Pacific Islander Hand Sign

Explanation of Folklore: This folklore is a hand gesture that was explained to me by T, and is used in his home country of Guam, along with Hawaii and throughout the Pacific Islands. The gesture is a greeting sign that is widespread, and in the common traditions of the Pacific Islanders, when done, everybody knows what it means, and it is a normal, everyday aspect of Island life.

Analysis: When I interviewed T, he told me about a particular hand gesture that is practiced in Guam. He mentioned that it is not exclusive to Guam, but is also polar in Hawaii, and most of the pacific islands. The hand gesture is made by sticking out one’s thumb and pinky finger, bringing in their middle three fingers to crate the gesture. (see image below). T told me that in Guam, this hand gesture is commonly used as a greeting, a nonverbal way to express “what’s up” to someone else. He told me that in Guam, everybody else uses it to greet each other, and is a very common greeting. T elaborated and mentioned that it is also very popular across the Pacific islands, specifically in Hawaii. In Hawaii, this is labeled the “Shaka” and has a strong association with the surf culture in the state. This “Shaka” as it is labeled is known very well by the many tourists that visit Guam, and the Pacific, and has made its way to the mainstream. T mentioned that in Guam, tourism is tremendously important, and makes up a large part of the economy. Gift and souvenir shops use this gesture in merchandise, and to make memorabilia surrounding it.

When asked what he believes the origins of the symbol are, T mentioned he is not sure, but guesses it originated from the native Chamorro people of Guam. he believes that these indigenous inhabitants of Guam are the originators of the hand gesture, and it has made its way through generations and is still utilized to this day. Even in the present, the people of Guam continue to use it, and know what it means. It is a part of their nonverbal folkloric gestures.

Common Pacific Island hand gesture.

Personal Analysis: This is a regional folklore that even I knew of, and have seen many times in the mainstream. Previous to interviewing T, I was aware that there was a strong association between this symbol and surf culture. Growing up in California, surfers would call this “Shaka” and I was aware of its origin from the pacific islands. Elaborating on T’s theory, I do believe that this may be a remnant of the indigenous Chamorro people. Perhaps their native customs included hand gestures, that were kept alive and passed on throughout the generations. Guam is a country with a very diverse population. There is strong asian influence, especially Japan, the Philippines, and China. This intermix of people make its all the more fascinating that a gesture could survive all this time. The Oicotypes associated with this folk gesture are very interesting, and provide a unique perspective of regional variation. In Guam, this not called “Shaka” but more so an unspoken form of communication. It is interesting however to see the more common and well known variation to be the “Shaka” and more closely tied to the surf culture of the Pacific Islands.