When you were little, you most likely sang “Ring Around the Rosy” on the playground without a care in the world. But as you grew older, you probaby learned that the seemingly harmless rhyme was actually about the Black Death. This obviously gives the tune a more ominous tone.
These rhymes and lullabies, however, are pretty upfront about their inherent horror. Most of them deal with illness, death, and a monster that, for no particular reason, will come and eat you. Thankfully, most kids don’t pay any mind to the words until they’re old enough to realize that mythical, man-eating beasts don’t actually exist. Still, the fact that these things are directed at children is a little disturbing.
1. “Nana Nene” is a Brazilian lullaby about a crocodile who will haunt your child’s nightmares.
Hush little baby/Cuca is coming to get you/Papa went to the fields/mama went to work.
Black-faced ox/Come grab this child/Who is scared of grimaces.
Bogeyman/Get off the roof/Let this child sleep peacefully.
2. “Duermete Mi Niño” is a Spanish lullaby in which a wolf-like creature is said to torture and eat children.
Sleep little one/Sleep already/Or the Coco will come and take you away.
Sleep little one/Sleep already/Or the Coco will come and eat you up.
3. “Dodo Titit” is a Hatian lullaby featuring a killer crab.
Night-night little mama/Night-night little mama/If you don’t sleep/the crab will eat you/If you don’t sleep/the crab will eat you.
Your mama isn’t here/she went to the market/Your papa isn’t here/he went to the river/If you don’t sleep/the crab will eat you/If you don’t sleep/the crab will eat you.
4. “Bayu Bayushki Bayu” is yet another lullaby about a wolf, this time from Russia.
Sleep sleep sleep/Don’t lie too close to the edge of the bed/Or little grey wolf will come/And grab you by the flank/Drag you into the woods/Underneath the willow root.
5. In an Italian lullaby called “Ninna Nanna,” pretty much everyone is out to get you.
Ninna nanna, ninna oh/To whom shall I give this baby?
If I give it to the old hag/She’ll keep it for a week.
If I give it to bogeyman/He’ll keep it for an entire year.
If I give it to the while wolf/He’ll keep it for a long time.
Lullaby sleep fairies/Send my baby to sleep.
6. On the island of Java, children fear the lullaby of “Lelo Ledung,” which tells of a scary giant coming to snatch them in the night.
Please hush, don’t keep on crying/My child with a lovely face. If you cry, you won’t look as beautiful.
I pray that you can live honorably/Be a woman of high importance/Bring honor to your parents’ name/Be a warrior of your country.
Please hush, my child/There/The moon is full/Like the head of a scary giant/One who’s looking for a crying child.
Tak lelo…lelo…lelo ledung/Please hush, my beautiful child/I am carrying you in a “kawung” batik sling/If you keep on crying, you’ll make me nervous.
7. In Iceland, the lullaby “Bíum, Bíum, Bambalóu” speaks of a ghostly presence.
Beeum, beeum, bambalow, bambalow and dillidillidow/My little friend I lull to rest/But outside/A face looms at the window.
8. Also of Icelandic origin, the tale of “Sofðu Nú Svínið þItt” is just plain creepy.
Sleep, you black-eyed pig/Fall into a deep pit of ghosts.
9. The “Highland Fairy Lullaby” from Scotland guarantees that parents will lose their children one day. Fun times!
I left my baby lying there, lying there, lying there/I left my baby lying there/To go and gather blaeberries.
Ho-van, ho-van gorry o go/Gorry o go, gorry o go/Ho-van, ho-van gorry o go/I’ve lost my dearest baby-o.
I saw the little yellow fawn/But never saw my baby.
I traced the otter on the lake/But could not trace my baby.
Ho-van, ho-van gorry o go/Gorry o go, gorry o go/Ho-van, ho-van gorry o go/I never found my baby-o.
10. Malaysian singer Zee Avi decided to create “Lima Anak Ayam,” a lullaby about dying baby chicks.
Five chicks/One chick dies/One chick dying leaves four.
11. The Norwegian lullaby “Kråkevisa” is about a dead cow.
…then he skinned the cow and cut her in pieces/she weighed near sixteen and twenty pounds
From the pelt he made twelve pair of shoe/she gave the best pair to Mother/
And the meat he salted in vessels and barrels/and preserved the tongue for the Yule meal.
From the entrails he made twelve pair of rope/and the claws he used for dirt-forks/
And the beak he used for a church-boat/that people could sail both to and fro.
And the mouth he used for grinding grain/and he made the ears into trumpets.
And from the eyes he made glass for the hall/and the neck he placed on the church for decoration.
12. Turkish lullaby “Incili Bebek Ninnisi” lulls children to sleep with soothing tales of a ritualistic camel sacrifices, among other things.
Above black eagles wheeling/All of a sudden swooping/My little baby stealing/Sleep, little baby, sleep.
Above black eagles soaring/A crown of pearls left lying/Your stupid father snoring/Sleep, little baby, sleep.
Above black eagles flying/My little baby clutching/And all the world a-spying/Sleep, little baby, sleep.
Above black birds ascending/My baby’s flesh a-rending/And all the world attending/Sleep, little baby, sleep.
If you didn’t hear these growing up, congrats! You probably had a slightly happier childhood. Probably.