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Contextual Associations

The `ukarere is a plucked/strummed bowl-lute chordophone of French Polynesia. It is a locally made imitation of the Hawaiian ‘ukulele, the connection between the two instruments being more obvious in their names than in their designs. The precise place of origin of this instrument is unknown, and very little helpful information was found in consulted sources. It seems most likely that it is from either the Marquesas Islands or Tahiti. Like the ‘ukulele in Hawaii, the `ukarere is used along with the guitar and other instruments of ultimately European origin to accompany neo-traditional forms of dance and popular music. The relief carving seen on the top surface of the instrument draws upon traditional Polynesian iconography.


This `ukarere differs in one key way from its Hawaiian antecedent. Rather than being a joined lute (with separately manufactured neck and resonator components joined together) it is a integral lute carved from a solid block of dense, heavy hardwood. A bowl-shaped resonating space 4.5 inches in diameter and about 1.5 inches deep is gouged out of the wider portion of the lute-shaped body with the apex of the bowl piercing through the back of the body to produce a hole one inch in diameter (see detail image). The larger opening of the bowl-shaped depression is covered with a disc of thinly-shaven hardwood, serving as the instrument’s sounboard, the rim of which is glued to the flat face of the body. The small hole on the backside functions as the resonator’s sound hole. The detail photo on this page shows the reverse side of the instrument, its single-piece construction, and its soundhole. A tailpiece made from metal rod with its ends bent into an inverted and elongated U-shape has its ends inserted into holes drilled into the body. The neck section has six grooves cut across it, the top most one filled with a piece of wood that serves as the instrument’s nut and marks the boundary between the fingerboard and the pegblock. The other five slots support metal frets. The pegblock has four back-mounted wooden tuning pegs. One end of each of the four nylon fishing line strings is tied to the tailpiece, then the strings pass over a bridge that is positioned in the center of the soundboard and held in place by the downward pressure applied to it by the strings, stretch over the fingerboard riding just above the frets, and make contact with the nut before each string’s other end is attached to and wound around a tuning peg.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The `ukarere player holds the instrument horizontally across their midsection strumming the strings with the fingers of the right hand and stopping the strings against the fingerboard with the fingers of the left hand. Sources picture and describe Tahitian ukuleles as having four double courses of strings, unlike the instrument pictured here. One source gives the tuning pattern of the Tahitian `ukarere as: G4 - C5 - E5 - A4 (Wikipedia), similar to the Hawaiian ‘ukulele but with the second and third strings an octave higher. It appears that throughout French Polynesia the `ukarere is played in string ensembles with the guitar and other instruments. It is used primarily as a chordal percussion instrument.


The Hawaiian ‘ukulele is believed to have been exported to elsewhere in Polynesia as early as the turn of the 20th century. No information was found that clarified when and where local imitations of the imported instrument started to be manufactured, or how the design of the `ukarere has evolved over time.

Bibliographic Citations

McLean, Mervyn. 1999. Weavers of Song: Polynesian Music and Dance. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Molin, Jane Freeman. 1998. "Marquesas Islands." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 9. Australia and the Pacific Islands. ed. Adrienne L. Kaeppler and J. W. Love. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 889-896.

n.d. “Tahitian Guitar” Wikipedia article accessed 8/21/2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tahitian_ukulele


Instrument Information


Continent: Oceania

Region: Polynesia

Nation: French Polynesia

Formation: Tahitian

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

321.321 chordophone--necked bowl lute: the handle is attached to or carved from the resonator, like a neck

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: lute - integral

Resonator design, chordophone: bowl with wood soundboard

String courses: single

Vibrational length: pressure bridge to ridge-nut

String tension control: friction peg

Method of sounding: plucking (direct) and strumming

Pitches per string course: multiple (by pressure stopping against fretted fingerboard)


25.4 in. length

Primary Materials

string - synthetic

Entry Author

Roger Vetter