Ukeke, Wood, Native American (Hawaiian)


19th century
Hawai'i, United States
Native American (Hawaiian)
L.: 21-3/4 in., W. 1-3/4 in.
L.C. Says: "L. 21 3/4 in."
Chordophone-Musical Bow
Credit Line:
The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889
Accession Number:
Not on view
The simplest and most widely distributed of all Oceanic string instruments is the mouth bow. Consisting of a thin, bent piece of wood, in many areas resembling the bows used for shooting arrows in hunting or warfare, that is strung with one or, more rarely, more strings, the mouth bow is played by holding one end in the mouth, which serves as the resonating chamber, and plucking the strings with a finger or pick. In the past musicians in Hawai'i played the 'ukeke, a small type of mouth bow that had two or three strings and was held horizontally in the mouth and grasped with the left hand. Although occasionally used to accompany chants, 'ukeke were typically employed for personal entertainment and particularly by lovers when serenading each other. As the musician strummed the strings, he or she would silently mouth words or phrases to his or her partner. As the configuration of the player's mouth cavity, lips, and tongue changed as he or she "spoke", the quality of the sound was altered so that the actual words were readily discernable to the lover's trained ear. Use of the 'ukeke had largely died out by the early twentieth century, but the instrument has recently been revived as part of the broader renaissance of Hawaiian culture.
Mary A. Burbank ; Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown
Catalogue of the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments: Oceanica and America. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1913, vol. II, pg. 49, ill.