The ‘Ukulele (pronounced “oo-koo-le-le”) was introduced by Portuguese immigrants who migrated to Hawai’i. They were looking for new lives, but even more so, work.
The braguinha, or “machete de braga” as my ninety-five year old Portuguese Grandmother calls it, is still a hit on the island of Madiera in Portugal, where she is from. In late August of 1879, legend has it that the ‘ukulele first arrived in Hawai’i. Upon arrival in Honolulu, a musician named Joao Fernandez strummed his braguinha while singing Portuguese folksongs.
On one of the many ships that arrived in Honolulu Harbor from Portugal, there were three men: Augusto Dias, Jose do Espirito Santo and Manuel Nunes. All three were excellent craftsmen and they are credited with making the first true ‘Ukuleles.
King David Kalakaua can be attributed not only with the “Merrie Monarch”, our annual hula competition, but also the popularity boom of the ‘ukulele. King Kalakaua was an excellent composer and he loved playing his ‘ukulele. So, of course, he made playing the ‘ukulele very fashionable. The ‘ukulele grew in popularity. Prior to the ‘ukulele, Hawaiians relied mainly on percussion implements to accompany their hula and chant. Now, they had found a perfect way to accompany themselves melodically.
Today, as you well know, the ‘ukulele or uke is famous the world over. There are many well-known names that are associated with the ‘ukulele. Here in Hawai’i the ‘ukulele has had a major resurgence. It is not uncommon to see children playing their ukes at the beach, or at “The Bus” stop. The majority of accomplished musical groups in Hawai’i have at least one or two ‘ukulele players. Even in Japan the ‘ukulele has gained in popularity by leaps and bounds.
It gives me great honor to perpetuate both my Portuguese and Hawaiian ancestry, with this true woodworking piece of art, the ‘Ukulele!
Mary Ferreira Souza: She was born in Portugal on the Island of Madeira. Mary moved to Maui, Hawaii at 6 months of age. The boat she sailed on had to come around the horn because the Panama Canal was not yet built. Later she moved to Oahu with her family and settled in Kalihi. She met and married Joseph N. Souza Sr. and together they lived in Kapahulu. Mary and Joe had one son, Joseph N. Souza II, Joe’s father. Joe’s Dad has since passed but enjoyed his life as a Honolulu Police Officer and husband to Olive Rodrigues Souza. They have 8 children and Joe the 3rd is the youngest.
Joe’s Grandma, GiGi, loved him dearly and was always very proud of him. The ‘ukulele was a very important part of her life and she treasured the fact that Joe followed his heritage. GiGi lived a full life of 102 years. We are thankful for her encouragement, guidance and love.