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The accepted history of the ukulele is a brief and modest one. Allegedly, the instrument arrived on Hawaiian shores in 1879 aboard a ship bound from Portugal, and soon was introduced to King Kalakaua’s court by the energetic playing of an English settler named Edward Purvis, whom the natives began to refer to as the “jumping flea,” or in their tongue, “ukulele.” While the Hawaiians eventually spread the name to the instrument itself, produced many skillful players, and started a global ukulele craze in the early part of the 20th century, this hardly seem to warrant a colossal study spanning over three thousand pages, but that is exactly what the enigmatic Dr. Erwin O’Cutty has attempted.

In fact, a brief account of the ukulele’s Hawaiian past is only mentioned in the preface of this gargantuan work, a magnum opus spanning 3,653 pages across three volumes, not including source materials and footnotes that lay out evidence for some truly astonishing claims. Foremost among them, the ukulele in name and stature did not originate in Portugal or Hawaii at all. Dr. O’Cutty levels bold charges of historical revisionism and makes the argument that the tiny stringed instrument has much deeper, darker, and more mysterious roots than anyone has ever imagined.

“Before there was man, the ukulele awaited him,” writes the author at the onset of Volume 1, Chapter 1, and off he goes to weave a dense and complicated tapestry that attempts nothing less than to show the ukulele’s powerful influence upon each crucial point of mankind’s recorded history, and beyond. “I fully concede my theory sounds preposterous at first glance,” admits the author, “but after the puzzlework is completed, an undeniable picture emerges: one of the ukulele as the driving force behind the cultural and even biological evolution of homo sapiens on this planet.” Indeed it sounds crazy, and crazier still, Dr. O’Cutty’s claims have merit. Halfway through Volume 1, the skepticism wanes, the case builds, and astonishment takes hold as something like religious awe sets in the reader’s mind.

“Everywhere you look, below the surface of every culture in every epoch, the ukulele served as a talisman that spoke to the innermost heart of man,” writes Dr. O’Cutty as the whirlwind of revelation begins. While it’s simply impossible to even list a fraction of the evidence the author presents, an incredible sampling of Volume 1 includes the discovery of crude ukulele etchings scrawled in Serbian caves that date to the outer limits of humanity’s hunter-gatherer roots, nearly 500,000 years into the past. Hundreds of pages are spent on prehistory alone, including clay Sumerian tablets discovered alongside the Epic of Gilgamesh, detailing the fifth king of Uruk’s obsession with erecting an immense ukulele statue on the banks of the Euphrates River. In Egypt, we see that ukes were found in the tomb of King Tut, along with papyrus scrolls detailing how the pyramid’s original purpose was solely concerned with the preservation of structural integrity for the ukulele, even including ancient solar humidifiers that prevented warping throughout the centuries. 

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Dr. O’Cutty produces new translations of Homer’s Odyssey which shows the real catalyst for the Trojan War was not the abduction of Helen, rather, the theft of what the great poet called a “sublime dainty harp.” Additional Greek manuscripts have surfaced, including a 174-page account on goatskin parchment, unearthed in Constantinople, with versions of Archimedes’ calculations and mathematical diagrams for an improved ukulele with “super-fat tone.” Also among these discoveries are the oldest surviving copies of the Hebrew Bible, showing that Noah’s foremost mission from God was to protect and perpetuate the ukulele at any cost, with half his ark dedicated to materials storage and “two of every builder for each piece of the instrument.” Mounds of jaw-dropping revelations come from the Jewish tradition alone, and I will leave Dr. O’Cutty’s Chapter 16 to shock the reader with documents found in Belgium monasteries, bringing to light new gospel accounts that involve jam sessions between the Apostles and Jesus Christ himself, the legendary Uke of Nazareth.

As the skeptic drowns beneath the weight of these astounding details, he is no longer shocked to learn that the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl was said to be born from the soundhole of a ukulele. Or that Mayan arithmetic was strictly dedicated to find variants of modal scale patterns. Or that the Crusades were actually bitter arguments over standard uke tuning and specifics of concert pitch. Genghis Kahn waged war on the entire known world in a quest capture and return what he deemed the “nylon-stringed heart of Mongolia.” Astrological charts help show how Stonehenge was the site of an annual three day music and camping festival centered around the performance of a thousand member pagan uke orchestra. Can you guess what powerful secret was kept in the Ark of the Covenant? Or what prompted construction of the Great Wall of China? And as the centuries wane, we learn what Nero actually strummed while Rome burned, as the ukulele became lost from the world for over five hundred years and the Dark Ages set across Europe.

Volumes 2 and 3 continue the ukulele’s journey into the modern world, but I have not yet received permission to offer a full review of that material. Due to the sensitive nature of this powerful and frightening information, Dr. O’Cutty has reportedly gone into hiding while security issues and publication details are carefully worked out. I can say little more at this juncture, but as the ukulele reemerges during the Renaissance (with none other than Leonardo Da Vinci as the agent of its resurgence), the intricate spiderweb of history seems to link a mountain of unlikely figures in a sinister global cabal whose massive conspiracy, driven by an unslakable lust for the ukulele’s power, consumed the world and shaped its events to the present day. Among those implicated are none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, the Freemasons, Pope Pius IV, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Thomas Edison, PT Barnum, Queen Victoria, the Dutch East India Company, Charles Darwin, The British Royal Society (who appears to have formed in response to signs of the ukulele in the cosmos!), Abraham Lincoln, T.S. Eliot, Karl Marx, Voltaire, Thomas Hobbes, Simon Bolivar, and a surprising villain, as Dr. O’Cutty shows that history’s greatest monster may very well be the insidious Benjamin Franklin, a man who was driven to madness while trying to unlock the fundamental secret of the ukulele’s perfection.