Hawaiian Noir

Murder Calls

Who invented the ukulele?

The ukulele is Hawaii’s iconic musical instrument, but the instrument itself did not originate in the Hawaiian islands nor was it invented by a Hawaiian. It is actually a development of a Portuguese stringed instrument, known as the machete or braguinha, a small guitar-like, four-stringed instrument. The machete was brought to the islands by three Portuguese woodworkers from the island of Madeira in 1879. The three, Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias, and Jose do Espírito Santo, came under contract to work in the sugar cane fields. When their contracts expired after three years, they set up shops as woodworkers, their professions back in Madeira. All three made guitars and other stringed instruments in addition to furniture. Which one actually made the first instrument we now love, is unknown. The basic shape of the machete was retained. It was the adoption of the G-C-E-A tuning and the use of koa wood in construction that made it unique. Read more about Nunes, Dias and Santo here: http://www.ukulelemag.com/stories/the-birth-of-the-ukulele

Where does the name “ukulele” come from?

”Ukulule” is actually Hawaiian for “cat flea,” a pest that was imported in the early 1800s. Novelist Jack London wrote that “ukulele” means “jumping flea.” Certainly “uku” is Hawaiian for pests that included fleas and head lice. How did it get applied to the instrument? One account is that when Hawaiians play the instrument, their hands jump all over the fret board like fleas. Whatever the source, the instrument and its players are sometimes called “fleas.”

Ukulele Pic of the Week




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