Anybody who’s been to Hawaii knows what the ukelele is, but do they know what the word means and where the signature Hawaiian instrument came from?
‘ukelele means “dancing or jumping flea” in Hawaiian. It was so named because the melodies it made were very lively. Q: here did the ukelele come from? A: Portugal. Portguese contract laborers landed there in the 1878 after a long voyage from the island of Madeira, an small archipelago off the coast of Portugal. The Portuguese workers brought with them a small instrument called the braguinha to help offset the boredom of the long trip. The braguinha is part of the Portuguese cavaquinho family of instruments. Native Hawaiians fell in love the the instrument and made it their own.
Madeira is better known for its wines than this little guitar.
Here is a resident musician of the Madeira Islands talking about the braguinha and playing it. It’s in Portuguese, but you’ll get the picture.
Here is a video of the late Israel Kamakawi’wi’ole singing his beautiful version of “Over the Rainbow”, playing the ukelele: