Parenting

18 Dark And Disturbing Lullabies From Around The World

Turns out, scaring children to sleep is a global phenomenon.
05/16/2018 04:35pm ET
Emma Kim via Getty Images
Lullaby melodies often sound sweet, but the lyrics can tell a very grim tale. 

Lullabies may be sweet, soothing bedtime songs, but they can also be creepy as hell when you really listen to the lyrics. (And if you’ve seen enough scary movie trailers, you know even the nice ones can sound freaky.)

This dark lullaby phenomenon is certainly not limited to the U.S. Parents around the world have lulled their babies to sleep with grim words about menacing monsters or violent circumstances.

Below, we’ve rounded up a sample of dark and disturbing lullabies from around the world.

“Rock-A-Bye Baby”

This classic lullaby, which is well-known in much of the English-speaking world, sounds very sweet. But the ending is pretty unnerving, as it seems like a baby has fallen from a treetop to his or her death ... or at least serious injury.

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.

“Bíum Bíum Bambaló”

This Icelandic lullaby has been covered by Sigur Rós. While the lyrics “Bíum bíum bambaló, Bambaló og dillidillidó” are just soothing sounds meant to calm a baby, the subsequent lines are somewhat creepy, suggesting there’s a mysterious figure lurking outside the house.

My little friend I lull to rest.

But outside

A face waits at the window.

“Dodo Titit”

This Haitian lullaby is a bit menacing. The lyrics instruct the child to go to sleep, or fall prey to a crab. Other places in the Caribbean have similar lullabies with other creature threats like a big cat.

Sleep, little one.

If you don’t sleep,

The crab will eat you.

“Le Grand Lustucru”

“The Big Bogeyman” is one translation for the monster in this French lullaby. “The Big Ogre” is another. Like the crab in “Dodo Titit,” “Le grand Lustucru” will eat children who aren’t sleeping.

It’s “le grand Lustucru” who’s crying.

He’s hungry and will eat

Raw and alive, without bread or butter,

All the little kids

Who aren’t asleep.

“Highland Fairy Lullaby”

This old Scottish lullaby tells the story of a mother whose baby was carried off by fairies while she gathered berries.

Hovan, Hovan Gorry og O

I’ve lost my darling baby, O!

“Nana Nenê”

“Nana Nenê” makes a reference to Cuca, a monstrous alligator in Brazilian folklore. Keeping in theme with other lullabies, this Portuguese-language song warns children that Cuca may be coming for them, so they need to quiet down.

Hush little baby

Cuca is coming to get you,

Papa went to the fields, mama went to work.

“Ninna Nanna, Ninna Oh”

The Italian term for lullaby is “ninna nanna,” and one famous ninna nanna is called “Ninna Nanna, Ninna Oh” ― which depicts a mother pondering whether to give her baby away to creatures like the white wolf, black ox or old hag. Other versions evoke the boyegman.

To whom shall I give this baby?

If I give him to the old hag, she’ll keep it for a week.

If I give him to the black ox, he’ll keep it for an entire year.

If I give it to the white wolf, he’ll keep it for a long time.

“Itsuki Lullaby”

Many traditional Japanese lullabies are sad because they were written by young impoverished girls who had to leave their homes to take care of wealthier families’ babies. In one version of “Itsuki Lullaby,” the young caretaker laments being away and suggests that no one would care if she died.

I am a beggar, just a beggar

They are rich people

with good obi and good kimono.

Who will cry for me

When I die?

Only the cicadas in the mountains.

“Lelo Ledung”

This Indonesian lullaby has roots on the island of Java. Although the song is generally sweet, there’s a reference to a scary giant on the prowl for crying children that pretty much sours the mood.

Please hush…my child…

There… The moon is full,

Like the head of a scary giant

One who’s looking for a crying child.

“Duérmete Niño”

This Spanish lullaby speaks of a bogeyman-type monster named Coco who will eat children up if they don’t sleep.

Sleep little one.

Sleep now.

Coco is coming

And he will eat you.

“Sininen Uni”

Finnish for “Blue Dream,” “Sininen Uni” describes a Sandman figure creeping into children’s homes.

Then Sandman will rise up and knock quietly on the door

He has blue slippers and he’s tiptoeing with them

He is creeping in and jumps behind the closet

“Bayu Bayushki Bayu”

A version of this Russian lullaby warns of a little gray wolf who will drag a child into the woods if he or she lies too close to the edge of the bed.

On the edge you mustn’t lie

Or the little grey wolf will come

And will nip you and will nip you on the tum,

Tug you off into the wood

Underneath the willow-root.

“Lima Anak Ayam”

Malaysian singer-songwriter Zee Avi included “Lima Anak Ayam” in a medley of her favorite lullabies from childhood. The lyrics seem to simply refer to the death of a baby chick.

Five chicks

One chick dies

One chick dying leaves four

“Fairy Lullaby”

While the Scottish “Highland Fairy Lullaby” is about fairies kidnapping a baby, this Irish lullaby is about fairies carrying off a mother and holding her captive to care for their babies instead of her own.

Hush-a-by baby, babe not mine,

My woeful wail, do you pity never?

Hush-a-by baby, babe not mine,

A year ago I was snatched for ever.

“Mues Sang Få Hansemand”

This old Danish lullaby tells of a mother’s worries for her son Hans’ future. It gets pretty dark and real about life’s challenges.

Dad is working very hard, Mum has to help.

Hans cries again and again when she has to leave.

We have to work to earn a living. The children will suffer.

We cannot give them any better even though we want to.

“Incili Bebek Ninnisi”

This Turkish lullaby is related to a story about a man who promised to sacrifice three camels if his wife could have a child, but then decided to renege and keep the three camels after she gave birth. An eagle then carried the baby off and tore it to pieces. The song is from the perspective of the grief-stricken mother.

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.

“Par Les Chemins Creux De La Lande”

In this French lullaby, the threat is a werewolf, who will come for children who don’t sleep.

Close your eyes, my little boy

The nasty werewolf takes away

The children who don’t sleep.

“Kråkevisa”

The lyrics of this Norwegian folk song, which has been sung as a lullaby, tell of a man who thinks a crow is going to kill him, so he kills it and describes what he made with the carcass.

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

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