The First Shaka

A moment that will warm the heart of all is the moment you receive your first shaka. With so much yet to learn and understand, we find ourselves constantly checking ourselves for violations of cultural norms. This may technically be the US, but it's not the same in many ways. For example, stopping traffic to let those on side streets turn even on the busiest of streets.

This is how I earned my first shaka in Maui. Gone are the days of waiting impatiently to turn onto a traffic riddled street. Drivers going both directions will stop traffic to let the turning car join the flow. This is not always as easy as it sounds for a driver new to Maui roads. Traffic can be insistent and move fast. Unfamiliarity lends itself to a bit of tunnel vision, focus mainly on what's coming ahead. But that's not the way of things here. We're all in this together and we all must do our part. It's not rocket science, it's just kindness.

The shaka is reminiscent of the American Sign Language letter Y, made by extending the thumb and pinky out while curling the three middle fingers in. See the creepy YouTube video here for a demonstration. It is often used in water sport communities, specifically surfers. Theories abound regarding origin. Local lore attributes the shaka to Hamana Kalili. He lost his three middle fingers in an accident at the Kahuku Sugar Mill. Unable to continue his duties at the mill, Kalili took a job working security for the sugar train. The youth in the area often used the train as a means of free transport from town to town. When they could get away with it with the watchful eye of Kalili roaming about, that is. Kids began using the shaka to signal the all clear, mimicking Kalili's three missing fingers.

Some have attributed the shaka to visiting whalers who may have used the gesture to signal a successful outing. Others have said the origins lie in World War II when it was used to signify "V" for victory. Regardless of its origins, the meaning today is one of community and friendship. Today, for me, it was the first reassurance that I'm on the path to understanding what it means to live in this wonderful community. I did something right. I can't wait to do it again.