Who doesn’t want the learn how to play ukulele? Both Josh and I have always thought it would be fun to jam out on the ukulele, there is just something about hearing that miniature 4-string instrument that transports us to the islands in our minds, and in our soul. On our recent trip to Hawaii, we were really hoping that we could find some lessons somewhere. Not only did we find what we were looking for, we found more at the Sheraton Kona Resort at Keauhou Bay on the big island of Hawaii. They offer many free cultural activities onsite to share the culture and traditions of Hawaii with their guests in an authentic way.
Before We Learn to Play the Ukulele, We Learn The Meaning of Aloha
As soon as we walked into the Sheraton Resort Kona, we could feel the Aloha spirit exhibited by each and every employee. Many of us from the mainland think that “aloha” is just a word meaning hello, goodbye, and love. But in reality, it’s so much more than that. So before our Hawaii culture walking tour around the historic Sheraton property, home of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village, we got to meet the lovely Aunty Tutu!
Aunty Tutu explained that the word “alo” means face in Hawaiian and “ha” means breath, which also represents life (after all there is no life if we can’t breathe). When the ancient Hawaiians would greet each other, they would actually put their foreheads and noses together, one would breathe in while the other would breathe out. This symbolized breathing in the life between the two of you, and of each other. So “aloha” is essentially a literal translation of that greeting, and it’s essence represents the life between all of us and that we share with each other. Pretty heavy, right?!?! And we thought it was just a fun word that everyone likes to say.
Once we understood the true meaning of aloha, everything Hawaiian experience we had seemed to mean more to us. From the hotel staff greeting us to the guide who took us on the walking tour, even to our experience snorkeling with the manta rays at night. The passion and love for Hawaii and sharing the spirit of “aloha” with us really impacted our experience the most.
Making Leis with Aunty Tutu at the Sheraton Kona Resort
I have always wanted to learn how to make a lei. Of course it seems simple, just stringing flowers together, but I knew there had to be more to it than that. So I was really excited to learn that the Sheraton Kona Resort offered free lei making classes. We met Aunty Tutu in the lobby of the resort first thing in the morning and she explained to us the process. Josh and I had a good time unleashing our creativity and breathing in the baskets full of fresh, fragrant tropical flowers! That’s a pretty great smell to wake up to!
Our long needles were threaded with a very long string, and we alternated flowers to make our own pattern. The proper technique is to hold the flower with one hand, and insert the needle directly into the center or heart of the flower, and exiting through the stem as best you can. This will give you the best support and help to keep the flowers in tact on the string.
The needle was quite long, probably close to 10 or 12 inches in length, and the string was tied at the end. We would thread about 9 or 10 flowers on the needle first, then we would slide a few at a time down the string. This helped to keep the flowers from getting mangled and stuck. Patience is key, but this process helped to get many flowers on the string quickly. Periodically, we would pick up the string to see how long it was. When it was the right length, we simply tied off the string and cut the extra. And that’s all there is to it!
The Ukulele Means Jumping Flea, Seriously!
After we finished making the leis and practicing our Hawaiian greetings, we were able to learn to play ukulele. Pronounced “oo-koo-le-le” (not “you-koo”) the literal translation means “jumping flea!” Strange meaning right? So me, being the nerd that I am, was fascinated to learn where the instrument came from and how it got its name.
Aunty Tutu told us that the instrument was inspired by the Portugese who came to work on the islands as laborers. They brought with them their mandelines, which were quite large. The Hawaiians thought that when the Portugese played this instrument it looked like they were flicking fleas! The Hawaiians liked the sound, but wanted a more simple instrument. So they created a smaller version with only 4 strings and referred to it as the ukulele, the jumping flea.
Of course, I thought that was pretty funny, so I had to throw that fact in here! But beyond that history of the instrument, we had a fun time learning to play it. Aunty Tutu handed us each a beautiful ukulele to play. She showed us how to hold it property and how to position our fingers. Then we learned a few chords and a couple songs. We spent the next while playing together and singing simple Hawaiian songs.
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Josh and I were hooked, and after the class we asked about where we could get a quality ukulele at home so that we can play in the future. They also gave us a copy of on of their instruction books for learning to play! Written by Aunty Tutu and her brother, it is an easy way to learn the ukulele and comes with a number of popular songs so that you can learn to play them.
Dancing the Hula in the Lobby of the Sheraton Kona
After learning to play the ukulele, those of us who wanted to learn to hula were given the chance. Aunty Tutu handed out some skirts, flowers, and other accessories and she taught us a quick hula dance. Traditionally, hula was used as a way to tell stories by the ancient Hawaiians. It wasn’t just a dance for fun or to entertain, they were a way to share knowledge and pass along stories. Every single gesture in the dance means something.
We learned to dance to the song “hukilau” which was a fishing tradition. I learned all the steps to the song, which talks about the community coming together to participate by throwing nets into the sea and bringing in the fish. After practicing it a few times, we were ready to dance to some music.
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As Aunty Tutu planned it, “hukilau” was one of the songs we all learned to play on the ukulele. So Josh and some of the other guys in the group played the ukuleles while us girls danced the hula, and we all sang along with the words. It was an awesome experience for both Josh and I, but we also loved to see all the families participating in the fun too!
The Next Luau Will Be At Our Place!
Now Josh and I are on the lookout for a great ukulele that we can bring home from our travels. We are really looking forward to playing songs in the future and reminiscing about our time here on the Big Island of Hawaii. And even better, we know how to make authentic leis and how to do a proper Hawaiian greeting as well as do a hula dance. So when we return to the states and have a backyard BBQ with our family and friends, we can put on a luau for everyone. Now that sounds like a party!