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A Brief History of the Shaka sign

Where did the shaka come from and what does it mean?
November 13, 2017


The shaka sign, made with the thumb and pinkie up, and the three middle fingers curled into a fist, then lightly shaken, is ubiquitous in Hawaii. Locals use it as a sign of solidarity and friendship. It can be used to say "howzit? (how's it going?)" or "thanks" or "hello" or "hang loose." Most associate it with Hawai'i but some believe it's roots began in California.

Here in Hawai'i, when attempting to seek the origins of the shaka, no one can definitively say where it came from. There are a few different origin stories that revolve around a "man" missing his three middle fingers. Some believe it began with a surfer who lost his three middle fingers to a shark. Another story is that a young man lost his fingers while throwing dynamite into the ocean. Still another variation is that a man in the 1960's lost his fingers in an industrial accident and was known by all his neighbors, including the mayor. When the mayor was running for re-election, he adopted the man's missing-digit wave while he campaigned.

Finally, one story that seems to be catching steam as the definitive truth involves a man named Hamana Kalili. Kalili lost three fingers to a sugar cane feeder. Once he lost his fingers, he could no longer work in the mill so he became a security guard. Part of his duties included overseeing the train that carried away the sugar cane. When kids would try to sneak onto the train, they would give the "all clear" sign to their friends by mocking Kalili's fingerless wave. Charming!

So, if that solves the mystery of how the shaka came into existence, the next question is, where does the name "shaka" come from? In the 1960's, local TV personality David "Lippy" Espinda ended his TV car commercials with "shaka, brah!" Most believe this is the origin of the name. But, even this is in dispute.

Remember that mayor that purportedly co-opted the sign from this fingerless neighbor? Well his name was Frank Fasi (1920-2010) and he credited the late boxing promoter Bill Pacheco for flashing the sign and saying "shaka brother." Others believe the word "shaka" is derived from the name of a Buddha, Shakyamuni, who pressed his hands together in the shapes of the shaka. Another belief is that shaka is an amalgamation of "shark eye," a compliment given to friends and relatives. The true origin of the name "shaka" may never be known.

No matter where the shaka sign came from and how it was named, shakas are a part of every day life here in Hawai'i. If someone flashes you a shaka, don't hesitate to send one right back!

Blogs for November 2017

A Brief History of the Shaka sign

Posted on November 13, 2017


The shaka sign, made with the thumb and pinkie up, and the three middle fingers curled into a fist, then lightly shaken, is ubiquitous in Hawaii. Locals use it as a sign of solidarity and friendship. It can be used to say "howzit? (how's it going?)" or… Continue Reading

Get to Know Maui with Our Free Quarterly Newsletter

Posted on November 11, 2017

Whether you are planning a Maui vacation for the first time or you are a seasoned visitor, there are certain advantages to knowing the ins and outs of the Valley Isle. With that said, we here at Hawaii Ocean Project aim to keep you in the know before… Continue Reading

Top Five Things to do with Children on Maui - HOP to it

Posted on November 10, 2017


Sure, you can easily spend your entire family vacation at the pool or at the beach. There's nothing wrong with that, and if your kids are like ours, they will be perfectly happy with that. But if you want to shake things up a bit, here are… Continue Reading

Five Favorite Artisan Foods on Maui - HOP to it

Posted on November 09, 2017


Whether you live on Maui or are just visiting, Maui's artisan food purveyors make treats that you can enjoy and feel good about. Using local ingredients and hiring local residents, artisan goods are a boon to the local economy. The five companies listed here produce products that… Continue Reading

Best Mexican Food Restaurants on Maui - HOP to it

Posted on November 06, 2017

There are great taco trucks and carts on Maui that serve authentic and delicious Mexican food. But for this list, we're only looking at places you can sit down and enjoy your meal. To be honest, Maui isn't exactly a hot bed for great Mexican food, but these… Continue Reading

Mission Blue Names the Olowalu Reef a 'Hope Spot'

Posted on November 04, 2017


Among a large number of marine life, some of the oldest (over 300-years-old) coral in the state of Hawaii finds its home right here in Maui. Olowalu reef, spanning over 1,000 acres, is reportedly the largest and most developed of the Valley Isle. At the heart of… Continue Reading

Best Packaged Cookies on Maui - HOP to it

Posted on November 02, 2017

On Maui, the best cookies aren't always "bakery fresh." We are blessed with packaged cookies that travel well in the car to Hana, the beach or just about anywhere. For visitors, these cookies are great to take back as gifts for friends and family. Whether you like your… Continue Reading

Whale Watching on Maui Q & A

Posted on November 01, 2017

When is whale watching season on Maui?
Unofficially, whale watching season runs from December 1 - April 30. But you may also see the whales before and after those dates

Where is the best place to see the whales?
Well, we may be a teeny bit biased, but the… Continue Reading

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Our Latest Blogs

A Brief History of the Shaka sign
  (Posted: November 13, 2017)

Get to Know Maui with Our Free Quarterly Newsletter
  (Posted: November 11, 2017)

Top Five Things to do with Children on Maui - HOP to it
  (Posted: November 10, 2017)

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