Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Sleep, perchance to scream

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Tempting though it is, to upload an audio file of me singing this, the whole point of a lullaby is to send a little person off into a peaceful slumber, not bring on nightmares. Well, at least that's what I thought, until I read otherwise. Apparently one of the earliest lullabies on record - some 4000 years old - actually warns the baby against crying and disturbing the house god. Basically, baby needs to stop making a noise or risk being eaten by demons. It gets worse. A lullaby sung by the Luo people of Kenya warns that a crying baby may get eaten by hyenas!

Of course, there are psychological, cultural, and - wait for it - archaeomusicological explanations as to why some lullabies have a dark side. You can read more, here.

Me? I'll settle for Natalie Merchant singing me off into the Land of Nod, thank you.

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12 comments:

  1. Oh, I want to be a archaeomusicologist when I grow up.

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    1. I would seriously caution against growing up, Alan.

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  2. this makes me so sentimental for when my grown men were just babes.

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    1. I know Kathe W, blink and they're all grown up.

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  3. I've always wondered why our fairy-takes, and I meant fairy-takes, because you are so right, most of them take far more harm than good....and still we read them over and over. Lately, I've been reciting fun happier tales that my grand-delights are skillfully learning the words to. Like Santa Claus is coming to town and the Yellow Submarine!

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    1. I'm all for the 'fun happier' option, Karen. Yellow Submarine, good choice!

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  4. I always found "Rock-a-by baby" rather discomforting:

    Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
    When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
    When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
    And down will come baby, cradle and all

    *oopsie* ;-9

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    1. It's an odd thing, Merisi, even though we're aware of the words, the soothing qualities of the tune take over. Oopsie, indeed!

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  5. lucky babies can't understand a word of it :)- I guess the words are mainly for the Mum or Dad to let off a little steam when they've been kept up all night with a crying bubba - but it is the melody that is the main thing. Fairy tales on the other hand are designed as warnings to children - if you actually lived in a dark forest, the last thing you would want is your child wandering off - better to scare the bejeesus out of them with a horror story - hahaha

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    1. You're right, Gabrielle. And if the words don't sit easy, the tunes are always easy enough to hum!

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  6. the classic rock-a-bye-baby lullaby is a short and simple rhyme that is repeated. repetition is part of a process that will lull a baby to sleep.

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    1. A repetitive rhyme and a little motion in time, Odette. It usually works, doesn't it? Although I've walked many a mile with a pushchair to achieve the same result!

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