The World’s Creepiest Lullabies Revealed!

The World’s Creepiest Lullabies Revealed!

Posted in Family
read time
9 mins

We know that lullabies work by decreasing heart rate and pain levels in babies, as found in research by Great Ormond Street. Yet that doesn’t explain why the lyrics to these lullabies can often be as creepy as any Brothers Grimm tale.

With this in mind, we’ve collected some of the strangest and most unsettling lullabies from around the world and created fittingly creepy posters for each one. You can learn more about the lullabies on this map (where you can also listen to the songs), or by reading below.

 

Illustration of The Highland Fairy lullaby

 

The Highland Fairy Lullaby - Scotland

This Scottish lullaby has a beautiful melody but alarming lyrics, telling the tale of a mother who leaves her baby outside. When she returns, she finds the baby changed. The lullaby discusses a common idea used to explain strange childhood behaviours.

These ‘changelings’ are believed to be children we would now recognise as having a learning difficulty, but without this scientific explanation, a myth was invented.

 

Lyrics in Translation

I left my baby lying here,
Lying here, lying here
I left my baby lying there
To go and gather berries.

I found the wee brown otter’s track
Otter’s track, otter’s track
I found the wee brown otter’s track
But ne’er a trace o’ my baby, O!

I found the track of the swan on the lake
Swan on the lake, swan on the lake
I found the track of the swan on the lake
But not the track of baby, O!

I found the trail of the mountain mist
Mountain mist, mountain mist
I found the trail of the mountain mist
But ne’er a trace of baby, O!

 

Illustration of Bium Bium lullaby.

 

Bium Bium – Iceland

This lullaby originates in Iceland and tells the story of a monster lurking outside, waiting to lull children away in the night. The Bium Bium is the name of the monster which waits for the children. Bium Bium is believed to have been originally written as part of a play called Fjalla-Eyvindur.

In the play, a mother is soothing her child to sleep so that she can drown the child and be free to join her husband who is running away from the authorities.

 

Lyrics in Translation

Bium bium bambaló
Bambaló and dilidillidó
My little friend and I lull to rest
But outside, a face looms at the window
When the mighty mountains
Fill your chest with burning desire,
I will play the langspil
And soothe your mind.

Bium bium bambaló
Bambaló and dilidillidó
My little friend I lull to rest
But outside, a face looks at the window
When the cruel storms rage
And the dark blizzard crouches above,
I shall light five candles
And drive away the winter shadows.

 

Illustration of Rock-A-Bye Baby lullaby

 

Rock-A-Bye Baby – USA

There are two theories as to the meaning of Rock-A-Bye Baby. Some believe it refers to King James II of England. The King and his wife, Mary of Modena, were unable to produce a male heir. It is believed they had a baby boy smuggled into the birthing room and claimed him as their own.

Another theory is that the lullaby was written by an English migrant to America who married a Native American woman. Native American women would place their babies in birch cradles and suspend them in trees to be rocked by a breeze.

 

Lyrics

Rock-a-bye baby,
In the treetop.
When the wind blows,
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall.
Down will come baby,
Cradle and all.

 

Illustration of Hush Little Baby

 

Hush Little Baby – USA

Originating in the southern states of America, it's unclear just how old this lullaby is. A parent sings to their child, trying to bribe them into going to sleep and is popular because of the repetitive lyrics and soothing rhythm. However, there is a darker side to the song.

In the final lines, they are so desperate to keep the baby asleep, it suggests the mother would see the baby’s death as a blessing as they would become the ‘sweetest little baby in town’.

 

Lyrics

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word.
Mama’s gonna buy you a Mockingbird.
And if that mockingbird won’t sing,
Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.
And if that diamond ring turns brass,
Mama’s gonna buy you a looking glass.
And if that looking glass gets broke,
Mama’s gonna buy you a billy goat.
And if that billy goat won’t pull,
Mama’s gonna buy you a cart and bull.
And if that cart and bull turn over,
Mama’s gonna buy you a horse and cart.
And if that horse and cart fall down,
You’ll still be the sweetest baby in town.

 

Dodi Titi lullaby illustration from Haiti

 

Dodo Titi – Haiti

The most popular lullaby in Haiti, this song is often partly improvised by parents trying to get their baby to sleep. As with many other lullabies, the child is warned if they don’t go to sleep, they will come to harm.

 

Lyrics in Translation

Sweet sleep, mommy’s little one,
Sweet sleep, daddy’s little one.
If you do not sleep, the crab will eat you.
If you do not sleep, the crab will eat you.
Your daddy’s away he’s at the river,
Your mommy’s away getting firewood.
If you do not sleep, the crab will eat you.
If you do not sleep, the crab will eat you.

Sweet sleep, mommy’s little one,
Sweet sleep, daddy’s little one.
If you do not sleep, the crab will eat you.
If you do not sleep, the crab will eat you.
Your mommy’s away she’s at the river,
Your daddy’s away he’s trapping crabs.
If you do not sleep, the crab will eat you.
If you do not sleep, the crab will eat you.
Sleep, little one,
Crab’s in the gumbo.
Sleep, little one!
Crab’s in the gumbo.

 

Dodo Piti Popo lullaby illustration from Trinidad

 

Dodo Piti Popo – Trinidad

This Trinidadian lullaby has been sung for generations, but it’s exact beginnings are unknown. It is based on a demon who often features in Caribbean folklore, called the jumbie. A jumbie is the spirit of an evil person who has died. They are said to be a shapeshifter, moving between the form of a scary old witch (soucouyant) and a ball of fire.

The warning in the lullaby is that if the child doesn’t fall asleep they will be carried away by this spirit and their blood will be drained.

 

Lyrics in Translation

Sleep, little baby,
The little baby doesn’t want to sleep.
The jumbie will eat him
The soucouyant will suck his blood.

 

Que Llueva, Que Llueva lullaby illustration from Argentina.

 

Que Llueva, Que Llueva – Argentina

This lullaby is one of the most popular in Argentina and Colombia. It is sung to stop children from being afraid of the rain as the area has many thunderstorms. The song links bad weather to witchcraft and magic.

It is similar to many of its Spanish counterparts as traditional Spanish folk songs are often preoccupied with nature and the weather.

 

Lyrics in Translation

Let it rain, let it rain,
The witch is in the cave,
The birds sing,
The witch rises in the air.
Oh yes, oh no,
Let it pour down
Under the bed
With water and soap.

 

Boju Boju lullaby illustration from Nigeria

 

Boju Boju – Nigeria

This is another lullaby with a warning. It tells children that if they don’t stay in bed with their eyes shut, a monster will find and kill them. 'Boju Boju' means a mask or could refer to a version of peekaboo. In this song, there is a reference to the god Oro of the Yoruba religion.

The Oro referred to in the song, is a masquerade in his honour where the men disguise themselves as spirits while the women stay at home and hide. Oloro is the high chief in charge of the masquerade, with Oloro translating to ‘chief masquerader’.

 

Lyrics in Translation

Cover your eyes,
Oh!
The Oloro is coming,
Oh!
Go and hide,
Oh!
Should I open them?
Open, open, open them!
Open, open, open them!
Whoever he finds will be killed,
Oh!

 

Duérmete, Mi Nińo lullaby illustration from Spain

 

Duérmete, Mi Nińo - Spain

A popular lullaby across Spain and Latin America, Mi Nińo gently warns a sleepless child to think twice about staying awake. If they don’t then the ‘Coco’, which is an indistinct monster, will come to take them away. In the second verse, the Coco won’t just take them away but will eat them.

In Latin culture, the mother is traditionally the parent who stays home with the child, therefore this song is traditionally only ever song by mothers or women caring for a young child.

 

Lyrics in Translation

Sleep little one,
Sleep my love,
Or the Coco will come and take you,
Away.
Sleep little one,
Sleep my love,
Or the coco will come and eat you up.

 

Illustration of Bayu Bayushki Bayu lullaby from Russia.

 

Bayu Bayushki Bayu - Russia

Ensuring children in Russia and Belarus are unlikely to get out of bed during the night, this lullaby warns them they must stay in the middle of their bed or a wolf might come out from beneath it and grab them. The origins of this lullaby aren’t known but it remains very popular in Russia and is still sung today.

 

Lyrics in Translation

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.
Sleep sleep sleep.

 

Illustration of Lelo Ledung lullaby from Indonesia.

 

Lelo Ledung – Indonesia

Originating on the Indonesian island of Java, it tells the story of a giant who carries away crying children. It is mainly aimed at little girls as it warns them that they look ugly when they cry and asks them to make their families proud.

Sung over a series of stanzas, each one tells the child to fall straight to sleep to avoid being taken by the monster. It is believed this is an ancient lullaby that has been sung for thousands of years and it is still very much popular in Java today.

 

Lyrics in Translation

Tak lelo…lelo…lelo ledung…
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 honourably,
Be a woman of high importance,
Bring honour 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 sling.
If you keep crying, you’ll make me nervous.

 

Illustration of Babes in the Woods lullaby from Australia.

 

Babes in the Woods – Australia

It’s not certain how old this popular Australian lullaby is, but it is based on a fairy tale that has been around for generations and has now gone on to inspire numerous pantomimes and plays. The lullaby tells the story of two children who are left to fend for themselves in the forest and sometime later, they die alone.

It doesn’t sound like a very soothing subject for young children, but it does fit with the theme of using lullabies to warn children not to go out alone. It continues to be a well-loved song in Australia today.

 

Lyrics

Oh, my friends don't you know,
How a long time ago,
There were two little children,
Whose names I don't know.
They were taken away,
On a cold winter's day,
And left in the woods,
So I heard some folks say.
And they sobbed, and they sighed,
And they bitterly cried,
'Til, at last, they grew weary,
And lay down and died.
And the robins so red,
When they saw they were dead,
Took strawberry leaves,
And over them spread.
Oh, babes in the woods,
Poor babes in the woods,
How sad is the story,
Of the babes in the woods.

 

It's clear that lullabies are embedded deeply into the psyche of many cultures and even though some of them may be scary, they do help babies and us to fall asleep. See more on the world's creepiest lullabies on this map.