If there’s one image that sums up all the feelings of sweetness and tenderness in the world, it’s a mother singing a lullaby to her baby. But if we listen closer to the lyrics of lullabies, they're not all so sweet. Even Rockabye Baby ends with the crack of broken branch as baby plummets to the ground. Here are 12 creepy lullabies from around the world that might keep you up at night.
1. "Nana Nenê" // Brazil
This Brazilian lullaby invokes Cuca (a crocodile-hag from legends), the idea of parents not being there to protect you, an ox-monster, and a bogeyman called Bicho Papão lurking on the roof. All the stuff that puts a child right at ease.
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. "Duérmete Niño" // Spanish
This lullaby is sung in Spain and Latin American in various versions. It warns that if you don’t go to sleep, a shapeshifting monster called the Coco will eat you up. In some countries the Coco is substituted with el Lobo (the wolf), which doesn’t make it any less scary.
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" // Haiti
In Haiti, it’s a crab that’s going to get you while your parents are away.
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" // Russia
In Russia, it’s a wolf that’s going to get you off the edge of your bed and drag you off into the woods.
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.
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5. "Ninna Nanna" // Italy
In Italy, the old hag, the bogeyman, and the white wolf will get you, but not because they’ll drag you off. No, your mother’s going to just give you to them.
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. "Lelo Ledung" // Javanese
On the Indonesian island of Java there is a scary giant looking for crying children. Also, crying will make you ugly.
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.
Translation from mamalisa.com; listen here.
7. and 8. "Bíum, bíum, Bambaló" and "Sofðu nú svínið þitt" // Iceland
Iceland has perhaps the scariest creature of all. The one that you don’t even know what it is. All you know is that it’s lurking, lurking…
Beeum, beeum, bambalow, Bambalow and dillidillidow. My little friend I lull to rest. But outside A face looms at the window.
Listen to the Sigur Rós version with lyrics and translation here.
There's also this Icelandic classic, which I haven’t been able to find the melody for:
Sofðu nú svínið þitt, svartur í augum. Farðu í fúlan pytt, fullan af draugum
Which translates to
Sleep, you black-eyed pig. Fall into a deep pit of ghosts.
9. "Highland Fairy Lullaby" // Scotland
In Scotland there are no scary creatures to carry you off. Your mother’s just going to put you down and lose you.
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. "Lima Anak Ayam" // Malaysia
In this medley of lullabies by Malaysian singer Zee Avi, the third one, starting at 1:10, goes straight to baby chicks dying.
Five chicks One chick dies One chick dying leaves four
11. "Kråkevisa" // Norway
This Norwegian lullaby ballad isn’t directly about a sleeping child and what will happen to them, but about a man who thinks a crow is going to kill him, so he kills it first. A gory catalog of all the uses he makes out of the carcass follows.
… then he skinned the Crow and cut her in pieces she weighed near sixteen and twenty pounds from the pelt he made twelve pair of shoes he 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
The lesson of the song is finally summed up in the moral, “A person who cannot make use of a crow like this is not worthy of getting a crow.” Listen here.
12. "Incili Bebek Ninnisi" // Turkey
This Turkish lullaby comes from a story where a man who wished for a child promised that he would sacrifice three camels if he had a child, but on the way to the sacrifice decided to keep the camels instead. This, from the perspective of the singing mother, is what happened next.
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.
Full lullaby text and story here.