The Shaka Sign

Hawaiian Shaka

When you visit Hawaii, I hope you’ll get a shaka directed towards you.  Why?  This hand signal is a kind gesture.  Much unlike the middle finger salute, you actually want to get a shaka. The shaka is used in Hawaii to express several different meanings.  Here’s some of them:

  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • Aloha
  • Thank you
  • Take Care
  • Take It Easy
  • I Like This Situation/Place

To make a shaka, extend your thumb and pinkie while curling in the index and middle fingers.  You can also rotate your wrist, too.

I remember when we got our first shaka in Hawaii.  We were enjoying the drive on the road to Hana.  We looked in the rearview mirror and noticed a pickup truck following behind us.  We assumed this folks in the truck were local residents and weren’t on a sight-seeing mission like us.  So, at our first opportunity, we pulled over to let the truck pass by us.  As the truck passed, the passenger gave us a shaka.  (By the way, local residents will always appreciate you pulling over to allow them to pass if you are driving slow.  You’ll find that tip and more on how to be a polite visitor in Hawaii.)

The true origin of the shaka is a bit of a mystery.  There are several stories that Wikipedia includes.  The story I was told is a slight variation of what Wikipedia lists.  I was told that the shaka was born in Laie on Oahu by a man who had lost his index and two other middle fingers in an accident.  He stood along the road in Laie waving at people and cars as they passed by.  He was encouraging them to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center.  People didn’t know that this friendly fellow had lost his fingers and they would wave back trying to repeat the hand sign.  Have you heard this story or others?

Hopefully you’ll adopt this nice hand gesture when you visit Hawaii. I love offering a sincere shaka when the situation calls for it. It’s also fun to do a shaka for photographs of places you especially enjoyed.   Do you use the shaka in Hawaii?  Do you have an interesting shaka story?  Please share it.

  1. @ VBrown That’s a nice way to say thanks. When we do the shaka in Hawaii on vacation, it’s usually in a traffic situation. I should probably warn folks that that PSA is probably PG rated.

    @ Chris – I really liked this quote from that article: “I think he meant shake it up, buddy. How’s it going? Aloha. Have a good day. All those good meanings. It just meant a world of goodness.” You gotta love a hand gesture that means all those things!

  2. This is great information for travelers that want to fit in with the locals.

    We just have to make sure to tell them to rmove all the cameras from around their nek and put the map down.

    1. Hello I was wondering if you could help me. I’m from Chicago and I met a girl from Hawaii that was visiting. She said if I ever visit Hawaii to do the shaka sign and say “buto” I don’t know what it means or if I spelled it right. Please help I don’t want to offend anyone when I go next year.

      1. Never heard of it. Generally speaking, when “locals” anywhere tell you to say a word but don’t tell you its meaning, it’s usually not a nice thing to say. Maybe you could search for that word on the internet and/or on urban dictionary.

  3. Shakas were around only in the later half of the 20th century. Before then everyone just waved. The horn on a car is for saying hello to a friend or someone on the side of the road, never in anger or in NY City as an extension of your ego. To give a shaka is great and to get it back. One of the first besides Libby Espenda, a local used car dealer, were local politicians. Those first sign wavers like Ike Sutton, wearing lei and holding a sign. The local drivers honked in friendly recognition and if it was dark he held a flashlight with 3 fingers and waved back with the thumb and little finger. The other hand held the sign. Some thought they saw an Obaki or ghost in the distance but once closer could see him and the light. They waved back and soon said they were first shocked or a shocker by the figure in the dark which may have become shaka as pidgin english changes the pronunciation often. So the salute was with 3 inner fingers closed. SHOCK A -shaka

  4. In my whay of looking at the strangers that pass by me, I often wave the shaka. I live outside Chicago and most rush around with nowhere to go. I flash da shaka to let (me) them know most of our worries are just ours, not the worlds.

    I try and emulate the Hawaiian Welcome(Aloha)no matter where I am on the Mainland or in the 49th or 50th.

    To me the shaka is a very welcome Aloha, and my hope is to pass it on (as a standard gesture) to all I encounter. However they see it, I think it sets a meaningfull base.

    Thank You, Chill, It’s all Good, Hi, See Ya, Bruda, Welcome, Awsome, or thanks for letting me cut in your surf, are just a few of how I see my shaka.


  5. Now you can see Shakas on tv all over sports and live events it is even a international thing. Nascar drivers and crews do it as well as the ESPN commentator Neil Everett who spent many years in Hawaii.He does the late show so as to be in primetime in the 50th state. In Hawaii if you here a horn you look to see if someone is saying hello with a shocka. Only malahinis- visitors use the horn in frustration. A quick toot or two is to say aloha and wave to the other person with the two finger sign.
    People that say call me show the sideways shocka to there ears. Deaf people use sign language with a shocka as a greeting as the index finger included means love. Everett signs off with a shocka.

  6. I’ve been told many times by locals on Kauai and Oahu that the shaka sign originated with a local fisherman that had his 3 middle fingers bitten off by a shark while reaching for his catch. A popular character and beloved by all, he spent his remaining years still waving at everyone he knew and after his death the locals still honored him this way!

  7. I understand this same gesture is used in Spain–it does not have a complimentary meaning , however.

  8. Shoots, all I know my mom has an ultrasound picture of me throwing up the shaka sign. Lol.

  9. I love using the Shaka when I visit the mainland. It’s like I’m spreading the local Aloha, from the Aina where I belong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Who was Kamehameha the Great?

When you’re in Hawaii, you’ll probably see the name Kamehameha (pronounced kuh-may-ha-may-ha) somewhere. Schools, highways, shopping centers, and resorts are named after Kamehameha. You may even see statues of Kamehameha…
Read Article