Portuguese American Journal

Honor: Ukulele named Hawaii state official musical instrument – Honolulu, HI

Lawmakers in the state of Hawaii have named the ukulele the official state “modern” musical instrument. The pahu, the Hawaiian drum, was named as the “traditional” musical instrument.

The ukulele, often seen as a symbol of the islands, was originally brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, where it became an integral part of the Hawaiian culture.

It was introduced about 1879, by a group of Portuguese immigrants from Madeira and João Fernandes, a native of Madeira, is credit with having played the “braguinha” – the original name in Portuguese — in Hawaii for the first time.

The Hawaiians renamed the “braguinha” as “ukulele” in reference to “jumping flea” as suggested by the jumping motion of the hands playing the instrument.

The ukulele was later introduced in the mainland United States around 1915, after being featured at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

After becoming a symbol of the Jazz Age, musicians such as Elvis Presley, George Harrison, Elvis Costelo, Bruce Springsteen and Tiny Tim were fond of the easy to play Portuguese string instrument adopted by Hawaiians.

Ukulele festivals are popular all over the United States and Canada as well as in many other parts of the world including the United Kingdom and Japan.  February 2nd is the International Ukulele Day.

The first Portuguese immigrated to Hawaii around 1794. They were whalers who jumped ship. Many of those sailors were from Faial, Graciosa, and São Jorge.  Some were from Cape Verde.

Additional Portuguese settlers came from the Madeira Islands in 1879 to work on the sugar cane fields. Between 1878 and 1913, more than 20,000 Portuguese men, women, and children traveled from Madeira the Azores and Portugal the Hawaiian Islands. An estimated 4 percent (48,527) of the population of Hawaii today is of Portuguese descent.

In addition to the ukulele and the pahu, there are 16 adopted or designated symbols of Hawaii, including the state bird, the Nene Goose, and the state motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono” translated “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”