Ukulele [‘ukulele; ukulele]
- Thomas J. Walsh
A small four-string instrument of the guitar family. The ukulele is derived from a pair of Portuguese instruments first brought to Hawai’i in the late 1870s by immigrants from the island of Madeira. The ukulele (or ‘ukulele, a Hawaiian term meaning “jumping flea”) developed from the machete, a four-string Madeiran instrument. However, its tuning is taken from the first four strings of the five-string Madeiran rajão.
Ukuleles were first built in Hawai’i by three Madeiran cabinetmakers, Augusto Dias, Manuel Nunes, and Jose do Espirito Santo, all of whom arrived in Hawai’i in 1879. After serving their agricultural contracts, all three eventually settled in Honolulu. By 1885, each was advertising the various instruments he was building. Machetes and rajãoes quickly became known on the islands by a number of other names, most commonly “taro-patch guitars” or “taro-patch fiddles.” By 1888, the four-string instrument was becoming known as the ukulele, and soon the term “taro-patch fiddle” primarily was used to describe the larger five-string instrument. By the early 1890s, the original machete tuning of d’-g’-b’-d” was falling out of favor. Instead, the reentrant tuning of the Madeiran ...