Raising the right hand with the palm forward is a gesture used in many
different cultures around the world. It shows that there is no weapon
in the hand. The handshake, waving the hand, and the military salute
serve the same purpose: they indicate peace and good will. Of course,
the gesture is largely symbolic, rather than practical, since a person
with a weaponless right hand might very well have an axe or a sword in
the left hand.
"Shaking hands or holding up your hand in a sign of greeting stems
from an ancient tradition of demonstrating to those you do not know
that you have no weapon and mean no ill will."
Social Librarian Newsletter: Greetings!
American Indians have several hand signs that can be used as greetings:
"BLESS YOU: Raise both hands, palms facing outwards. Then lower them
slightly and direct them gently towards the person addressed...
HANDSHAKE: Squeeze the hands together in front of the chest. Indians
did not shake hands except on great occasions such as the signing of a
treaty or agreement, or the end of a war or a battle...
TO QUESTION: Hold the right hand open, fingers spread, palm turned
towards the person addressed, at shoulder level. by wrist action turn
the right hand slightly, two or three times. If the person addressed
is standing at a distance, raise the hand much higher and wave it from
right to left."
El Centro History Pages: American Indian Signs
Regarding the hand sign for "to question," this can convey a wide
variety of meanings, including "Who are you?" and "Where do you come
"There is a sentiment connected with the Indian Sign Language that
attaches to no other. It is probably the first American language. It
is the first and only American universal language. It may be the first
universal language produced by any people. It is a genuine Indian
language of great antiquity. It has a beauty and imagery possessed by
few, if any, other languages. It is the foremost gesture language that
the world has ever produced...
The sign for 'question' covers the words What, Where, Why and When. It
is made to attract attention, to ask, to inquire, to examine.
The old-time Indian never used the terms 'Good morning,' or 'Good
evening,' but had his own forms of greeting. The Sioux vocal language
uses the term 'How Coula?' meaning 'How do you do, my friend?'...
Remember that 85% of all signs are made with the right hand."
Manataka: American Indian Universal Sign Language
Regarding the verbal part of the greeting, several American Indian
languages do have words of greeting that sound like "how":
"There is no such thing as a universal Indian greeting--the original
inhabitants of North America spoke some 500 different languages--but
we do find variants of 'how' in the native speech of many Plains
Indians tribes, who spoke versions of a major language called Siouan.
The Tetons said 'howo' and 'ho,' the Dakota had 'hao' and 'ho,' and
the Omaha had 'hau'."
The Straight Dope: Did Indians really say "how" as a greeting?
I hope this is helpful. If anything is unclear, please request
clarification; I'll gladly offer further assistance before you rate my