Hawai’i Journal: The kindness of strangers

According to Wikipedia, “the shaka sign is a common greeting gesture. It is often associated with Hawai’i. It consists of extending the thumb and smallest finger while keeping the three middle fingers curled, and raising the hand as in salutation with the back of the hand facing the person that is being greeted; sometimes the hand is rotated back and forth to emphasize the sign.?”

Hawaiian locals use the shaka to convey what locals in Hawai’i call the “Aloha Spirit,” a gesture of friendship and understanding between the various ethnic cultures that reside within Hawai’i, and thus it does not have a direct semantic to literal translation. Depending on context it can also be used to communicate notions such as “all right,” “cool,” “smooth,” and the like.

Theories about the origin, also from Wikipedia, “One theory according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, prevailing local lore credited the gesture to Hamana Kalili of Laie, who lost the three middle fingers of his right hand while working at the Kahuku Sugar Mill. Kalili was then shifted to guarding the sugar train, and his all-clear wave of thumb and pinkie is said to have evolved over the years into the shaka as children would imitate his unique hand “waaaave.”

Every time I have visited Hawai’i (about 30 times as of 2010), I have seen this gesture used by all people of all ages, economic groups and races.

The people of Hawai’i do embrace the ‘Aloha Sprint’ and I will discuss that in another post. Suffice to say that they are friendly and hospitable, and very connect with nature.

This was easily observable during my last visit to Oahu, in November 2010. Early in the morning, I set out to buy some pastries for breakfast. As it was a weekday, there was a lot of commuter traffic. As I was standing on a corner, waiting what seemed like hours for the light to change, I noticed a young man, obviously developmentally disabled, also standing on the corner, selling newspapers.

Occasionally cars would stop and the driver would purchase a newspaper. Nothing new about that.

But what really touched my heart is that the drivers of ALL the cars passing by gave the ‘hang loose’ gesture to this young newspaper salesman. Some of the drivers would actually wait to be acknowledged by him.

This is the Hawai’i that I love.

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