by John King and Jim Tranquada
At the time of the Ravenscrag’s arrival, the machete de braga—more often referred to as the machete—was the most popular musical instrument in Madeira, a small island group off the coast of Morocco. Described as a “viola pequena,” or little guitar, by Raphael Bluteau in 1716, the machete went largely unnoticed until the mid-nineteenth century. “The machete is peculiar to [Madeira],” visitor Robert White observed in 1851. “It is a small guitar, with four strings of catgut…used by the peasantry to accompany the voice and the dance. The music consists of a succession of simple chords, but, in the hands of an accomplished player, the machete is capable of much more pleasing harmony; and the stranger is sometimes agreeably surprised to hear the fashionable music of our ball-rooms given with considerable effect, on what appears a very insignificant instrument.”
Hainaia mai ana ka puana,
No Keaka Lakana neia inoa.
“This song is then echoed,
’Tis in honor of Jack London.”
John King began playing the ukulele in 1960 while living on the island of Oahu. He has contributed articles to the Hawaiian Journal of History, Spirit of Aloha, and the Galpin Society Journal and is currently co-authoring a scholarly history of the ukulele for the University of Hawaii Press.
A former newspaper reporter with a degree in history from Stanford University, Jim Tranquada is director of communications for Occidental College in Los Angeles. He is a great-great grandson of ukulele pioneer Augusto Dias.