What does shaka mean? Who originated it? Is there the right way to wave one?
Producer Steve Sue and a team of filmmakers are trying to get the right spin on the widely used hand-and-fingers sign.
Sue, chairman of Bizgenics, a Hawaii-based nonprofit 501CE that specializes in creativity, innovation and supports entrepreneurs to fulfill dreams, is aiming his cameras in the islands to find the meaning and origins of the shaka sign.
“It’s an interesting story to pursue,” said Sue, a Chinese entrepreneur who studied law but determined he was not going to be a lawyer. A former Californian married to a local girl who now lives in Kaimuki, Sue has toiled as a conceptualist creating theme parks, staging entertainment and corporate theater events, mega-resort casinos and other ventures.
His latest project is a documentary entitled “Shaka, a Story of Aloha,” with a planned mammoth finale Hawaiian luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oct. 19, in which three original songs are being composed by Henry Kapono to debut at the shooting.
The documentary will boast a Hollywoodish capstone in the PCC’s Hale Aloha showroom-theater, home of the “Ha” spectacle. And the public is invited to attend and participate and become part of the audience in the taping.
“I’ve been interested in the shaka, learning from a friend in the LDS (Latter Day Saints) community, and three years ago, I met with the kupuna there,” said Sue.
“Kella Miller, who is 100 per cent Hawaiian, was a resource with a lot of knowledge (of the shaka),” he said.
More recently, Sue went back to the PCC/LDS campus, started probing the legend of the shaka, with many logical origins, depending on the community.
“Anthology studies indicate 91 per cent of people don’t know where the shaka came from and 7 per cent were curious about its origins.”
And region had a lot to do about the varying notions of where the shaka sign originated.
“There was a story Hamana Kalili late in the 1800s, who lost three of his digits (between the thumb and the pinky finger), and a member of the Mormon people said it’s true. But there was a tale about a security guy on the train in Kahuku and how he lost his fingers,” said Sue.
“We talked to the Lippy Espinda family, and they say Lippy (a former operator of a service station at the entry of Waikiki and a veteran used car dealer) invented it,” said Sue.
While Joyce Fasi, widow of the former Mayor Frank Fasi, acknowledges Espinda, she said her husband made the shaka part of his brand as he campaigned on the streets of Honolulu.
The stories reflected a lot of aloha and fellowship, with variations galore.
Molokai folks give credit to leprosy residents of Kalaupapa, who lost digits.
The Portuguese paniolo of yesteryear considered the shaka as a drinking symbol.
Former surfer Fred Hemmings said dudes in the waves of Hawaii should not be forgotten in the popularity of the shaka, since surfers waved the sign as a symbol of the sport.
In Kahuku, there’s belief that the shaka was brought here by Japanese who worked at the sugar mill, because in Japan, there was Shakyamuni (with the y) who was known in short as the Shaka (without the y) buddha.
Early media personalities on TV, like Kini Popo (the late Carl Hebenstreit) utilized the shaka in his greeting.
The shaka also was flashed, albeit in a secretive manner, by a character on “NCIS: Hawai’i,” in last night’s episode on CBS, exposing the sign to a network TV audience.
And, of course, TV station KHON continues to end its newscasts with folks in all walks of life shaking and sharing the shaka – with film crews regularly shooting footage in a range of situations, from schools to malls, from hospitals to sporting events – to reflect both appreciation and friendship in a “TV moment” for the shaka-ers.
The simple flashing of a hand with three middle fingers facing to the nobs with thumb and pinky in the “up” position communicates without words.
But there’s really no right or wrong with doing the shaka. One can do a right-handed one or a left-handed version.
“The value of the shaka is connection,” said Sue. “It’s a feeling like you’ll be safe.”
Generally, the shaka should be simple, “without the elbow and body shaking.”
Sue recalled a memorable personal experience with the shaka. “It was the mid-1980s, and I was in Waialae – at Hunakai and Waialae – where a kid was selling newspapers in the median and he threw me a major shaka,” Sue said.
The shaka can mean aloha, howzit, mahalo, all right, hang loose, a lot more. And traditionally, it is flashed without words — though “shaka, brah” is sometimes the way to go.
The shaka is not being ignored in academia these days. “Some schools are teaching that beyond the aloha spirit, it’s important to recognize the shaka values, too.”
Kamehameha Schools is supporting and partially funding the “Shaka” film. Other partners are Kapono Inc. and Sight & Sound Productions.
Sue is working on the eventual inclusion of the proper “shaka” sign amid the gallery of emoji icons widely utilized in e-messages.
The film also has ties with Project Shaka, which is a non-profit that provides free shaka stickers, with a motto, “Share a Shaka, Live Aloha.”
Remedy Spa Hawaii, a newcomer in the premium spa experiences in Waikiki, is a Japan business which is supporting the film because of Japan ties with the spirt of the shaka and the spirit of aloha.
Further, PBS here is interested in airing the film, with a possible reach to headquarters for wider screening on the PBS network.
Sue said he’s exploring the film festivals market, too, to launch the final product, being directed by Hawaii’s Alex Bocchieri, whose previous films include “Go For Broke” (2018), “No More Aloha” (2013) and “Flat” (2011).
“We’re stoked, with what we’ve captured so far and can’t wait to share the power of ‘Shaka’ to the world,” said Sue.
The $375,000 budget for the documentary – already raised –was for a film envisioned as a 30-minute short. But the doc has expanded
to a 90 minute feature — with $125,000 more sought by completion in 2023. A rough cut is expected by January 2023.
The final “shoot” at the Polynesian Cultural Center will resemble a red-carpeted opening night premiere event, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 19 – deliberately on a Wednesday, which is a dark night for the Laie venue – and space for 200 people is available.
Tickets are $225 (premium) and $175 (general) and will include a luau meal and a “Shaka” swag bag, plus photo ops in front of a media wall. Those attending must sign a consent document to possibly appear in the crowd shots, part of a customary film-industry release agreement.
Tickets are available at Eventbrite: shakacon2022.eventbrite.com
And that’s Show Biz. …