The ukulele has been around for quite some time and has become an ever increasingly popular instrument in the past years. Being brought to the forefront of modern society by popular bands such as Twenty One Pilots and YouTube sensation Walk Off The Earth, this humble yet versatile instrument has truly begun to shine. While many have taken to it to play like their favorite bands and musicians, few know much about the Ukulele itself. Let’s dig into the history a bit so we can become familiar with the little yet powerful instrument!
Whenever you think of the ukulele, many immediately think of palm trees, hula skirts, and Hawaii. Surprisingly though the instrument is actually not Hawaiian in origin! Where is the ukulele from then? The instrument is actually Portugese, and originally called a Machete, or machete de braga! The instrument was brought to Hawaii by Portugese immigrants heading to the islands to work at the booming sugar cane plantations. And this is the beginning time of the instrument as we know it.
If the original name for the ukulele is machete, where did the name ‘ukulele’ come from? And how do you actually pronounce that word? All very good questions! First let’s get the answer to the latter of the two questions.
How do you pronounce the word ‘ukulele’? The ukulele is mistakenly pronounced as YOU-KA-LAY-LEE. The correct way to address the instrument is actually OO-KOO-LEY-LEY.
Where did the name ‘ukulele’ come from? There are various stories as to how the ukulele got its name, but none of them have enough proof to be the solid answer. Mysterious right? However, there is a widely agreed upon story that is seen as fact. As mentioned earlier, the ukulele is actually of Portugese origin, brought to the islands by the Portugese as they arrived in Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations. For many immigrants, getting to the Hawaiian islands meant a long and difficult trip by boat. So the story goes that a certain Portugese man, after arriving in Hawaii after a long and grueling 4 month voyage, was so happy to have ended his trip that he took out his instrument and started to play to celebrate! Ecstatic and beyond grateful the man played the instrument with much happiness and enthusiasm. His hands were moving so fast across the fretboard that when the Hawaiians saw that, they likened his fingers to a bouncing flea. So you might be thinking, what do fleas have to do have to do with anything when it comes to a name? Well the word ‘uku’ in Hawaiian means lice or flea, while ‘lele’ means to bounce. So when put together the ‘bouncing flea’ translates to the name ‘ukulele’.
What we learned today only touched the surface of the various facts about the ukulele, but now we can move forward having a base of understanding that you can build upon! There are many stories and accomplishments related to the four stringed instrument. Much like the ukulele, our mind is versatile as well! Expanding our thoughts and knowledge on even little things like what we covered today is a great way to broaden our thinking, and open ourselves up to new things.