«Ambarabà ciccì coccò
tre civette sul comò
che facevano l’amore
con la figlia del dottore;
il dottore si ammalò
ambarabà ciccì coccò!»
Ambarabà ciccì coccò, three owls on the dresser, which made love with the doctor’s daughter; the doctor got sick, ambarabà ciccì coccò.
[there is not a proper translation as also in Italian it does’t have a metaphorical or deeper sense, as the main purpose is the one for the words to rhyme one with the other and sort of articulate and give rhythm to the count children should do with it]
My informant is a 19 year old girl who was born in Crotone, Calabria(Southern Italy), but who spent most of her lifetime in Bologna (Italy). She claimed this piece to be an “integral part” of her up-bringing and childhood, and while recounting this to me, she naturally started to intone this rhyme, while pointing the fingers to me and the other people present. In fact, this nursery rhyme is usually performed with hand-gestures, in which fingers point people in a group so to ‘do the count’.
Context: (the context of the performance)
My informant performed this over a dinner, in which other friends were present, and they all started to participate in the ‘practice’.
This nursery rhyme is extremely interesting from multiple perspective.
First of all, it is something which, despite being directly associated to infantry and childhood, is used by adults as well, especially in the context of folk-speech. For example, if you do not know what to choose between two options, people will say to you “do Ambarabà ciccì coccò” which basically mans ‘do the count’ —something similar to what in English would be toss a coin.
Another curious aspect of it, it’s its evolution throughout time. I have, indeed, recently discovered that, in the original version, the verse “tre civette sul comò che facevano l’amore con la figlia del dottore” actually was “tre civette sul comò che facevano timore alla figlia del dottore”, which translated would be “three owls on the dresser which intimidated the doctor’s daughter”. This gives a complete new value to the song, as it shows how some means of expressions and communication young children have -like folk-songs or rhymes- are used by them in the attempt of approaching the adult’s world. Int his case, the fact that the three owls, from frightening the girl, make love with her, (beside the strange and quite perverse connotation) transform and include a grown-up thematic into a playful song. In this way, children not only indirectly get closer to a new and mature topic, but they can also be directly advised against certain behaviors. Particularly, little girls are advised not to act like the doctor’s daughter did, who, by making love with the three birds, made his father become ill.