The History of the Ukulele

By November 27, 2018June 5th, 2023About Hawaii, Music

Ukuleles are making a comeback recently. With the resurgence of Americana-style folk and alt-country music, newer bands are taking a keen interest in some of the traditional musical instruments associated with the genre. Alongside banjos and fiddles, ukuleles are one of the most popular featured instruments. While those who are looking at vacation rentals at Kolea in Waikoloa probably aren’t aware of it, the ukulele originated right here in Hawaii and the term itself is Hawaiian.

What is a Ukulele?

While a ukulele may look like a small guitar, it was actually adapted from the Portuguese machete de braga which is itself descended from European plucked string instruments. The machete de braga was introduced to Hawaii in the 19th century by Portuguese immigrants, where it was later adapted into the Ukulele.

What is a Jumping Flea?

The literal translation of the term “ukulele” from the original Hawaiian is “jumping flea”. While there are many theories on how the instrument came to take on that moniker, there is no anthropological consensus on which is correct.

One legend has it that Joao Fernandes arrived at the port of Honolulu after a very long journey. He was so overjoyed at arriving on solid ground after months on a boat that he lept off and began playing folk songs from home. The native Hawaiians who saw Fernandes play the instrument remarked on how fast his fingers moved jumping from chord to chord. Hence they named the instrument “the jumping flea”.

The “Uke” Became Very Popular with the Hawaiian People

Although there many who are unfamiliar with the sound of this instrument, the ukulele is actually featured prominently in many forms of music and is a favorite with Hawaiian musicians. In fact, it was a favorite of the Hawaiian people’s last monarch King David Kalakaua. His love of the instrument is seen as one of the key factors in popularizing it throughout the region. King Kalakaua’s interest in the instrument led to a renaissance in Hawaiian culture where traditional forms of cultural expression were fused with influences coming from the West.

But the ukulele did not remain beholden to its origins as the Portuguese machete either. The Hawaiians took the instrument and made it their own. In the early 1900s it was introduced to the American mainland when the Panama Pacific International Exposition landed in San Francisco in 1915. Featured were Hawaiian ukulele players where admirers decided that the ukulele was an instrument worth adopting. Manufacturers took note and began producing ukuleles in greater and greater numbers.

The Uke’s Popularity Waxes and Wanes

Over the course of the 20th century, the popularity of ukulele would wax and wane. It would fall out of popularity only to be rediscovered later. Today, the internet has played a serious role in reviving interest in the instrument. It’s easy to learn and there are a ton of video tutorials that teach the basics of the instrument.

Learn More About the Ukulele in Hawaii

Hawaii has a great number of things to offer guests and one of them is musical performances featuring the ukulele. From our luxurious condos, you’ll be able to access musical performances, hiking trails, beaches, and more. Call us or contact us online to set up your reservation today.