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Obama's shaka another first for a president


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POSTED: Thursday, January 22, 2009

Among the many firsts that Hawaii's Barack Obama brings to Washington, D.C., is first president in the history of America to flash a shaka sign.

Just hours after being sworn in, Obama greeted the Punahou School marching band, as it filed past the parade reviewing stand, with the traditional island salute—thumb and pinkie finger extended in a gesture that would have made legendary car salesman and shaka pioneer Lippy Espinda yell, "Hele on, bruddah!"

Were there any other such moments in presidential history? Sort of.

After his inauguration, portly President William Howard Taft reportedly moved a clinched hand back and forth to his mouth in the international sign of "Let's eat!"

At his inaugural parade in 1900, William McKinley allegedly taunted Carrie Nation and the hatchet-wielding Women's Christian Temperance Marching Band and Saloon Wrecking Crew with the index finger and pinkie of his right hand extended "Wayne's World" style and a cry of, "Rock on, sisters! Parrrr-teeeee!"

In 1884, Grover Cleveland reportedly gave vanquished opponent James G. Blaine the "one-fingered salute" during his swearing-in at the Capitol and then gave his mistress Maria Halpin a thumbs-up.

In 1853 the excessively shy Franklin Pierce is said to have "waved his hand like a girl" at the chief justice of the Supreme Court after taking the oath of office and said, "Now get outta here, you knucklehead."

James A. Garfield apparently pumped his fist in the air several times after becoming president while shouting, "Woo! Woo! Woo! Woo! Yeah, baby!"

But of the 44 presidents, Barack Obama is the only one to flash a shaka sign during inauguration ceremonies, and it caused chicken skin to ripple across Hawaii like a tidal wave of, well, rippling chicken skin.

Not everyone understood what Obama was doing, though. New York Times reporter Katharine Seelye wrote in an online blog that Obama was making the thumb/pinkie gesture that means "Call me!" She later corrected it to say the hand sign actually was a Skull and Bones signal telling members of his Harvard secret society to meet up later to plan the eventual takeover of the entire world. Then she corrected herself again to say Obama actually was "signing" to a deaf tuba player in the band. Then she wrote Obama just had a hand cramp from waving too much, or possibly a vitamin deficiency. When it was finally pointed out to her that the shaka sign is a sort of cultural and symbolic show of the aloha spirit, Seelye said, "Oh, whatever. It's not like Hawaii is a real state or anything."

I'm just kidding, Ms. Seelye. But here's a real scoop for you: Obama isn't really moving his mother-in-law into the White House. A friend of mine said Obama is going to put Granny in an ohana zoning unit BEHIND the White House. It's another Hawaii tradition.