The Origin Stories Behind Hawaiʻi’s Iconic Shaka

The shaka, synonymous with Hawaiʻi and laidback island living, has numerous origin stories, and many believe it came from a man in Kahuku.
Photo: Derek Glaskin

The origin of the shaka, and how it got its unique name, has long been shrouded in mystery.

Some say it came from David “Lippy” Espinda, who owned a local gas station and would greet his customers with a shaka. Others believe that the shaka came from Spanish immigrants, who would put their thumbs to their lips and fold their middle fingers to symbolize sharing a drink. One of the more popular tales is that the versatile hand sign came from Hamana Kalili, who had lost his index, middle and ring fingers in an accident at the old Kahuku Sugar Mill.

The ever-iconic shaka.
Photo: Getty Images

Kalili was put in charge of guarding the sugar mill train that left the Kahuku area, and would extend his double digits to indicate that everything was “all good” and that the train had no unwanted passengers or train jumpers. Whatever the right story, one thing is true: The shaka is here to stay.

This story was published in our Editors Guide to Hawaiʻi digital issue, which can be purchased and viewed in our app

Categories: O‘ahu Arts + Culture