Tag Archives: children’s song

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

Lemonade,

iced tea

Coca-cola,

Pepsi

Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:

Lemonade,

crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

“I Believe I Can Fly” Parody

The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both originally from Pakistan. He has lived in Southern California all his life, with frequent trips to Pakistan to visit extended family. Although he graduated from a public high school, he attended a private Islamic elementary school until the third grade. He says there were Muslims of many backgrounds at the school, and one of his friends (who also happened to be of Pakistani descent) used to sing this as a joke during rehearsals for school programs. It is a partial parody of a once-popular song by the artist R. Kelly.

I believe i can die

I got shot by the FBI

My momma hit me with a chicken wing 

All the way to Burger King

 

Analysis: The informant (and, according to him, his other friends and classmates) always thought the song was funny, both because “the original song was about how, you know, you can do anything if you try hard and believe in yourself, and like… not letting your fears get in the way of…getting your dreams or whatever. And then it’s like, oh, I got shot by the FBI and my mom hates me…So, that was funny;” and also that the friend in question was also a bit of a troublemaker, so the just the fact of him singing the rather inappropriate song when he was supposed to be singing a school song, “made it even funnier” to the informant.

From a more objective point of view, the elementary school attended by the informant was located in South Los Angeles, which has a high population of African-American residents. It is quite possible that this parody was learned from neighbors or friends who were African-American, as it seems to give voice, through humor, to anxieties about dangers which are uniquely part of the reality of African-Americans in South LA–that is, being “shot by the FBI” or otherwise victimized by members of potentially racist law enforcement or the government. It’s also a very stark contrast between the original song’s message of hope and inspiration and this version’s obvious (justified) pessimism about American society. On the other hand, the second and third lines seem to include stereotypes about African Americans’ supposed fondness for fried chicken and fast-food and their strict parenting style.

An online search reveals that parodies of this song are common among African Americans from LA to Pittsburgh, revealing how far and wide the common anxieties of this minority group spreads.

The Little Piccolo Player

“Prišel je tsiganček

sajast kako vranček;

Igral je na piščalko

Milo in pelo

Kakor malo kdo.”

Translation:

“There came a little gypsy boy

Black with soot/dirtlike a crow; [Dark as a crow]

He played on the piccolo

gently and beautifully

like very few could.”

This  is a traditional Slovenian nursery rhyme, one that I was raised listening to as my mother sang it to me as a child. She said that it was a song generally sung with many children who held hands and danced in circles. The rhyme itself imbibes a deeply racist sentiment towards the Romani people, who are widely refered to across Europe as “tsiganci” or “gypsies. ” The second line, “sajast kako vranček,” works two fold: 1) “sajast” means sooty or dirty, implying that the boy is unclean or uninterested in being washed. 2) the line likens the boy’s skin color to that of a dark crow, calling special attention to his non-aryan complexion.

However, the informant and I both have affectionate relationships with this rhyme, as it is sung with a gleeful, youthful tone, thereby removing much of the willful malice of its inherent bigotry. In fact, it was only when the informant and I revisited the rhyme did she and I truly grasp how deeply the racial sentiment was pronounced. The informant is unclear as to where in particular it originated, though when she was growing up in the late 60s, it was a very popular children’s rhyme in the Slovenske Konjice, a region of northeastern Slovenia.

Miss Lucy

This is a children’s hand-clapping game that my informant played when she was in elementary school with other girls. The hand motion is similar to paddy cake; the participants’ right hands meet, then each participant claps their own hands together, then the left hands meet, and then it repeats. Some specific lines go with specific movements: at “operator”, the participants put their hand up by their ear with their thumb up and pinky sticking out, mimicking a telephone; at “dark dark dark”, there is just continual clapping with the word for emphasis; at “bra bra bra”, it is the same thing as “dark dark dark”.

“Miss Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell

Miss Lucy went to heaven, and the steamboat went to

Hello operator, please give me number nine

And if you disconnect me, I will chop off your

Behind the ‘fridgerator, there laid a piece of glass

Miss Lucy sat upon it, and it went right up her

Ask me no more questions, please tell me no more lies

The boys are in the bathroom, zipping up their

Flies are in the meadow, the bees are in the park

Miss Lucy and her boyfriend are kissing in the

D-A-R-K

D-A-R-K

D-A-R-K

Dark dark dark!

The dark is like the movies, the movie’s like a show

The show is like a tv show, and that is all I know

I know I know my ma, I know I know my pa

I know I know my sister with the 80 meter, 80 meter bra bra bra!”

This particular clapping game song has very simple hand movements, but the text is very interesting. It engages in a lot of scandalous tabooistic discourse, and is cleverly constructed so as not to actually say any inappropriate words. For example, at “Miss Lucy went to heaven, the steamboat went to/Hello operator”, the word “hello” serves both as the greeting and as the word “hell”, where the steamboat presumably went. However, because it’s inappropriate for primary aged children (generally female) to be talking about such things as boys zipping up their flies, it’s recited in a way where they’re not technically saying anything inappropriate, though they do mean it. This tabooistic discourse is indicative of the kind of things that children at this age would be wondering about, or hearing about, and it is often passed among children and taught by friends in older grades or older siblings, continuing its tradition.

Tic-Tac-Toe Children’s Game and Song

My informant showed me this game in the context of our Forms of Folklore JEP class. She claims to have learned it from her friend, a fellow second grader. She calls it “tic-tac-toe” and usually plays it at school, on the playground at recess and lunch and after school. She says it is played with two people. My informant says she likes and does it because it is fun. She especially likes to be tickled, during the “spider” portion. She also says she likes being able to push someone else around, though her teacher disproves. She says she tries not to hurt others, though, because it is not a good thing to do.

Material:

Each participant has both hands together, palms touching. Then, they sing “tic” and swipe the back of their hands against each other. They repeat this motion in the opposite direction and sing “tac,” and do so again while saying “toe.” They then clap their hands, and say “hit me.” Then, they move their right hands above their left, and clap their partner’s hand, saying “high.” They clap their own hand again, again saying “hit me.” They then move their right hand below their left to clap their partner’s hand and say “low.” They then interlace their fingers and turn their palms to their partners. They then touch their palms to those of their partners three times, saying “hit me three times in a row.” They then put their left hands in front of them, palms up, with their right hands curled into fists. They bring their right fists down upon their left hands three times (much like rock, paper, scissors) and say “tic,” “tac,” and “toe” for each downward swipe. They then each choose a symbol to represent with their hands (again, like rock, paper scissors), a fist for “rock,” a flat hand for “paper,” and the index and middle fingers pointed with the rest curled in for “scissors.” They do this until one person has accumulated three “wins.” (To win one must trump the other’s symbol with the winning symbol–paper beats rock, scissors beats paper and rock beats scissors). The person who accumulates these wins, has won all around. He or she turns the other person around, make’s a cross on the other person’s back, juts his or her elbow into their spine three times and then interlaces his or her fingers, and shoves the person from behind. There is also an optional “spider” move that would go between the elbow move and the shove, which consists of tickling the back of the other person’s neck. You can see the game here: TIc-Tac-Toe: Game And the winning ceremony here: TIc-Tac-Toe: Winning Ceremony

Analysis:

”Tic-tac-toe” seems pretty typical—it is a variation on rock paper scissors that has an introductory game. However, this introduction mirrors the conclusion, the winning ceremony. In the introduction the players ask one another to “hit me high/hit me low/hit me three times in a row.” This is a precursor to the end of the game. Once one person wins he/she makes a cross on the other’s back and hits the other “three times in a row.” Then, the hand motion of interlacing fingers occurs again, as the winner shoves the loser from behind. These repeated elements bring forth the most important part of the game: the violence.

Considering the neighborhood in which this piece of folklore was collected and in which my informant lives (the USC surrounding area), it is not terribly surprising to note the prevalence of violence. Even at this young age, my informant and those that play this game with her are aware of the violence surrounding them. Simultaneously, this is a school setting and so violence is strongly discouraged. The way my informant negotiates between these aspects of her environment is interesting. She says she likes being able to shove her fellow students, but also tries not to push them too hard because she believes that hurting others is not a good thing to do (reinforced by her teacher’s disapproval of the game). Furthermore, she also enjoys being on the receiving or losing end. She says that she enjoys having the “spider” crawl up her back. Though this is intended to be scary, she finds it enjoyable. This could indicate that she is in some way playing with fear—that she knows that she will be shoved, elbowed in the back and that a pretend spider will crawl up her back, but she will not be afraid. This mindset takes the fear away from the game and from those things that are intended to incite fear. This could indicate some need or desire to control one’s own fear–a need or desire to deal with surrounding violence by asserting one’s own control over it.

Down By the River Game and Song

My informant taught me this game in the context of our Forms of Folklore JEP class. My teaching partner and I brought up the game I know as “Down by the Banks,” when she shared this oicotype. She says that she learned this game from her friend, a fellow second grader. She says that she plays this game when she is bored, outside, or when her teacher gives her class free-time. She says she likes it because it is fun, and that is also why she plays it.

Material:

The students sit in a circle (with 3+ people), legs crossed and hands palms up. Each person should have one palm on top of one neighbor’s palm, and one palm beneath the other neighbor’s palm. So, for example, one’s right hand is above one’s right-hand neighbor’s left hand and one’s left hand is below one’s left- neighbor’s right hand. Then, one person is chosen to start. This person moves his/her hand (whichever hand is on top, in this case the right), and makes contact with his/her neighbor’s palm (in this case, the person’s right). This next person then makes contact with his/her neighbor’s right hand, and the pattern continues around the circle.

While this occurs, the students sing a song. The song can vary in speed, and is often primarily led by one student but sung by all. It goes as follows: “Down by the river with the Hanky Panky, with the bullside jump from bank to banky, with the east side, west side, suicide, pop!”

At the last word, “pop,” the person whose hand is last touched has lost and so must sit outside the circle while the other children continue to play on and eliminate others. In the final round, the students take one hand (again, the right) and hold the other student’s hand and pull their hands toward one student, and then toward the other. Whichever student’s hand is extended by the last word (again, “pop”) is eliminated, and the other student wins the game. You can see an example of this here: Down By The River.

Analysis:

This game is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it is intriguing that there is a clear understanding of spatial realms: the “east” and “west side.” Clearly, there is a sense of differentiation and an awareness of neighborhood identity. Also interesting is the phrase “hanky panky.” This phrase usually connotes sexual content, but the rest of the song does not follow up with this theme.

Then, the most interesting part of this piece of folklore is certainly the way it presents violence. The word “suicide” is certainly violent, as is the word “pop” in this situation. The chance mention of suicide points to its existence and prevalence in this neighborhood. Moreover, the use of the word “pop” as a signal of elimination seems especially intriguing, especially directly after the word “suicide.” Clearly, the person who loses is also killed, with a “pop,” a clear reference to the sound of a gun firing.

Considering the neighborhood in which this piece of folklore was collected and in which my informant lives (the USC surrounding area), it is not terribly surprising to note the prevalence of violence. Even at this young age, my informant and those that play this game with her are aware of the violence surrounding them.

 

Sana Sana

My informant grew up in Texas and was raised by her white and Puerto Rican mothers.  This is a healing chant that her Puerto Rican mother would sing to her whenever she had a scratch

Sana Sana

Colita de rana

Si nos sena ahora

Senaras mañana

 

In English it translates to:

Heal heal

Little frog

If you don’t heal today

you’ll heal tomorrow

 

My informant had a version that she would sing:

Sana sansa

Colita banana

Si nos ahora

Blahblbala

(kiss)

 

This song is a way of calming down the child when the child is hurt, but also invoking a bit of magic to help heal the child.  This version of the song comes from Puerto Rico, a very tropical place where little frogs are common.  This is an endearment to the child that also reminds the mother and child where the family is from, especially since the mother has moved away from her home and culture.  The second one that my informant would sing is a parody of the original in fractured Spanish which she did not speak fluently as a child.  It combined the “a kiss will make it better” with the Spanish song, much like her home which was combined with American and Puerto Rican cultures.  She made it rhyme like the original but it gets more and more jumbled as she goes on.

Children’s Jingle Bells

To the tune of “Jingle Bells”

Jingle bells

Jingle bells

We will hear no more.

We have captured Butterballs

and nailed him to the floor.

 

Took his boots

and his loot

only left his socks.

We gave him a beach party

and dumped him off the docks

 

Splishy, splash

Splishy, splash

We will hear forever more

Now the Fat Man’s hauling toys

Across the ocean floor.

 

My informant learned this version of jingle bells from a friend of his in elementary school. He and the other “no talent brothers” sang a number of these songs throughout elementary school. This song is sung primarily at christmas time, especially in the car after a version of jingle bells is aired on the radio. The song originally demonstrated the children’s rebellion against parental influences as many children’s songs do. However, my father only introduced this song to my brother and I after we had entered high school, past the point that we would sing it ourselves, so now it reflects more his desire to show that he is still a child at heart.