Skip to main content

The shaka history


The shaka gesture is recognized across the world as a symbol of Hawaii. For students attending BYU-Hawaii, it has become a popular signifier for “hang loose,” “howzit,” “thank you,” and “right on.” The origin of the shaka was in the community of Laie. Elijah Foster, a freshman studying finance from Washington D.C., said the shaka is “a symbol for the Hawaiian lifestyle. It’s so relaxed on the whole island, and that’s why people love it here. You see it on bumper stickers because it represents Hawaii.”Jon Ako, a graduate in general music from Maui, said, “The shaka is one of our unique Hawaiian treasures.”All stories of the origin of the shaka begin with Hamana Kalili, a local of Laie. According to the Honolulu Star Bulletin, he lost his three middle fingers on his right hand to an accident at the old Kahuku Sugar Mill in the 1940s. He fed sugar cane into the rollers at the mill, and his hand got stuck in them, causing him to lose his three fingers. Because he couldn’t work at the mill anymore, he began as a security guard for the sugar train that ran between Ka’a’awa and Sunset Beach, according to the Honolulu Star Bulletin. He would wave to people with his mangled hand, and thus was born the shaka.From then on, the shaka began to catch on. One story is children would catch the sugar train to get a free ride to town. The children would signal the shaka to each other, mimicking Kalili’s unique wave. “In the Pacific Islands, you saw tourists doing it. I knew it was a Hawaiian thing,” added Tamisha Lesam, a freshman studying business management from Samoa.Another way the shaka became popular was the famous hukilau that was held in Laie, to raise funds for the LDS church buildings. Kalili would always participate, and would greet and say goodbye to visitors and tourists with a wave. In photos of Kalili waving, three fingers would always be missing. There were other ways the shaka was spread through Kalili. He was also a member of the LDS Church, and one of his callings was to direct the choir. People would greet him with the shaka. However, the term shaka did not originate from him. Not many know where the word came from, according to the Honolulu Star Bulletin.Uploaded March 6, 2015
Writer: Rachel Reed