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1. A Brief History

2. 'Ukulele Assembly Sequence


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A Brief History


When the Ravenscrag arrived in Honolulu on the
afternoon of August 23, 1879, it was carrying 419
Portuguese immigrants from the island of Madeira to
work in the sugar cane fields. It had been a long and
hard journey of over 4 months and some 15,000 miles.
In celebration of their arrival, Joao Fernandes borrowed
his friend's braguinha, jumped off the ship, and started
playing folk songs from his native land on the wharf. The
Hawaiians, who came down to the dock, were very
impressed at the speed of this musicians' fingers as they
danced across the fingerboard and they called the
instrument "ukulele", which translates into English as
"jumping flea". You see, that was the image conjured
up by those flying fingers.
At least that's one of the stories about the origin of the
name "ukulele". Typical to much of Hawaiian history,
there are several accounts of how the ukulele got its
name. Queen Lili'uokalani thought it came from the
Hawaiian words for "the gift that came here", or "uku"
(gift or reward) and "lele" (to come). Another legend says
the instrument was originally called "ukeke lele" or
"dancing ukeke" (ukeke being the Hawaiian's three
stringed musical bow). The name, being mispronounced
over the years, became "ukulele". Another theory comes
from a story about Edward Purvis, an English army
officer and the Assistant Chamberlain to the court of
King David Kalakaua, who was very adept at playing the
braguinha. Since he was small and sprightly, the rather
large Hawaiians nicknamed him "ukulele", the whole
"jumping flea" thing all over again. Still another version
of the origin of the world "ukulele" is attributed to
Gabriel Davian and Judge W. L. Wilcox (a member of a
well-known island family). According to the story, the two
men were in attendance at a housewarming party at the
Wilcox home in Kahili, where Davian was playing an
'ukulele he had made himself. When one of the guests
asked what it was called, Davion jokingly replied that,
judging from the way one "scratched at it," it was a
"jumping flea". Wilcox, who was fluent in Hawaiian, was
asked for the Hawaiian translation and is supposed to
have answered, "'Ukulele!".
Over the years, the "jumping flea" legend, the one
where Joao Fernandes' fingers were jumping like fleas
over the fingerboard, has become the most accepted,
probably because that is the coolest story and Hawaiians
just love a cool story.


Home Page | A Brief History | 'Ukulele Assembly Sequence | Constructing the 'Ukulele Neck | Shaping of the Neck and Tail Blocks | Layout and Bending of 'Ukulele Sides and Lining | Gluing Up of Top and Back of 'Ukulele | Sanding and Shaping of Sound Board and Back | Installing Neck onto 'Ukulele Body | Glue in Top Lining and Top Braces | Gluing on Sound Board of the 'Ukulele | Gluing in of Bottom Lining and Back Bracing | Gluing on Back of 'Ukulele | Finishing Surface | Making of Fret Board and Bridge | Drilling of Holes for Tuning Keys | Final Finishing | Links | Photo Gallery


Sam Nihipali & Daniel Yuen
Date last modified: 4/27/00


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