Shaka Law to Designate Official State Gesture Set for Critical Senate Hearing

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Senator Glenn Wakai with staff and Shaka film producer Steve Sue
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HONOLULU (February 13, 2024)—A bill to officially designate the shaka as Hawaii’s state gesture must pass its second committee hearing on Thursday, Feb. 15 in order to progress to a floor vote before the full state Senate.

Testimony for Senate Bill 3312 must be submitted via the Hawaii State Capitol website by 3 p.m. tomorrow, (Valentines Day), Feb. 14.

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Its counterpart in the state House, House Bill 2736, passed the House Committee on Culture, Arts, & International Affairs (CAI) on Feb. 7 in a unanimous 5-0 vote after drawing unanimously supportive testimony. In the House, it will next go before the House Committee on Judiciary & Hawaiian Affairs.

The bill aims to formally adopt the shaka as a symbol of the aloha spirit and Hawaii’s diverse culture. Its passage would also help secure Hawaii’s claim as the birthplace of the iconic hand gesture. According to the bill, “As the shaka is now used around the world, this Act ensures that Hawaii retains recognition as the birthplace of the shaka.”

In testimony supporting the bill, Honolulu resident Steve Sue stated: “While multiple origin theories exist from Hawaii Island, Maui, Molokai, and Oahu, all theories have the shaka developing within the State of Hawaiʻi.” 

Sue, who is producing a documentary on the history of the shaka, argued that designating it as the official state gesture would “memorialize Hawaiʻi as the place of the shakaʻs origin” and “protect the shaka as part of Hawaiʻiʻs cultural heritage.” Sue also noted that the shaka is an important economic asset of Hawaii saying, “I challenge anyone to walk into an ABC store and try not to see a shaka.”

67 individuals and organizations submitted testimony in support of the bill for the CAI hearing, but each hearing requires a new set of submissions. Of greatest interest is testimony from Hawaiian civic groups, cultural practitioners, educators, and business owners.

“This is not just a feel-good measure—Nevada, as the ‘ninth island,’ has pondered adopting the shaka in the past, and California with its surfer culture could also make a claim,” Sue explains. “You only need to look at the many Hawaii products and brands that feature the shaka to see the value that needs to be preserved for our people.” Sue also noted, “there are 24 other official Hawaii State symbols including the Hawaiian flag, nene, hibiscus, and kalo, but none say ‘aloha’ and ‘Hawaii’ as much as the Shaka.”

“While Shaka represents the idealistic melting pot image of Hawaii, it’s also perhaps the best symbolic manifestation of the principle of aloha,” adds Ryan Ozawa, a native Hawaiian and associate producer on the documentary. “It’s a universally warm and positive signal that could help reinforce Hawaiian values as worthy of global embrace.”

Here are excerpts from testimony submitted to the House (which can be reviewed online here).

  • “The ‘Shaka’ sign is a very special gesture that is an automatic expression of our Aloha for each other.” – Wendy Nagaishi  
  • “It protects the Shaka as a tool of aloha.” – Tammy Yamada
  • “This simple yet powerful hand gesture has become synonymous with the warmth and friendliness of the people of Hawai’i.” – Emari Hunn
  • “It is a sign of aloha which I would like to see maintained to highlight to all others and to remind ourselves on these islands to live aloha.” – Johanna Tokunaga

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About Project Shaka

In 1986, a year after Aunty Pilahi’s passing, the State of Hawaii enacted The Aloha Spirit Law that memorialized Aunty’s definition of aloha and required State of Hawai’i residents to share aloha. While the law has proven difficult to enforce, Project Shaka seeks to uphold the concept through leveraging the Shaka as a tool to share and activate aloha. As a movement, Project Shaka is premised and anchored by the film, “Shaka, A Story of Aloha,” a feature-length documentary on the origin, meanings, and uses of the Shaka. The story shows that Hawai’i was not initially paradise. It was rough. It was tough. Resources were limited. But through the philosophy of aloha, paradise was built from grit, determination, cooperation, and unity. Project Shaka is a program of ID8, a Hawaii 501(C)(3) nonprofit.

About the Shaka Documentary

“Shaka, A Story of Aloha” is a feature-length documentary produced by ID8, a 501(C)(3) Hawaii nonprofit. First-funded by Kamehameha Schools, the film features original songs by music director Henry Kapono, is executive produced by Bryan Spicer and Steve Sue, is written/produced by Steve Sue, and directed by Hawaiian film director Alex Boccheiri. Media is invited to download trailer and behind-the-scenes photos on the Press Kit page at ShakaFilm.com.

About ID8

Founded in 2012, ID8 grew from a lemonade stand contest into a Hawaii-based 501(C)(3) that fosters ideation and expression to create positive impacts. This means inspiring, bringing hope, and uniting people to share happiness, fulfillment, and aloha. For more information, visit ID8.org.

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