Deciding what to watch on Netflix can always be a challenge. Recently, I was staying with a mate in London and after several volcano bags of delicious vaporized weed air we found ourselves wondering what to watch. “Aye mate, have ya seen Shaka Zulu?” I had not. Six hours later, I was deep in the tale of the great warrior and I knew I had to write a piece about him. However, there are not very many Shaka tattoos, but a good tattoo journalist knows when to pivot, so today we’re going to look at some shaka tattoos.
Even though I don’t know sign language, I know how to use my hand to tell someone to hang loose by extending my thumb and tiniest finger while curling my three middle fingers while shaking my wrist. This gesture comes to us from Hawaiian culture. It was picked up by surfers the world over in the ‘60s and is now an international sign for chilling.
While I’m not going to be able to tell you about how Shaka united the Zulu tribes into the fiercest oppositional force ever seen by white colonials in Africa, I can tell you that Hawaiians use the shaka sign to signify the “Aloha spirit,” which encompasses friendship, solidarity, compassion, and understanding.
The origins of the gesture are debatable. Some believe that a local named Hamama Kalili who lost his three middle fingers in a sugar mill accident was its originator. Others credit it to Spanish immigrants using the sign as a gesture of sharing a drink. Still other theories attribute it to visiting whalers, while some swear the shaka sign was invented by local entertainer and frequent Hawaii Five-0 extra Lippy Espinda.
No matter what the origins of the shaka sign, it has grown into one of the most universally recognized gestures. And thousands the world over have gotten shaka tattoos, so that they may always hang loose. Let’s take a gander at a few shining examples as we all collectively chill.
These shaka tattoos are all wonderful examples of what may be Hawaii’s greatest cultural export. If for whatever reason you’re hungry for more information about Shaka Zulu, the entire 1985 miniseries is currently on Netflix. It is only slightly racist as fuck.