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A Brief History of the Ukulele

An endoscopic spinal surgeon, John C. Chiu, MD, serves as the president of the California Spine Institute Medical Center ( in Thousand Oaks, California. He is also accomplished in the martial arts and holds the Martial Arts Humanitarian Honor Award presented by the International Black Belt Hall of Fame. In addition to practicing medicine and developing his skills as a martial artist, John C. Chiu, MD, enjoys playing musical instruments, including the ukulele.

Beloved worldwide as a compact, easy-to-play stringed instrument capable of producing sounds both sweet and sad, the ukulele finds its earliest roots in Portugal’s Madeira Islands. Here, the machete de braga was played, and immigration brought the instrument to Hawaii, where it earned its current name as well as its association with the Hawaiian Islands. Soon the instrument became prominent in Hawaiian culture, with King David Kalakaua personally enjoying the ukulele and promoting it as an ideal instrument to accompany island life. 

The ukulele as we know it today comes in many forms, but it was originally constructed from koa, a popular wood in Hawaii. It often comes bedecked with ornamentation, and its body and top, usually constructed to be quite thin, are excellent conductors of sound and can send ukulele music sounding far and wide.


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