Lahilahi Webb on gestures, 1938.

Come in! Mrs. Lahilahi Webb like all Hawaiians is friendly. To wave you in, the hand begins with a half-hearted blackshirt salute, then moves toward the body in a downward motion from the wrist.

Gestures Louder Than Words for Hawaiians


Days agone, King Kalakaua, so the story goes, was invited to San Francisco. The Mary Monarch did not want to take a tattle-tale retainer along, so he took a deaf mute.

One day after his return, Honolulu was abuzz with the monarch’s conquests and adventures. Three days later, his “goings on” were the talk of the town at Kealakekua on the Big Island.

Had King Kalakaua taken the advice of Mrs. Elizabeth Lahilahi Webb, Bishop museum authority, he would have gone singly.

The deaf mute, same’s any Hawaiian, talked eloquently and dramatically with his hands.

“That some nations and peoples use their hands for gesticulating more than others s common knowledge,” said Mrs. Webb. “That these motions result in greater understanding is problematical.

“Except with Hawaiians. Our con-

Turn to Page 7, Column 4

(Star-Bulletin, 11/10/1938, p. 1)


Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Volume XLVI, Number 14402, Page 1, November 10, 1938.

Bats in the Belfry

Mrs. Lahilahi Webb illustrates in this strip of pictures common Hawaiian gestures. This one, tapping on the head with ends of the fingers, means “He’s nuts.”


Raise eyebrows, open eyes a couple of notches. That’s a lazy way of saying hello. Mrs. Webb frowns on this, says hand should extend greeting as well as eyes.

Spare a Dime?

Sorry, I haven’t a cent. Just make a cipher with thumb and forefinger. You’ve seen Clara Inter [Hilo Hattie] do this one while dancing Manuela Boy.

He’s Gone

Mrs. Webb replies in this wise to the question, “Where is Jack?” Note that whole hand makes gesture in direction of Jack, not just one finger. That’s one difference from haole gestures.

Auwe! Auwe!

With bowed head and clasped hands. Mrs. Webb’s every feature here expresses the sorrow that she feels inside and in this way indicates to others.

For Shame

To indicate shame the eyes are averted and the hand is put up as though to hide the face or perhaps to ward off a blow. Note that the palm is outward.

All Pau

“It’s finished” is indicated with hand facing body, then given outward push, turning palm outward at same time. For emphasis, use both hands.

(Star-Buletin, 11/10/1938, p. 7)


Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Volume XLVI, Number 14402, Page 7, November 10, 1938.

Hawaiians Use Gestures

Continued from Page 1

versational gestrues, not to mention our hula, speak louder than words.

“For example if a kamaaina goes past the lei sellers on sailing days,” explained Mrs. Webb, “all she need do is to rotate her hand and she is no more accosted.

“In greeting, our chin and eyebrows are raised and our whole face speaks the delight we find in meeting an acquaintance. A wave of the hand is given along with it. Lazy people omit it,” she said.

“Wit these gestures, you will observe that most of them are made with the palm of the hand toward the person addressed.”

Asked the reason for this, Mrs. Webb said simply: “It is more graceful and the inside of the hand is more expressive than the back of the hand.”

“These gestures are common to both men and women,” said Mrs. Webb. She pointed out that men have a gesture of their own. They tap one another on the opu with the back of the hand and say: “My your opu is getting big.”

(Star-Bulletin, 11/10/1938, p. 7)


Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Volume XLVI, Number 14402, Page 7, November 10, 1938.



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