USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘lullaby’
Childhood
Musical

Indonesian Lullaby

This is a lullaby that the informant’s father used to sing to her and her sister.

Translation

“Miel, go to sleep. Miel, go to sleep. If you don’t go to sleep, you’re going to get bit by ants.” The alternate ending means, “you’ll get bit by a fly.”

Informant’s Thoughts

The informant described this as a dark lullaby, and even mentioned that her sister used to hate the song and that it would keep her up. The informant herself said she never had a problem going to sleep, despite the lullaby being dark. Her father most likely learned it from his parents, since it is meant to be a song that parents sing to their children to scare them into sleeping. The informant doesn’t know of any name for the lullaby, but her father would call it “Informant bobo”, meaning “Informant sleep.”

Background & Analysis

The informant’s parents are from Indonesia, however the informant herself was born in the U.S., but is fluent in both Indonesian and English. The informant and I live in the same residence hall, and for this folklore collection, we got pizzas together and just sat down and ate them in my room while talking and sharing stories. I think it is an interesting, if somewhat backwards logic, that parents sing this song to coerce their children into going to sleep, since in American culture, lullabies are generally supposed to be sweet and gentle songs that “lull” a child to sleep. Perhaps the lyrics are supposed to be a sort of joke and meant to be ignored, however it would be difficult not to take the words seriously when living a country (Indonesia) that is home to a host of exotic insect species.

Musical

Chanda Mama

Original Text:

“Chanda Mama Door Ke

Puye Pakaye Bhur Ke

Aap Kaye Taali Mein

Mune Ko De Pyali Mein” (Hindi)

Direct Translation: 

Uncle moon from far away

Is making Puye (dessert) with sugar

You eat in a plate and

give the little child a little plate

Background:

This is a lullaby that the informant remembers hearing as a child. His dad mainly sung it to him, although his mom would sing it from time to time too. There was one night that his dad didn’t sing it to him and he couldn’t sleep. The informant said that it reminds him of his childhood now and going to bed.  When I asked if there was a deeper meaning to the lyrics, he said that it seemed pretty nonsensical, but he said that it’s significant that you let parents eat first out of respect.

Context:

The informant’s parents sung this lullaby to him when he was a child. He said it’s a pretty common song that parents would sing to their children in Indian culture.

Personal Thoughts:

When I first asked him what it meant, he said he didn’t know. But when I asked him to type out the lyrics, he started to realize what it meant because he speaks Hindi. I thought this was interesting because the song had simply started to represent a warm feeling of bedtime with parents, rather than what the lyrics actually were talking about.

 

Musical

Tuntun-Tuntun-Taara

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Billi ne chuhe ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Chawkidaar ne chor ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

 

Translation:

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock (Chorus)

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat killed the mouse

Hai!

(Chorus) x 2

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

The guard killed the thief

Hai!

(Chorus)

Analysis: For some reason, similar to many Western nursery rhymes and lullabies, this song is a particularly violent one. It talks about the elimination of a small threat (a mouse) and then of a much larger, much more serious threat (a thief). But this elimination takes place in a very definitive, violent manner–murder, essentially. Unlike Western lullabies, however (some that come to mind are Rockabye Baby, Rain Rain Go Away, Old Daddy Long Legs, and Sing a Song of Sixpence), the violence is not perpetrated on children or seemingly innocent bystanders, but on entities who do pose a real threat to the health and safety of the child and indeed the whole family and therefore could be said to “deserve what they got”. Mice spread disease and could ruin a family’s crop and thereby cause them to starve. Thieves also could cause financial ruin and would not hesitate to do away with any family member who discovered them robbing the house in the dead of night. In rural areas, or places that didn’t have a very trustworthy law enforcement and protection system, the idea that there were people (or animals) that would be able to protect a child from harm must have been very comforting.

Childhood
Folk speech
general
Gestures
Musical

A bag of potatoes

 

Context

This short song/lullaby is performed to a child of the ages 0-3 years of age for no particular reason. When sung, the adult is usually hugging the child and swaying along to the beat of the song.

Material

Yo vendo un costal de papas, ¿quien me lo quiere comprar? Lo vendo por diabluriento y porque me ha pagado mal.  

Translation

I sell a bag of potatoes, who wants to buy it? I sell him for mischief and because he has paid me wrong.

Meaning of the Song

The child is being referred to as a bag of potatoes that the adult wants to sell because the child is always getting into trouble and doing wrong.

Analysis by the informant

The informant is unsure as to where she learned the song but she believes it was once a romance song but she changed the wording of a section of the song so it would be a childhood song instead. The informant does not remember singing it to her daughters but she does sing it now to her grandsons whom live with her and are of ages 2 and 4. Her youngest grandson sometimes sings along with her as she sings it to him. The informant performs the song as a playful form with her grandsons because she carries them and they sing it with her. It is a playful form in which she tells them how much of troublemakers they are but that she still loves them.

Analysis by the interviewer

I think this is a nice short song that is not exactly a lullaby but not a full song or proverb, just a short saying which has a lot of meaning to both the informant and the child. Seeing it in its original context, I believe that the children get the same meaning from the short song as the informant because the children are always smiling and in a good mood when it is being sung to them.

Musical
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Gypsy Rover

The Gypsy Rover

A lullaby that the informant’s  grandmother would sing to her mom:

 

“The gypsy rover came over the hill,

down the through the valley so shady.

whistled and he sand, ‘till the green wood sprang,

and he won the heart of a lady.

“And then it’s like:

“Ah-di-do, ah-di-do-da-day,

ah-di-do-ah-di-day-O!

whistled and he sang, ‘till the green wood sprang,

and he won the heart of a lady.

“And then it’d be like, it, like, there’s a bunch of, um, different parts, but it would be like, the main one of them, was like, this girl falls in love with the gypsy person, and um, her father doesn’t like it, but she’s, but the part that I remember at least:

“He is no gypsy, my father, she said,

the lord of the valley’s all over.

And I shall stay ‘till my dying day,

With the whistling gypsy rover.

“So it’s just, like, a long ballad thing that my mom would sing to me as a lullaby. I can just totally see this being a 70’s ballad now that I think about it, but I always thought it was like, some special song that she knew from somewhere, that was handed down through the generations.”

 

The informant’s mother sang it if she couldn’t get to sleep beginning maybe when she was two or three (her mother had been singing it as long as she could remember). It was her “go-to” lullaby. She is unaware of the origins of the song, but she liked it because it wasn’t a typical lullaby and nobody else had heard it. She also liked it because it is a long saga, and she says she’ll have to write it down so she can sing it to her children at some point.

The tune of this song is easy to follow because it repeats for each stanza throughout the duration of the song (even for the part where words are replaced by sounds). This may be what makes it enjoyable and easy to pass on; however, the length of it (the informant only knew parts of it) may be a hindrance to spreading by those who do not have great memory skills (the informant said she’d have to write it down). The combination of enjoyable easiness and that challenge in the length seem to make it more precious.

Musical

German Folksong: Over de Stillen Straten / Over the Quiet Streets

Link to audio recording of song: Over de Stillen Straten

Background on German Folksongs:

Q. Do you know how old these songs are?

A. No, and I think that’s part of folklore—you don’t really know where it comes from, it wasn’t written by anyone in particular. My mother must have taught me some, and at school, I imagine I learned some.

Q. When would people sing folksongs?

A. While we were walking places in a group, we would sing. And singing while walking, you know, is kind of fun. You can walk to the beat, and it gives you something to do. And I remember that they were calling on me because I used to know all the words. And I was the littlest one on the group, I was only five years old, but I used to know all the words, so whenever they didn’t remember the words, the older kids would call me, “Eva, what are the words again?” so I would come running and tell them the words, and it made me feel good, it made me feel important because here are these older kids, and I have to tell them the words. Those are some of my earliest memories.

Songs were often sung while working. If you had some menial work to do, and you’d get bored doing that, you would sing. For example, when spinning—women used to do a lot of spinning—they would sing, just to amuse themselves. Or when they were ironing; my mother used to tell me, “this is an ironing song,” because they had to do a lot of ironing, and it’s boring work. And my mother and I would sing when we did the dishes because that, too, was boring, menial work. She would do the dishes, and I would dry them, and we would sing together. And we would harmonize. You sing when you work or you walk, and you don’t use any machines, because machines make noise and then there’s no room for singing…so it’s kind of part of the preindustrial age.

Q. People don’t sing as much as they used to?

A. We sing in certain contexts, like at school in choir, but just while doing stuff, not very much anymore. It’s really sad—it’s kind of a dying tradition.

Q. Do you know if German folksongs are very different from other folksongs?

A. Well, you will see that most German songs are in the major key, which sets them apart from eastern European folk music, which is usually minor.

Over de Stillen Straten / Over the Quiet Streets:

This song is a lullaby…There are many lullabies. This song is also in dialect. Originally, all folk songs are in the dialects of the regions where they came from. Then, many of them were cleaned up and translated into High German, but this one was not, so this one, I know in the original dialect form, which is the dialect from the region I came from, a region in the north of Germany.

So, I think they took several steps. The songs came from a certain region, and then they were collected by some of the collectors in the nineteenth century, and then they were compiled into collections of songs, and then they became sort of universally known, in that form—not quite as original as they were.

Q. What is High German?

A. High German isn’t really any dialect, it’s something that people just agreed on as the language that everybody would know. For very long, there were only dialects, and not any form of High German. It didn’t really have a capital, the way England and France did. What really killed the dialects is television. Now, in everyone’s living room, you have High German, and you hardly ever speak dialect anymore. There are some regions where they hold onto it, like Bavaria.

Q. In Germany, do people have a sense of having a regional identity, as opposed to a German identity?

A. Yes. There was not really a German identity until 1870, with Bismarck. There were little states, and those gave people identity. Bismarck united Germany as the first Reich. But people still have very local culture.

Analysis: This song has a melancholy, plaintive melody, and is very lyrical. It stands out against the other songs that my informant sang to me because it is the only one in a minor key; according to my informant, almost all German songs are in major keys. It seems reasonable that a lullaby would be less upbeat, however, since it is meant to quiet children down before they fall asleep. Since this particular folksong has not been translated into High German, it remains much closer to its original form than many other German folksongs today.

German lyrics can be found online on numerous websites, including these ones:

http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=36693

http://www.textlog.de/gedicht-nacht.html

Life cycle
Musical

Hush Little Baby

Informant Bio/Context
My informant is a mother in her late 40s who works as a database manager for a community college. Her two children are both grown and live away from home. She lives with her husband, their dog and two cats.

My informant used to sing the lullaby written below to her kids when they were infants. She told me: “I like lullabies and I think it worked to calm the kids when they were cranky and tired but couldn’t fall asleep. Maybe it didn’t make a difference, plenty of moms don’t sing to their kids, but me I like music, so I did and they slept.”

Song Lyrics
Hush little baby, don’t say word
Mamma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird
If that mockingbird don’t sing
Mamma’s gonna buy you a diamond ring
If that diamond ring turns to brass
Mamma’s gonna buy you a looking glass
If that looking glass gets broke
Mamma’s gonna buy you  a billy goat
If that billy goat won’t pull
Mamma’s gonna buy you a cart and a bull
If that cart and bull falls down
You’ll still be the sweetest baby in town
So hush little baby, don’t say a word
Mamma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.

Analysis
My informant told me that she couldn’t remember where she first heard the song, only that she can’t remember not knowing it, so she suspects she learned it in her childhood. She does not remember her parents ever singing it to her. She likes lullabies because she finds them “endearing and calming.” So when she had children she would sing them the ones she remembered from her youth, and others she would look up in books of nursery rhymes.

Lullabies feel personal, even if singing them doesn’t come from a family tradition. The lilting melodies are soothing, and the rhymes innocent and nonsensical, making them easy for parents to share with their kids. The association of lullabies with childhood and our children gives us a sense of the cycle of life, from child to parent, regardless of whether or not we are singing the same lullabies to our kids as our parents sang to us.

Childhood
Musical

Nigerian Lullaby

“So my sophomore year, one of my acting professors was this big crazy guy that did a lot of volunteer work around the world. He was like, really big into using theatre as therapy and stuff like that, and he goes to Nigeria every few years to work with the people there, and give aid, and use theatre to help them deal with the situation over there. And anyway, he taught us this song, which is a Nigerian lullaby, and its a round. And I don’t remember if he actually told us what it meant, no one in the class remembers what it meant, and we might even be singing the wrong words. But we like sing it, the people in my acting class, that took that class with him sing it. We use it as a warm up song before performances, because its pretty gentle on the voice, and also sometimes when we get together, and we’ve been drinking we sing it, because everyone knows the tune, and its a round so it sounds good without people having to know how to create harmonies and stuff like that.”

Nigerian Lullaby

 

I find it remarkable that the song has really been re-purposed from a lullaby to essentially a drinking song by the group of actors, who really don’t know what the song means, and could be singing the wrong words anyway. I think it’s a testament that certain sounds, like harmonies are almost universally pleasing. I don’t believe the meaning of the song is the reason people in Nigeria still sing it to their children, but rather that the sounds are relaxing and pleasing to the ear. That’s why people from cultures as disparate as Nigeria and the United States can find so much enjoyment in the same tune.

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