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Hawaii and the Ukulele

Updated on August 22, 2016
elayne001 profile image

Ruth Kongaika was born in the Rocky Mountains and has lived most of her life in the South Pacific. She travels, gardens and writes.

Gourd rattle called uliuli in Hawaiian
Gourd rattle called uliuli in Hawaiian | Source

The ukulele is usually associated with Hawaiian music. But, before the haole (white) missionaries came to Hawaii, the Hawaiians knew very little about melody. They performed solo chants without any accompaniment for ceremonies and rituals with a monotone voice. Hawaiians also used pahu (drums), double gourds (ipu heke), or uliuli (gourd rattles), and also slapped their hands on their chests (pai umauma) to accompany dancers. The ukulele came much later.

Painted ukulele
Painted ukulele | Source
King David Kalakaua
King David Kalakaua
Hawaiian children playing the ukulele
Hawaiian children playing the ukulele

It was not until the later part of the nineteenth century that the ukulele was introduced to Hawaii. It was the Portuguese immigrants that brought a four-stringed instrument called the cavaquinho or braga . These instruments were small enough to fit in a saddlebag.

The Hawaiians liked this little Portuguese instrument, adapted it, and gave it a new name. Ukulele in Hawaiian means jumping flea , uku meaning flea and lele meaning jumping.The instrument was given this name because of how swiftly their fingers moved on the strings.

King David Kalakaua played a big role in how popular the ukulele became in Hawaiian music. He was a huge patron of the arts, and supported the use of this instrument at royal gatherings and performances throughout Hawaii..

In Hawaii, the new ukuleles were made out of native Hawaiian koa wood instead of the traditional pine. Troupes of Hawaiian singers with their ukuleles performed throughout the mainland America, and it sparked a mania for the little instrument. Now even school children are given lessons as part of their music curriculum.

Ukuleles have been used by many Hawaiian musicians, including one of my favorite, Bruddah Iz. No matter his extra huge size, he loved the small ukulele. In fact, other Hawaiians loved the ukulele also. Here is a link to some of the more well-known ukulele artists:

Bruddah Iz - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

Jake Shimabukuro - a popular ukulele virtuoso  in Hawaii.
Jake Shimabukuro - a popular ukulele virtuoso in Hawaii. | Source

I attended a concert given by Jake Shimabukuro. He is simply amazing, and he can really make the little ukulele sing. I think you will agree once you see his video below. Amazing what he can do with just four strings! He got a standing ovation at the end of his concert, including myself.

Now Jake Shimabukuro tours all over, so if you are lucky enough to be in a town where he is playing, check him out. His schedule is posted on this site:

There are actually four sizes of ukulele:

  • Soprano
  • Concert
  • Tenor
  • Baritone

The volume and tone varies according to the construction and size of the instrument.

I have seen amps connected to the ukulele. I have even witnessed one ukulele player that could play the ukulele behind his back, over his head and even pluck the strings with his teeth.

You Gotta see this! Go Sione!!

My husband can play the ukulele and also two of my sons. I must say that it has been part of our life and am grateful to the Portuguese who shared their little cavaquinho with the Hawaiians.


Submit a Comment

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    I appreciate that. Thank you very much.

  • Suelynn profile image

    Suelynn 6 years ago from Manitoba, Canada

    I have linked to your article through my review of "The Descendants." :) Hopefully some traffic will come through... Have a great day!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thank you Suelynn. Glad you liked it.

  • Suelynn profile image

    Suelynn 6 years ago from Manitoba, Canada

    Fabulous! Love the music links... thank you, elayne001 :)

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    I think Hawaiian music is great and it is very soothing and relaxing dahoglund. I miss it when I am away from home. Thanks for commenting.

  • dahoglund profile image

    Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

    I don't know much about Hawaiian music.It should be interesting.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Glad you enjoyed it pmccray. Hope you have a Happy Easter!

  • pmccray profile image

    pmccray 7 years ago from Utah

    Wow . . you learn something new everyday. Did not know the instrument was not native. Voted up, marked useful and beautiful.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thank you yenajeon. So happy you stopped by to check it out. Aloha!

  • yenajeon profile image

    yenajeon 7 years ago from California

    Thanks for the cool history lesson. I love hearing about where things originated!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Glad you enjoyed it LianaK. Hope things slow down for you soon so you can learn the ukulele.

  • LianaK profile image

    LianaK 7 years ago

    Loved watching the videos. Bradda Iz is awesome and sorely missed. Great hub content too. Someday when all the dust settles in my very busy life, I'm going to learn to play it!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    That's great PWalker281. Glad you are enjoying learning about the 50th state. That would be interesting to know where your uncle picked up his ukulele and why.

  • profile image

    PWalker281 7 years ago

    Great hub! I'm learning so much about Hawaiian/Polynesian culture from your hubs.

    My uncle who lived in Wisconsin had a ukelele. I used to always wonder how he came to have one. I'll have to ask my cousin.

    I've heard of Jake Shimabukuro but never heard him play. Thanks for including the videos of him and Bradda Iz!! Rated up!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    I agree Sunnie Day. That must be fun listening to your nephew play the ukulele. Thanks!

  • profile image

    Sunnie Day 7 years ago

    Hi Elayne,

    Wonderful hub! There is something about the ukelele that brings a smile to ones face. My nephew loves this instrument and plays it well. He is 18 and facinated with anything from the island of Hawaii. Thank you for all the great information.up up up!


  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    I was excited to read your comments Twilight Lawns, Treasuresofheaven and Huntgoddess. Glad you enjoyed the information and videos. I appreciate it. Have a great day! Aloha.

  • Huntgoddess profile image

    Huntgoddess 7 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

    Very nice. Thanks for this great information, photos, videos --- a great little Hub.

    I can't watch the videos on this computer, but I will as soon as I get to a better one.

    Thanks for this.

  • Treasuresofheaven profile image

    Sima Ballinger 7 years ago from Michigan

    This is Great elayne001! I enjoyed all the videos - Hokule'a Star of Gladness, Jake and the last video of thrilling and hilarious!

    This is a beautiful hub - the Ukelele is an Awesome instrument. It also has the ability to bring harmony. Thanks for sharing and educating us about this fine, sometimes, overlooked instrument.

  • Twilight Lawns profile image

    Twilight Lawns 7 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

    Charming hub, Elayne. I was so busy and had so many hubs to look at, but I always read yours... they usually have such a feel good factor to them.

    Thanks. Jumping flea!!! Ha ha ha!

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Thank you moncrieff. I tried to play the ukulele, but it was difficult for me too. But some just pick it up once and they are hooked. Glad you enjoyed the hub.

    @Bail Up! Thanks for your comments. I agree about the great talent. They are amazing.

  • Bail Up ! profile image

    Bail Up ! 7 years ago

    Really enjoyed learning the ukelele history and watching the videos. Great talent shown here.

  • moncrieff profile image

    moncrieff 7 years ago from New York, NY

    Great story! I always wondered how ukelele came about. I always found it extemely difficult to play, well, I never even tried to, but it just seems so.

    I saw Jake Shimabukuro play the ukelele 5-6 years ago at one of the late night TV shows. Thanks.


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