What Instrument Should I Buy in Portugal?
Later this month my wife and I will be traveling to Portugal. As is my custom when I travel abroad, I look to purchase an instrument native to the country we are visiting.
In Ireland, I looked for a Lowden guitar but was told by the septuagenarian owner of a music store in Dublin that “they’re way too expensive for the Irish, so we send them to Canada and the United States.” I also fell in love with the Uillean Pipes, the Irish version of bagpipes which are played with an under-arm bellows. Unfortunately, the wait to get one of those beauties which is hand-made was nearly two years.
So what should I look to buy when I am in Portugal?
While the ukulele is generally believed to be a uniquely Hawaiian instrument, its roots are in the Portuguese braguinha or machete de braga. The braguinha is a stringed instrument smaller than a guitar whose tuning is very similar to the first four strings of a guitar. By 1850, sugar plantations had become a major economic force in Hawaii and the plantations needed more workers. Many waves of immigrants came to the islands, including a large number of Portuguese who brought their braguinhas with them.
Legend dates the beginning of the Hawaii infatuation with the braguinha to August 23, 1879. A ship called the Ravenscrag arrived in Honolulu Harbor and released its passengers after a rather arduous journey. One of the passengers began singing songs of thanksgiving for finally reaching his destination and accompanied himself with a braguinha. The story goes that the local Hawaiians were very moved by his performance and nicknamed the instrument "Jumping Flea" (one possible translation of ukulele) for the way his fingers moved on the fretboard.
Other popular stringed instruments from Portugal are …
Cavaquinho – a four-stringed instrument tuned like the top strings of the guitar; small like a ukulele but tuned like a tenor guitar or baritone uke
Guitarra Portuguesa – a twelve-string instrument based on the cittern
Viola Amarantina – ten strings in five courses, also known as the Viola de Dois because it has two heart-shaped sound holes
Machete de Rajao – a five-stringed instrument from Madeira
So what will it be?