Mar 1, 2020

Wordology, Shaka

If you have ever been to Hawaii or seen a movie about surfing, you probably saw a distinctive hand gesture. Curl the middle fingers, extend the thumb and pinky, wag them back and forth, and you have a shaka. It is basically a way to let the world know how laid-back you are, and it is also an endorsement of peace and goodwill.

According to Hawaiians, though, the symbol is far from peaceful. Originating in the early 20th century, the gesture was invented solely to mock a man who had suffered a horrifying industrial accident.

Hamana Kalili made his living working in the Kahuku Sugar Mill until his hand got caught in a sugarcane press. He lost the three middle fingers of his right hand and was no longer able to work, so he got a job guarding the train that delivered cane to the factory.

It was a lucky break, or at least it would have been if not for the local teens. They would often jump on the trains mid-trip to ride from town to town, and Kalili’s job was to stop these dangerous stunts. The resentful teens invented the shaka to mock their fingerless nemesis and silently signal each other when he was nearby. It is pronounced like Shocka.

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