Ukulele's: Small Size, Big Fun Ukuleles are synonymous with Hawaiian culture and carefree island living, but the uke, as it's commonly called, isn't actually from Hawaii. In the 1870s, Portuguese immigrants arrived in Honolulu, bringing with them small, four-stringed instruments called machetes. Native islanders fell in love with the sound - as did Hawaii's king at the time, David Kalakaua, who even took up playing one himself. The machete was given a new tuning and a new name; thus the modern ukulele (or "jumping flea" in Hawaiian) was born. Since then, the instrument's portability and pleasant tone have gained international renown. Recently, the instrument has seen a huge resurgence in popularity, thanks to such players as Beirut, Train, Jake Shimabukuro, and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, whose 1993 rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is still the most popular uke recording of all time.