The Ukulele History

Most of us thinks that the Ukulele history starts at Hawaii, and that the Ukulele is an instrument from this islands.

That’s not quit the truth.

Here is some Ukulele history facts:

In the middle of 1900 century a lot of the native Hawaiian workers, in the growing sugar industry, had died by diseases. Hawaii started therefore with import of workers from other countries.

They tried first of all with Chinese. Later from 1878 they started hiring contract workers from Portugal. Mainly from Madeira and then from Cape Verde and the Azores. Here the Ukulele history starts.

If you are interested in the islands of Macaronesia, you can read about them on this links. It is in Norwegian but you can translate them to all kinds of languages: Madeira, Cape Verde and the Azores.

The Ukulele history - Madeira (

The workers in Madeira suffered from hunger and thirst, so it was easy to get workers from there. The Hawaiien thought that the workers from this islands was perfect sins they lived in a sub tropic climate, and one of the main income from the islands also came from sugar production. Totally with wife’s, children and other relatives, it came about 10.700 Portuguese.

They also brought with them something else, and that was their instruments. The instruments was called the machete, the cavaquinho, (or Braguinha as it also is called), the timple and the rajão. This was the base, and the start, of the Ukulele history

(It was also immigration from other European country’s, among them Norway, but that’s another story.)

Ukulele history troubadour

“Linda rosinha” on cavaquinho

How the Ukulele got popular on Hawaii

The Hawaiian Ukulele is based on the instruments from Madeira, as explained before. Especial the Braguinha.

This smal instrument was established in the Hawaiian music culture mainly because of the support and promotion from King Kalākaua.

Joao Fernandez was one of the immigrants from Madeira, and he had a Braguinha. He made a big impression on the Hawaiian people, and their King, with his skills as a musician.

According to the last Hawaiian monarch Queen Liliʻuokalani the name Ukulele means “the gift that came here” (from Hawaiian words uku (gift or reward) and lele (to come)).

Many also thinks the name means “jumping flea”, roughly translated from Hawaiian, because of the players movements of the fingers.

The history says that the three cabinet makers Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias, was the first Ukulele makers in Hawaii.

Popular teams on Cavaquinho in Portugal:

The Ukulele out to the world.

The Ukulele history in USA: In the early 20th century the instrument became popular in the United States, and from there it spread out to other countries.

In 1915, during the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, the Ukulele was introduced in the Hawaiian Pavilion by a Ukulele ensemble. This says to be the start of the Ukuleles popularity in USA.

The Ukulele history in Japan: The Ukulele came to Japan in 1929 with Yukihiko Haida. He was born I Hawaii, and returned because of his father’s death. Yukihiko Haida is the one that introduced the Ukulele to Japan.

In Japan it was banned to play Western music during the World War II. The result of this was that the Ukulele was played secretly. After the war the popularity bloomed, and Japan is today the second home for Hawaiian musicians.

The Ukulele history in Canada: In the 1960s in Canada J. Chalmers Doane changed the school music programs by using the cheap Ukulele. About 50.000 children and adults learned to play the Ukulele through his most noteworthy program.

The Ukulele history from 1970s: From the 1970s the Ukulele declined in popularity until the late 1990s. New manufacturers started to produce the instrument, and a new generation started to play. Among thous who made it popular was Jim Beloff in the early 1990. He made over 2 dozen of books with Ukulele music. Ukulele classics and also modern music.

The Daily Ukulele by Jim and Liz Beloff - Ukulele history

Different sizes and popularity

The Ukuleles has been created in a lot of different sizes over the years. From Pocket Ukulele to Contrabass Ukulele. The latest is the Contrabass from 2012. (See: Ukulele types)

YouTube is also a main factor for the popularity of the Ukulele today. This because of its videos of great musicians playing the instrument, and by its videos with instruction for how to play.

Here you can find easy ukulele songs, beginner ukulele songs and good ukulele songs.