The Ukulele

The authentic Polynesian musical instrument

ukuleleOriginally borrowed from Hawaii, the ukulele is a musical instrument known the world over. This instrument that resembles a small guitar is an adaptation of the Portuguese cavaquinho. It was first introduced into Honolulu in 1879, through the sailing vessel « Ravenscrag », a Portuguese vessel that came to Hawaii to bring workers to cultivate sugarcane. Hawaiians were immediately intrigued by this curious little guitar. Adapting it to their way of like, they renamed it, Ukulele.

Like a guitar the ukulele has a head, a neck and a body. Originally made from Koa wood (Koa is the Hawaiian acacia) today, it is made from mahogany wood, which proves to be more durable. In French Polynesia the ukulele is monoxyle : meaning made from a single piece of wood, that gives a great sturdiness to the instrument. It is not uncommon to see a ukulele made with half a coconut husk. The ukulele originally has 4 nylon strings but Polynesians have adapted its use to double them, finding that it renders a better acoustic to its sound. Moreover, the Tahitian ukulele is hollow with a hole on each side. The front hole is covered and a fine piece of wood. Some ukuleles are fine works of art decorated with intricate carvings requiring months of work.

The Tahitian ukulele is a rhythmical instrument providing a cultural aspect to Polynesian gatherings. It is a mainstay to any local party and immediately adds a festive ambiance.

It has become a popular instrument that has gained international favour. Light and easy to transport, it proves to be the perfect party pleaser. Artists like George Harrison and Israël Kamakawiwo’ole have helped create its international popularity.

This June, the 5th Ukulele Festival in Tahiti celebrates Polynesia’s favourite instrument considered a timeless figure of Polynesian culture and way of life.

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