I had always known that Hawaii was a bit of a melting pot, but there were some things that I just kind of assumed were always here, like ever since the very first Polynesians managed to navigate their way through thousands of miles of ocean to land on a little tiny archipelago. But they weren't. In fact, the instrument that I (and many others) tend to think of as typically Hawai'ian is actually an adaptation of a Portuguese instrument called a machete, which is basically a shrunken down guitar. The machete traveled to Hawai'i in, get this, 1879 on a boat from Madiera.
On that same boat where three woodworkers who eventually started little shops on Oahu where they were making and selling instruments. Though there seems to be no certainty to who was the first to make the ukulele, within a decade of the machete's arrival in Hawai'i, a combination of the size and shape of the machete an the tuning of another Portuguese instrument, the rajão, appeared. This was the first ukulele.
Hawai'i's last king, King David Kalakaua, was a big champion of the ukulele. He encouraged other Hawai'ians to pick up the instrument and create their own style. The ukulele experienced fluctuations in popularity - picking up great gains in the 1920s and 1950s-60s when tourism and the commercialization of Hawai'i were high. The romantic idea of Hawai'i with the hula girls and palm trees also included the ukulele.
The popularity of the ukulele declined in the 1970s, and picked up again in the 1990s with Iz Kamakawiwoʻole's cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. In the last decade or so, the internet has allowed covers of songs, such as Jake Shimabukuro's cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, to go viral, and encouraging interest in this adorable, Portuguese heritage and Hawai'ian born, instrument.
On a personal note, became interested in the ukulele after finding iamjohnbarker on instagram. The uku is such a happy instrument, and watching him (happily) play covers of my favorite songs piqued my interest in this instrument. So when it became time for our daughter to start taking music lessons, ukulele was the natural choice. It's a tiny guitar, easy for little hands to play, and it's always cheerful (if in tune) even when being played by a beginner.
I found all of this fascinating, based on my previous assumptions, so I wanted to share it with you alongside some recent ukulele straps that I made. I do often get requests for narrow straps, and for that my mandolin straps are a perfect fit. Most of the straps in this post are custom, but they can be made again! Just email me with what you'd like -- caitlin at moxieandoliver dot com - and I will make you your own!
And if you're a beginning ukulele player, or if you're interested in picking one up, check out this website with some easy ukulele chords for beginners. My husband has been teaching himself to play from online lessons!