Shaka sign

For other uses, see Shaka (disambiguation).
The "shaka" sign is a common greeting in the Hawaiian culture, subsequently also used in surfer culture.

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. The shaka sign was adopted from local Hawaiian culture and customs by visiting surfers in the 1960s, and its use has spread around the world.

Meaning and use

Hawaiians 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 American Sign Language, the shaka is one of the two signs used to refer to surfing. In California, the shaka sign may be referred to as "hang loose" or "hang ten"—both associated with surfer culture.[1]

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 70s. It is also widely used among skydivers.

Along coastal Brazil, the shaka sign, known as the "hang loose", is a common gesture; it is also associated with the Brazilian jiu jitsu community internationally.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3]

Similar gestures

The sign can also be used to indicate the imbibing of a bottled drink, 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)[4][5] the sign is thought to have originated in Perth.

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.

With the fingers facing forward, the same gesture is the letter Y in the American manual alphabet. See also ILY sign.

In the Caribbean, particularly the Lesser Antilles Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, it may be used to suggest a sexual exchange; for such, the thumb points to the one making the gesture and the little finger toward the one being propositioned as the hand is moved forward and back.

In China, this gesture means "6".

In Australia and Russia raising the thumb to the mouth while pointing the pinky to the air is seen as invitation for one to smoke marijuana, the posture resembling the use of a pipe. 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.[6]

In the Southeastern region of the United States, fans of the South Carolina Gamecocks raise the gesture as a reference to the spur of a gamecock.

Since 2015, fans of the Mormon-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.[3]


Dillon Francis displays Mini-Shakas at a concert in Robe, South Australia.

A common variation of the shaka gesture involves a miniaturization of the hand formation, known as "mini-shakas". This involves recreating the sign using only the thumb, index finger and middle finger. This adaptation has been traced to have originated in Robe, South Australia.[7]


The shaka sign resembles the American Sign Language letter for Y.

According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,[8] prevailing local lore credits the gesture to Hamana Kalili of Laie, 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.[9]

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.[10]

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

Shaka and its very positive associations may simply derive from the popular World War II "V for Victory" hand sign, in Hawaii often held up and rotated rapidly back and forth, "shaken", hence shaka.

The late Lippy Espinda, a used car salesman and Oahu-based entertainer, has also been named as a possible creator of the shaka.[11][12] Espinda, who frequently appeared as an extra in Hawaii Five-O as well as the 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.[8] The shaka has achieved great popularity in Australia, primarily amongst teenagers on social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook.

See also


  1. 1 2 Cam (2010-09-27). "Cam in South America: Brazil and I celebrate our two-month anniversary: reflections on our relationship". Retrieved 2016-07-02.
  2. Geal, Alan (2006-10-01). "Aux armes · mottoes: clarere audere gaudere & ζητεῖν τὴν ἀλήθειαν". Retrieved 2016-07-02. an innocently hedonistic call of American West Coast youth in the 1960's, Surf's up! : \,,,/ or \m/ Hang loose!
  3. 1 2 Walker, Michael R. (Summer 2016). "World-Famous Shaka Started By Hawaiian Latter-day Saint". BYU Magazine. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
  4. "Schooie". Slang Dictionary. Retrieved July 25, 2016. Australian Slang: schooner of beer
  5. "Definition of Schooie". Babylon. Retrieved July 25, 2016. Australian Slang: schooner of beer
  6. Newbold, Greg; Taonui, Rāwiri (2012-11-12). "Gangs Māori gangs and Pacific youth gangs". Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  7. Robe Tourism Board. 'Dillon Francis dazzles crowd at NYE celebrations', updated 13-01-2015
  8. 1 2 Watanabe, June (31 March 2002). "Wherever it came from, shaka sign part of Hawaii". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  9. "The Shaka". Polynesian Cultural Center. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  10. Hawaii's shaka symbol ( Retrieved 23 October 2013)
  11. "The Funniest People in Hawaii". Honolulu Magazine. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
  12. "Theorizing about birth of shaka". The Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
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