Hawaiian Music (The Ukulele)

A Hawaiian “invention” that has become popular well beyond the borders of the islands is the UKELELE. Portuguese immigrants first brought small guitars with them to Hawaii in the late 1800s. Hawaiians took these small European guitars and renamed them “ukeleles,” legendarily from the words “uku (flea)” and “lele (jumping).” The Ukelele Guild describes the introduction of the ukelele to Hawaii this way:

“When the ship the Ravenscrag arrived in Honolulu on the afternoon of August 23, 1879, it was carrying 419 Portuguese immigrants from the island of Madeira to work in the sugar cane fields. It had been a long and hard journey of over 4 months and some 15,000 miles. In celebration of their arrival, Joao Fernandes borrowed his friend’s braguinha, jumped off the ship, and started playing folks songs from his native land on the wharf. The Hawaiians who came down to the dock were very impressed at the speed of this musicians’
fingers as they danced across the fingerboard and they called the instrument ‘ukulele,’ which translates into English as ‘jumping flea.’ You see, that was the image conjured up by those flying fingers.” [Read UkeleleGuild.org’s history of the ukelele | Watch ukelele-master Ohta-San play “Waipo.”]

Hawaiian musicians have always demonstrated the ability to maintain their own musical traditions while still absorbing genres from abroad. For example, since the late 1980s Hawaiians–ethnic Hawaiians in particular–have adopted reggae so completely that
they’ve developed their own sub-genre called “JAWAIIAN.” Hawaiian fans of Jawaiian music are known to wear the clothing featuring the colors of the Ethiopian flag (red, yellow and green), and Bob Marley memorabilia is popular. [Let the Jawaiian Jam All Stars “take you back to the 1990s.”]

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