How many movies have you seen where somebody breaks a ukulele? I’m willing to bet a lot of money that those scenes are few and far between. I’m also willing to bet that when you do see a ukulele scene somehow, some way Hawaii is implicated.
Interestingly enough, for the longest time, mainland Americans have this idea in their head that Hawaiians somehow, some way pioneered or came up with the very idea of ukulele music playing ukulele guitars at cultural events or large gatherings.
What if I told you that the ukulele is not actually Hawaiian? I know that sounds crazy because it’s really hard to listen to any kind “native” Hawaiian music without the ukulele playing some sort of role. It can be a small role, but it almost always plays a role. That’s how ingrained the ukulele is to Hawaiian music, especially the kind of Hawaiian music that is passed off as authentic and native.
It turns out that the ukulele is actually a European invention. In particular, Portugal. In Portugal, they had mini guitars, which were imported from somewhere else, and it’s the Portuguese sugarcane mechanics and overseers who brought this really peculiar mini guitar to the Hawaiian islands.
A lot of these Portuguese immigrants moved to Hawaii during the turn of the previous century to work at massive Hawaiian sugar plantations. That’s where they rubbed shoulders with Filipino, Chinese and Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.
Interestingly enough, the ukulele was taken up in a very large and dramatic way by the native Hawaiians themselves. There’s just something about the ukulele that connected with the Hawaiian soul the Hawaiian musical sensibility.
Whatever the case may be the ukulele now is almost joined at the hip with any kind of Hawaiian music. You really cannot think of any kind of Hawaiian music without at least assuming that there will be some sort of ukulele involved. Make no mistake about it movies that feature ukulele without mentioning Hawaii are few and far between.
I raise this point because musical instruments and music in general really know no boundaries. As long as it sounds good, you can bet that any cultural group, regardless of how seemingly different they are from the group introducing the musical instrument, the musical tradition and musical compositions will really make this introduced cultural artifact their very own. The ukulele is proof of this.
So, do yourself a big favor. If you play the ukulele, give thanks to the Portuguese and, of course, the other Europeans who introduced the ukulele to the Portuguese. Moreover, give thanks to the Hawaiians who made the ukulele sound so awesome and authentically Hawaiian.