The Shaka Sign

Informant: To make the shaka sign, you put down your three middle fingers, kind of like a fist, and keep your pinky and thumb stuck straight out. People, for example, when they’re driving, and they want to yield to someone else, they’ll do it. You know, “you go ahead.” Or if you want to cut in front of someone. It’s polite, kinda of like a “hey, I’m gonna pass. Hope you don’t mind. Okay, thanks. Thanks!” It’s a friendly gesture. I forget exactly what it means…

Me: Do you remember learning it?

Informant: I never learned it. Everyone in Hawaii knows it. This is the shaka sign.

Me: Do you use it?

Informant: Not really, I mean, I don’t drive, but I see my parents use it a lot.

Me: Is it only for driving?

Informant: No, no. I mean, I really only see people use it when they’re driving, but it’s not originally meant for driving-purposes. It’s just a friendly “aloha” gesture.

Me: So, is it similar to a wave?

Informant: I mean, we’re not going to do this (demonstrating the shaka) at each other. We’re going to just wave. But it has a similar connotation.


Although my informant was not sure of the exact meaning of the shaka sign, it seems to be generally a gesture of pleasant acknowledgement. It was likely adopted for use in driving situations because of that connotation. As certain driving situations can get tense, particularly when asking a favor of another driver, using a hand gesture associated with a friendly welcome may serve to diffuse possible aggression. It is also a reminder of the shared culture between the drivers. The shaka sign identifies the performer as a native of Hawaii. If the other driver recognizes the shaka, it indicates that he is also a native. This helps to form a bond between the two, which in turn encourages them to treat each other respectfully and may make them more likely to grant driving favors to each other.