the tjovitjo symbol is used as a greeting as well as to indicate things are good or great.

Similar gestures[edit]


With the fingers facing forward, the same gesture is the letter Y in the American manual alphabet. This Y is also a principal component of the ILY sign formed by a manual portmanteau of the signs for the three letters I, L and Y, meaning "I love you" in American Sign Language.[26] This hand shape is also used for several other ASL words in different orientations and motions, including "play"; "game"; "same here"; "yellow"; "gold"; and "California", derived from the English nickname Golden State.


In China, this gesture means "6". Often, “6” is used to praise someone who has done well in something as it has the same pronunciation as the word “溜”, which means “smooth”. Therefore, the gesture and the emoji 🤙 are also used as a compliment.[citation needed]


The sign can also be used to indicate the imbibing of a bottled drink, either alcoholic or non-alcoholic, 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. A similar meaning can be achieved by pressing the thumb up against the tip of the nose with the little finger raised upwards parallel to the bridge of the nose. Referred to as "schooies" (Australian slang for a schooner)[27][28] the sign is thought to have originated in Perth.[citation needed]


"Call me" gesture

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. The Unicode 9.0 emoji 🤙 "Call me hand"[29] can be mistaken for a shaka sign.


In Australia and Russia raising the thumb to the mouth while pointing the little finger to the air is seen as invitation for one to smoke marijuana, the posture resembling the use of a pipe.[citation needed] 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.[30]

Notable incidents[edit]

Since 2015, fans of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sponsored Brigham Young University (also known colloquially as "The Y") have started using the gesture, in deference to newly hired Kalani Sitake, BYU's Polynesian head football coach, and because of its similarity with the letter Y in the American manual alphabet that is used with American Sign Language. Perhaps most importantly there, it is used as a nod of respect to Hamana Kalili, a native Hawaiian Mormon who according to locals is the founder of the popular sign.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Watanabe, June (31 March 2002). "Wherever it came from, shaka sign part of Hawaii". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  2. ^ "Honoring the Founder of the Shaka Hamana Kalili". This Week Hawaii. 16 June 2017.
  3. ^ "The Shaka". Polynesian Cultural Center. Archived from the original on 22 June 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  4. ^ "The history of the famous surfing shaka sign". SurferToday.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 August 2017. Retrieved 27 August 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ Dylan Heyden (15 June 2016). "Everything You Wanted to Know About the History of the Shaka". The Inertia.
  7. ^ Joe Kukura (30 July 2015). "How Four Small-Town Oahu Natives Went on to Change the World". Polynesian Cultural Center.
  8. ^ A Tribute to Hamana Kalili. 28 July 2001 – via YouTube.[unreliable source?]
  9. ^ Shawn Young (November 2008). "Shaka, Brah!". The Surfer's Journal. p. 135. via Shawn Young. "The Origin of the Shaka Sign".
  10. ^ "Hamana Kalili, Originator of the Shaka Sign". 24 March 2013.
  11. ^ "Hawaii's shaka symbol". Retrieved 23 October 2013.
  12. ^ Bob Krauss (25 September 2005). "Theorizing about birth of shaka". The Honolulu Advertiser.
  13. ^
  14. ^ "The Origin of the "Shaka" Sign". Archived from the original on 22 February 2003.
  15. ^ Sean Reavis (18 March 2016). "The Shaka- History of the Hawaiian "Hang Loose"". Boarders. Archived from the original on 25 March 2016.
  16. ^ Céline Nguyen. "SURFIN' USA". Surf Library. See Appendix.
  17. ^ "The Funniest People in Hawaii". Honolulu Magazine. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  18. ^ "Theorizing about birth of shaka". The Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  19. ^ Katherine Connor Martin, Head of US Dictionaries (December 2016). "Release notes: Bama and shaka: how two local words went global". Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 27 August 2017. Retrieved 27 August 2017.
  20. ^ Nick Paumgarten (3 October 2016). "The Oxford English Dictionary's Surf Consultant". The New Yorker.
  21. ^ "Surfing Magazine Archive". Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  22. ^ Ross Colvin (27 December 2008). "Hawaiian 'shaka' greeting comes natural to Obama". Reuters.
  23. ^ a b Cam (27 September 2010). "Cam in South America: Brazil and I celebrate our two-month anniversary: reflections on our relationship". Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  24. ^ Geal, Alan (1 October 2006). "Aux armes · mottoes: clarere audere gaudere & ζητεῖν τὴν ἀλήθειαν". Retrieved 2 July 2016. an innocently hedonistic call of American West Coast youth in the 1960s, Surf's up! : \,,,/ or \m/ Hang loose!
  25. ^ a b Walker, Michael R. (Summer 2016). "World-Famous Shaka Started By Hawaiian Latter-day Saint". BYU Magazine. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  26. ^ "Sign Language: I Love You". American Sign Language University.
  27. ^ "Schooie". Slang Dictionary. Retrieved 25 July 2016. Australian Slang: schooner of beer
  28. ^ "Definition of Schooie". Babylon. Retrieved 25 July 2016. Australian Slang: schooner of beer
  29. ^ "U+1F919: CALL ME HAND" (PDF).
  30. ^ Newbold, Greg; Taonui, Rāwiri (12 November 2012). "Gangs – Māori gangs and Pacific youth gangs". Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.