Tag Archives: hand sign

Shaka Hand Sign — Hawaiian Legend


The following piece was collected during a conversation with a girl who had recently visited Hawaii. We had been discussing the varying uses of the shaka, commonly referred to as the “hang loose” gesture. The girl will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I, the “Collector”.

Informant: “So, I was talking to my cousins who live there and we were talking about how to properly do the shaka sign. I told them that I felt slightly phony trying to pull it off because I don’t surf, but they told me that it’s not only for surfers. They said it was their way of saying ‘hello’. They told me that apparently, the reason why it was thumb and pinky out, all other fingers closed, was because there was a Hawaiian man once who lost his fingers, they don’t know how, but that he lost his fingers and that was just how he waved.”

Collector: “Was it because of a surfing accident? Is that why it’s a surfer sign here?”

Informant: “They don’t know why, they think it’s because of a shark or surfing accident.”


            The Informant learned this belief when she was visiting her cousins in Hawaii. The Informant believed her cousins and thought the origin of the shaka, according to the cousins, seemed like a reasonable beginning of the very popular hand sign. The Informant believes there must be some truth to this, mainly because it originated somehow, it’s very possible this is the reason why.


On the other hand, I believe that it is very possible that people who use the sign very regularly will not think much of its origin, but when told the story of a surfing or shark accident, will accept it as truth. When I first heard it, I remember nodding to myself and thinking “that makes sense”. I believe that people revel in coming up with explanations for things they normally would not be able to explain. I read other beliefs on this gesture, and some say it is a very popular sign whose meaning has become misconstrued. The idea behind the shaka, in many of these accounts, was simply a gesture that would encompass the meaning of “aloha”.

Israeli Hand Symbol to Wait

try 3Genre: Folk Kinesthetic/Gesture


Nationality: Israeli and American

Location: Israel

Language: Hand gesture, transcends language


Abstract: The hand symbol/gesture in discussion is telling someone to hold on/wait a second in a semi-aggressive manner.


Background: KP is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, but spent his entire life growing up in Israel. Both of his parents are American. He grew up in a Jewish household and learned both Hebrew and English at the same time. He served his mandatory three years of service in the Israeli Defense Force from the age of 18 until the age of 21 as a combat soldier. This particular piece of folklore was brought up on a visit to Israel. When trying to get someone’s attention they gave me the symbol with their hand. I was very confused and asked KP about what it meant. He gave me a short version there, but when he came to visit America, I questioned him about it further. He can not trace it to a certain origin, but grew up using it and understanding what it meant.


The gesture:


The hand gesture is made by a person, when they are busy, towards someone else that is trying to talk them or get their attention.


S: Is it made it in a nice way or is it aggressive?

KP: It’s slightly aggressive. If, um, I am annoyed at someone, I will do this as a way to get them to shut up and stop bothering me. But, for the most part, people understand it means wait and they don’t really get too mad.


Interpretation: When someone first made this signal to me, I thought it was a way of saying “screw you” or to kind to, ya know, “[expletive] off.” So, naturally, I just did it back in a joking manner, and all of the Israelis on the trip laughed at me because they knew I obviously did not know what it meant. I had been accustomed to someone holding up a single index finger when they wanted me to wait a second. In addition, I had always seen my mother give “the hand” aggressively out of pure anger to someone while she was driving which looked exactly like this gesture. In my mind, I had been told to very aggressively screw off. In Israel, it is not as aggressive as much as it is a way to let someone know that you will be with them in a second. The reason for having this hand gesture is to be able to tell someone to give you a second without stopping the conversation and losing track of what is being discussed.