Hawai'i State News

Could 2024 be ‘The Year of the Shaka’?

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If there’s one thing just as synonymous with Hawai‘i as aloha, it’s the shaka.

The hand gesture made with the thumb and pinky is used throughout the islands to express friendly messages such as “right on,” “thank you,” “take it easy,” “things are great” and, not to forget the surfers around the world who have adopted the gesture, “hang loose.”

Everlee Oliveira of Hilo and his girlfriend Shaysi Peterson of Waikōloa throw shaka Feb. 9 at Oliveira’s home in Hilo. (Photo by Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)

According to Steve Sue, the chairman of Honolulu-based nonprofit ID8 who since 2019 has been involved in an educational documentary project about the shaka, the gesture’s history spans more than 100 years. While there are multiple theories as to its origins, from the Big Island, Maui, Moloka‘i and O‘ahu, they all point to the shaka being uniquely Hawaiian.

Now, state lawmakers want to solidify that in legislation.

House Bill 2736 would designate the shaka as the official gesture of Hawai‘i. The bill was co-introduced by several lawmakers, including Big Island Reps. Mark Nakashima, Jeanné Kapela and Kirstin Kahaloa. The state House Committee on Culture, Arts and International Affairs on Feb. 7 voted in favor of the bill and recommended its passage.

Kapela also serves on the committee and voted in its favor. There were no votes against it.


“The shaka has positive connotations as it is used to share aloha, foster connection and be pono,” said the committee’s report. “By adopting, establishing and designating the shaka as the official gesture of the state, Hawai‘i can better preserve its brand association with the shaka, better secure recognition as the birthplace of the shaka and better preserve the meaning of the shaka.”

There was no testimony in-person or written objecting to the measure.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs. Big Island Rep. Greggor Ilagan is a member of that committee.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 3312, has been referred to the state Senate Committee on Transportation and Culture and the Arts.

Sue said in his testimony Wednesday to the Culture, Arts and International Affairs Committee that the 24 official state symbols, including the rainbow, hibiscus, nēnē and ukulele, say a lot about Hawai‘i, but they don’t specifically say aloha: “The shaka, as the symbol of aloha, as a symbol of Hawai‘i, is extremely important for us to lay claim to.”


One of the people he interviewed for his film is Hawai‘i Adjutant Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, who commanded the Shaka Battalion in 2004-05 in Iraq. Sue said Hara framed it as the most dangerous place on the planet at that moment in time and that the shaka saved lives on both sides of the conflict.

The gesture also has economic impacts on the islands and beyond, including a business born on the Big Island.

Shaka Tea. (File photo by Semira N. Nikou)

Māmaki tea company Shaka Tea was founded in 2015 in Hilo. In just nine years, the business has grown to include more than 4,000 distribution points throughout the United States and was acquired in 2022 by Irresistible Foods Group, the parent company of King’s Hawaiian.

“That’s a great testament to the economic force of the shaka,” Sue told the committee. “Imagine how many jobs that she created through that activity. How many people’s livelihoods are made and how big of a brand did she help build for the state of Hawai‘i.”

It’s not the only company that uses the shaka. Go into any ABC Store and you can find a plethora of products with the shaka that benefit all the people who work there and those who make them.


Sue added that the shaka can be found on authentic Hawai‘i cultural products, from apparel companies and food and beverage companies to souvenir businesses and tour operators, throughout the state.

“This is our culture,” he said. “It’s a 110-year history that goes through all these islands.”

Ryan Ozawa, publisher of the Hawai‘i Bulletin, wrote in written testimony that the shaka is more than just a physical gesture, it’s a globally understood, universal expression of warmth, welcome and even strength and resilience.

“When you share the shaka, you are sharing friendship, compassion, gratitude and connection,” wrote Ozawa. “The shaka binds us together across cultures and backgrounds with positivity and goodwill. Few hand gestures have persisted for as long as the shaka and retained a pristine and positive vibe.”

The Native Hawaiian and lifelong resident of the islands added the shaka represents “the best of who we are as a people” and there is no better symbol to share the values of the islands with the world.

“Establishing the shaka as a state symbol will honor the unique culture of Hawai‘i,” Ozawa wrote. “It will celebrate the diverse histories that contributed to this gesture while preserving its origins here. Adopting the shaka as an official symbol will also strengthen Hawai‘i’s global brand — officially staking Hawai‘i’s claim to the globally familiar hand sign — and spread the spirit of aloha worldwide.”

In ending his testimony, he added: “May 2024 be The Year of the Shaka.”

A competitor in the 2019 Ironman World Championship throws a shaka while participating in the cycling portion of the triathlon. (Big Island Now file photo)
Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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