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Origin of the Ukulele

The iconic Hawaiian instrument, the ukulele, is a favorite among locals and tourists, but where did this miniature four-string guitar come from? The ukulele no doubt captures the essence of Hawaii with its soothing sound, and instantly brings people into a nostalgic place reminiscing on their favorite Hawaiian memories.

The History of the Name

Originally named machete, the small, guitar-like instrument was brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants in the late 1800s and adapted the Hawaiian name ukulele. There are a few different stories detailing the origin of the Hawaiian name, the most probable being from a British army officer in the court of King Kalakaua named Edward Purvis. Purvis, a lively and petite fellow, gained the Hawaiian nickname ukulele, which translates to “jumping flea” in English. Another legend says that there was once a talented ukulele player whose fingers moved as fast as a jumping flea, henceforth forever uniting the name of the instrument and the movement of playing it.

Aside from these stories, one historical account comes directly from the true meaning of the Hawaiian words uku and lele. Uku means gift or reward, and lele means to come. Queen Lili’uokalani gave this name to the instrument she believed was a gift that came to the islands [source].


The Ukulele Lives On

With all the tutorials available online, anyone can learn to play the ukulele these days. It has become one of the easier instruments to learn with only four strings, and the sound is quite popular. Since the introduction of the ukulele, many tourists and locals continue to spread the “aloha” with its tropical sounds and looks.

Ukuleles can cost as little as $30 or as much as $700 or more, depending on the type of wood used for the body. If you are looking for a souvenir to bring home with you from your vacation, a small toy ukulele is a great choice. This small instrument symbolically embraces Hawaiian culture and history in times of change with a nod to the influx of immigrants, and is an excellent way to use music to bring people together - even if they can’t speak the same language.

More About the Author: While providing exciting and safe zipline tours for individuals, couples and families alike, Skyline Eco-Adventures also aids in the preservation of the Hawaiian Islands for future generations. Learn more about Skyline’s zipline tours and what they do to preserve the land and culture of the Hawaiian Islands: https://www.skylinehawaii.com/. Start Planning Your Adventure Now