Language Issue
The Meaning of Lullabies in Libyan Folk Culture
The Meaning of Lullabies in Libyan Folk Culture
Issue 54

Ghalia Yunus Al-Dharaani, Libyan researcher

Throughout the ages, mothers have repeated simple words with great meaning, intent and content in order to help their children stay still and sleep, unlike some mothers today who use sleeping pills. Mothers sing to quiet, sweet music that soothes children and encourages them to sleep.

‘Hadhadah’ is an Arabic word that refers to the way a mother moves the child, using a regular gentle movement to promote sleep. Linguistically, hadhadah means moving a child gently without singing. In Arabic, ‘tanwim’ means both playing and singing. Although the two words differ in meaning, both help to soothe a child.

In Libya’s folk culture, the two words refer to the same purpose and they share the same means – gentle movement and quiet singing – and on many occasions, they are interchangeable.

Childhood researchers consider the cradle songs that a child hears in the first stage of his life as the first emotional and literary relationship established between mother and child. Lullabies play a vital role by instilling the first seed of emotional education and connecting the child's feelings to rhythms.

Children are exposed to lullabies at an important stage – early childhood (between birth and the third year) – and, in Libyan folk culture, the singer is usually the mother, sister or another woman who is close to the child. As I mentioned earlier, the primary purpose of lullabies is to play with the child in an attempt to soothe and quiet him when he cries.

Tanwim and hadhadah are distinguished by their calm pace, melodious style and quiet music, and their performance requires calmness and a great deal of positive energy. Love and tenderness are transmitted vocally in the form of a song that has a magical effect on a child if it is performed as required.