The Creepiest Lullabies from Around the World

14/11/2017, 13:24

Few things sound as soothing as a lullaby – on the surface, at least. Pay closer attention to the lyrics however, and you might feel differently. Most lullabies are much darker than the tunes they’re sung to might signal; even the popular nursery rhyme Rock-a-Bye Baby, which ends with the baby plummeting to the ground, is relatively tame when compared to some popular lullabies from around the world.

Using IBM’s Watson tool we analysed the tone of 6 of the creepiest lullabies we could find, to get a better understanding of the themes and emotions that are hidden behind the deceptively-soothing harmonies.

There are many theories regarding the scary nature of lullaby lyrics and although it may seem counter-productive to sing scary songs to children, there may be some logical reasons behind it.

Sing the Unsung

When you’re alone with your child, lullabies provide an ideal opportunity to sing the unsingable; a place where you can express your feelings about society. This perhaps explains why so many lullabies and nursery rhymes contain references to historical events.

Sing Away Your Fears

Another explanation suggests the mother uses the lullaby to sing away her fears to their newly-born child, in the comfort of physical togetherness. Often, the fears embody the mother’s worry about loss – as childhood death was far more common in years gone past.

Protection

In ancient Babylon, lullabies were sung as magical charms to protect sleeping children.

Strengthening Bonds

In the past, new mothers often took sole responsibility for their newborns, and raising a child alone is no easy feat. What better way to strengthen their bond than by terrifying the child into compliance?! 

Nana Nenê: Brazil

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.

Papao Bicho, get off the roof

Let this child sleep peacefully

Themes and elements:

  • The Cuca
  • Bicho Papão
  • Child Abandonment
  • A child-grabbing ox

Watson fear rating:

46%

Notes:

Nana Nene is packed full of nasty creatures. The first being the “Cuca”, an ugly, crocodile-faced woman who kidnaps sleeping children and only sleeps for one night every seven years. Bicho Papão is a mutant being that can take on the form of a bug and is attracted to disobedient children, whom it will eat. (source)

Dodo Titit: Haiti

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.

Themes and elements:

  • A child-eating crab
  • Child abandonment

Watson fear rating:

11%

Notes:

Once the baby is asleep, parents often end the lullaby with a victorious “Sleep, little one, the crab’s in the gumbo”. (source)

Bíum, bíum, Bambaló: Iceland

Bium, bium, bambalow,

Bambalow and dillidillidow.

My little friend I lull to rest.

But outside

A face looms at the window.

Themes and elements:

  • Gibberish
  • A lurking creature

Watson fear rating:

23%

Notes:

Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós recorded a haunting version of the lullaby which featured storms, blizzards and the famously long Icelandic winters.

Tili Tili Bom: Russia

Tili tili bom, close your eyes now

Someone’s walking outside the house

And knocks on the door

Tili tili bom, the night birds are chirping

He is inside the house

To visit those who can’t sleep

He walks. He is coming… closer

Tili tili bom, can you hear him closing in?

Lurking around the corner

Staring right at you.

Tili tili bom, the silent night hides everything

He sneaks up behind you

And he is going to get you

He walks. He is coming… closer

Themes and elements:

  • A murderous prowler
  • Child abduction
  • Absolute, paralysing terror

Watson fear rating:

41%

Notes:

It’s uncertain whether or not this is a traditional lullaby, or a modern one. The song’s origins appear to lie in the 2007 Russian horror film ‘Trackman’ – but it could also be inspired by the traditional Russian rhyme “Tilly Bom”.

Duermete Nino: Spain

Sleep my baby,

Sleep, baby, do!

The bogeyman's coming

And he will take you.

Sleep my baby,

Sleep, baby, do!

The bogeyman's coming

And he will eat you.

Themes and elements:

  • A bogeyman
  • Child abduction
  • Being eaten

Watson fear rating:

14%

Notes:

Sang to the tune of Rock-a-Bye Baby, this common Spanish lullaby features the Coco, similar to the Brazilian Cuca, but with the ability to take on many different forms.

Incili Bebek Ninnisi: Turkey

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.

Themes and elements:

  • Child abduction & neglect
  • Black eagles
  • Bloodshed

Watson fear rating:

25%

Notes:

This lullaby is part of a larger story involving a couple who begged the gods for a child in return for the sacrifice of three camels. Once the child was born, the father changed his mind and kept the camels, leaving the vengeful gods to exact their revenge.

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