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Charlie Mahuna shares tale of how the ‘shaka’ started

By Staff | May 22, 2009

HONOKOWAI — Charlie Mahuna has a story to tell on how the “shaka” wave originated on Maui.

“There might be different versions of this shaka, but this has been around a long time — at least 54 years,” the wiry 66-year-old explained.

He wants to put his story out and see what people think.

The Mahuna family moved from Kaupo in East Maui to Honokahua, now called Kapalua, in 1942.

“My dad was a cowboy and mom was a pineapple picker. At that time, the company was called Baldwin Packers,” Mahuna noted.

When Mahuna was 12, the family moved to Honokowai in the summer of 1955. His parents bought property mauka of Lower Honoapiilani Road — then a dirt road — near Honokowai Park.

“There was a lot of work to do around the house and yard,” Mahuna recalled.

When fall arrived, Charlie and his siblings needed a ride to and from Sacred Hearts School.

A teacher at King Kamehameha III Elementary School, Mrs. Paki, gave the boys rides as a favor to Charlie’s parents.

“So in return, momma told us kids, five of us, to go over to Mr. and Mrs. Paki’s house to help them do things in and around the house,” Mahuna said.

Helping the Paki family, the Mahuna kids met Nick Palada, a caretaker of sorts for the Paki’s property.

A nice, mellow man, Palada couldn’t speak English well, but “seeing as we lived in a multicultural community, we could understand well enough to know what we has talking about,” he explained.

Palada came to Hawaii from the Philippines at 22 to work in the sugar industry, but because he was handicapped, he didn’t get a job.

“He was a tutor to and for us. He taught us to fish with bamboo poles, throw nets — and even how to sew the nets — and how to dive, when to fish, and what to fish for in the different seasons,” Mahuna said.

Palada always sat under his mango tree fixing fishing poles, sewing nets or feeding his chickens.

When Palada lived in the Philippines, he and his friends were playing with fireworks. In an unexpected explosion, Palada lost his left eye and the three middle fingers on his left hand.

“So that’s how this shaka came about. Whenever Nick was sitting under his mango tree or standing on the reef with his throw net, we always used to call, ‘Nick!’

“He would raise up his left hand, which looked like shaka, so for us, it was the high sign of greeting or goodbye. We never knew this as shaka or hang loose,” Mahuna noted.

From his property, Mahuna can still see the mango tree on the resort property across from the 5A Retail Center.

In talking to locals and visitors, Mahuna said nobody knows how the shaka started.

For Charlie and Sol Mahuna and the other kids of Honokowai in the 1950s, that’s how the shaka started.

“But if you know of another version… write it. I’d like to listen,” he concluded.

Wikipedia has the shaka starting in similar circumstances: “One theory according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, prevailing local lore credited the gesture to Kalili Hamana of Laie, who lost the three middle fingers of his right hand while working at the Kahuku Sugar Mill. Hamana 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.’ This story is also told by the Polynesian Cultural Center.”