This Friday, June 21st is the annual Tahitian Music Festival. Held every year on this symbolic date, it is meant to celebrate the summer solstice. Many hotels and restaurants around the island will have special guests and live bands performing for the occasion. Kicking off a very musical weekend, the event is then followed by the 6th annual Hitia’a Ukulele Festival on Saturday, June 22nd on the eastern side of the island. In honor of these two events, read below for more information about the Tahitian ukulele.
First, here’s a video from last year’s Hitia’a Ukulele Festival. Enjoy!
History of the Ukulele
The ukulele has become an iconic symbol of Polynesian music. As soon as you arrive in Tahiti, you will be greeted by the strumming sounds of this cheerful instrument at the airport, your hotel, and throughout the streets of Papeete. The ukulele is so ingrained in the culture of the islands, it is hard to believe it didn’t originate in Tahiti.
The Tahitian ukulele is a variation of the Hawaiian ukulele, which was introduced by Portuguese immigrants in the 1880’s. It is distinct from other styles because the locals could only make instruments using basic hand tools, so the original version was adopted for easier construction.
The Tahitian ukulele does not have a sound box. Instead, the body, neck and head are all carved from a single piece of wood, with a wide hole bored into the middle. It usually has eight strings, making it a dual string ukulele. The sound produced is higher and usually played with faster strumming patterns to suit the natural rhythms of Polynesian music.
Ukulele Construction, Photo: Diane Selkirk
Tahitian ukuleles are hand crafted and therefore considered precious works of art. Some people choose to play them, while others simply wish to hang them on their walls. If you plan to use your ukulele for decoration, you can find a selection at the marketplace in downtown Papeete.
If you’re a musician and intend to play your ukulele for a lifetime, you should purchase one from a master craftsman. Here’s an article on Jean Henri Teriipaia, pictured above, who has been making ukuleles for over ten years. Another example would be Hawaiian native Woody Howard. He makes beautiful ukuleles from the finest wood for excellent sound projection, play ability and craftsmanship.