Bishop Museum exhibit shows guitar history in Hawaii

Published On: Jun 02 2014 04:57:09 PM HST   Updated On: Jun 02 2014 08:42:54 PM HST

The guitar has a history that dates back 4,000 years. Its Hawaiian roots go deep and it's now in the spotlight at the Bishop Museum.

Click here to watch Ashley Moser's report.

For musician Chad Hamman, life without his guitar would be empty.

"If I didn't have that instrument, I don't think I could really be content with life," said Hamman.

For centuries the guitar influenced people worldwide. Here in Hawaii it's no different. Historians believe the guitar made its way to the islands in the 1800s.

"Hawaiians are quire adaptive and you know this. So, if there's something there that appeals, they make it their own," said Betty Kam, Director of Creative Collections at Bishop Museum.

That's exactly what they did with a Portuguese stringed instrument called the cavaquinho, known in Hawaii as the ukulele.

Like the ukulele, Hawaiian musicians jumped on the opportunity to use stringed instruments to make music of their own.

In the 1890s, Kamehameha student Joseph Kekuku developed a new way to play the guitar on his lap and from that came the steel guitar.

"You just take a standard guitar, lay it in your lap and you pluck it and use a steel bar to fret it," said Mike Shanahan of Bishop Museum.

Another Hawaiian instrument influenced by the guitar is one that is rarely recorded – the ukeke.

Like hula, it was suppressed by the missionaries because of its romantic connection. These three stringed instruments made of wood and sometimes horse hair were used to secretly communicate with your lover.

And it's passion prompted by a stringed instrument that historians believe shows the deep roots of guitars in Hawaii.

The Bishop Museum's guitar exhibit has originals of these Hawaiian instruments on display, including one of Duke Kahanamoku's personal ukulele.


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