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Shaka documentary team films Grand Hukilau held in Laie

A man holds a film camera to film a local older man who is explaining how to do the hukilau, or big net fishing, on the beach with a crowd of people in the background.
A member of the Shaka documentary crew films a local fisherman as he explains how to cast the large net that nearly filled Laie Bay on Hukilau Beach and then pull it back in with its catch of fish.

People of all ages, from children to longtime local kupuna, lined the shore of Hukilau Beach in Laie on Saturday morning Aug. 20 when a traditional grand hukilau was filmed for a documentary on the origin of the shaka sign.

Among those pulling in the huge net that filled most of Laie Bay were BYU-Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe III and some of his children.

People work on clean a fishing net on the shore of Hukilau Beach with Laie Bay in the background.
BYU-Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe II and one of his sons, help clean the nets after a hukilau on Hukilau Beach on Aug. 20.

Co-produced by Hawaii Reserves Inc. and the Laie Community Association and sponsored by Kamehameha Schools, the event featured a hukilau followed by a free community luau complete with an imu, or underground oven, dug and used at the far end of the beach. There was music, hula, entertainment and cultural demonstrations.

Called “Shaka: A Story of Aloha,” documentary Producer Steve Sue says in an interviewed on the KHON 2 News website, the film project has been three years in the making. “I was interested in the shaka story like many people on this island. I know that 91 percent of our population in Hawaii have no clue where it came from…. A friend of mine says go to Laie, meet my aunties and uncles. They will tell you the story. So, I came up to this place and they start to tell me the story, and they say this is important to preserve for the keiki because once they go, nobody knows the story,” Sue says in the interview.

In a trailer on the documentary’s website, local kupuna Kekela Miller, Harold Pukahi, Joel “Baldy” Apuakehau, Cy Bridges and others tell the story of how Hamana Kalili, who lost his three middle fingers in a Kahuku Sugar Mill accident, used to wave to children on the North Shore and they would wave back. The trailer says the now famous shaka sign or hang loose sign, spread from town to town, then island to island and then around the world, but it all started in Laie.

Sue says once they came to the North Shore and did the test interviews and shots, he knew “this needed to be made into something that is shared with the world because the shaka is Hawaii’s gift to the world.”

“It’s the power of Aloha, and so I am super excited to be part of the project. Kamehameha Schools funded it. They brought in cultural consultants. It’s been just this amazing collaboration among the LDS community up here, the Polynesian Culture Center, BYU-Hawaii. It’s just amazing how people have come together, and I have not had an experience of people fighting about the story. They all want to contribute in a really respectful way.”

One of the first converts to the Church in Hawaii was K.H. Kaleohano, who got baptized in Maui but came to Laie to help build the plantation and community. Among his descendants are Hamana Kalili and BYUH President Kauwe.

President Kauwe said he came to participate in this hukilau because “this is an important event for the whole community but also for me personally. My ancestors were some of the first people here, and they were the fishermen who really ran the hukilau and would provide fish for the community.”

He said this was an opportunity for him and his children to pull the nets in, collect the fish and clean up the nets just like his ancestors did. President Kauwe said they talk with their children about their heritage and their ties to Hawaii. But taking part in the hukilau “helps them to connect to what it means to be one of the people of this land and someone who is willing to pitch in for the community.” He added it is a fun activity they have heard about from his father who participated in hukilaus in Laie too. “They grew up listening to my dad, their grandfather, tell them stories about fishing out here in Laie and pulling the nets with the family. So it’s great for them to have a chance to do that today.”

A statue of Hamana Kalili who lost his three middle fingers on one hand in a sugarcane production accident. The statue is installed in front of the Polynesian Cultural Center sign. His finger-less wave created the world-famous shaka sign.
This is a statue of Hamana Kalili, who lost his three middle fingers on one hand in a sugarcane production accident, and is found on the grounds of the Polynesian Cultural Center. His finger-less wave created the now world-famous shaka sign.

Sue says in his KHON interview online the film team hopes to complete the documentary sometime in the middle of 2023. He says the documentary was originally created for classrooms at Kamehameha Schools, Hawaii’s Department of Education system and other educational purposes. However, he added, they hope to show the shaka documentary on the film festival circuit and get it distributed online.