Paying Tribute: Hawai‘i’s Original Innovators

A handful of old businesses that have been operating under the same families for decades – some for almost 100 years – are testaments to survival, pride, love and sometimes plain practicality.

Photos by Aaron Van Bokhoven


The living history of the island can easily be forgotten, blending into the everyday scenery. Signs of old establishments that are no longer in business remind us of days past, but provide merely memories as to what used to be inside. As Honolulu loses more of its old businesses to time, the history of the island’s culture runs the risk of being lost as well. The five businesses profiled here capture a past, present and hopefully a future that can tell a family story in a single piece of merchandise.

At 87 years old, Fred Kamaka Sr. is still walking and talking like a spritely young man. He usually leads the daily tours that Kamaka ‘Ukulele provides to the public, cheerfully sharing the history of his family’s business that his father started in 1916. Aside from being nearly 100 years old, the company is also known for the invention of the pineapple-shaped ‘ukulele and innovations in ‘ukulele sounds.

Fred and his brother Sam started working at Kamaka as children, with stints in the military and academia in between. Their sons have been running the company since 2000. Marketing Kamaka ‘Ukulele globally, especially in Japan, has been one way the company has survived through several economic hard times. With top-quality instruments and savvy business strategizing, this iconic instrument company is a face of Hawai‘i nei, hopefully for another century to come.


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