The first nursery rhymes (taqbiliet), and songs are sung to the children while they are still in the cradle, then later, as they rock on their parents knees, playing with a baby rattle (ċekċieka), or clapping their hands. Children’s rhymes are evocative, conjuring up recollections of our earliest existence and childhood activities, of games and emotions long since forgotten.

Apart from being humorous, containing amusing tongue twisters, perhaps counting formulas, riddles, prayers and singing games, nursery rhymes are also of historical value, since their content reflects beliefs, priorities and practices which used to be at the centre of daily life in and even before, the middle ages. Nursery rhymes everywhere also serve to measure a child’s progress with regards to the ability to talk, memorise, and repeat what the child hears.

Banni bannozzi, ġej it-tata ġej – Clap, clap your hands
Bil-pastizzi u bil-ħabbtej – Daddy’s coming bringing food and money
Kollox għal (child’s name) – Everything for (child’s name)
W għal (second child’s name) xej – Nothing for (second child’s name)

Some lullabies also highlight the importance of the Catholic religion on our islands, identifying the motif of the Madonna and child with that of motherhood.

Orqod ibni orqod – Sleep, sleep my child
Fil-benniena tal-ħarir – In a cradle made of silk
Dik ommok il-Madonna – The Holy Virgin is your Mother
Missierek Ġesù Bambin – Jesus Christ is your Father

Other rhymes are more serious in tone, portraying daily struggles and problems, such as, for example, a preoccupation with lack of rain for the crops.

Għamel, xita, għamel – Rain, rain, rain
Ħalli jinbet il-ħaxix – So that grass may grow
Il-ħaxix intuh lill-mogħża – We shall give grass to the goat
U l’ mogħża ttina l-ħalib – The goat will give us milk

Rhymes and songs were also often cautionary tales, with the aim of teaching children a lesson, that is, that certain actions have unpleasant consequences.

Ajma żaqqi kemm tuġgħani – I’ve got a tummy ache
Għax kilt l-għeneb mhux misjur – Because I ate unripe grapes
Iddendilt mal-kannizzata – I climbed up the vine trellis
Qisni kelb tal-kaċċatur – Like a hunter’s dog

Rhymes often accompany certain games as well, and although some meanings did reflect daily life and modes of living, others were purely fanciful and even nonsensical. Still, nursery rhymes are valuable in that they provide not only a link to Malta’s past, but also a link to our own childhood, and as such they should be cherished and preserved.

Pizzi pizza kanna – Pizzi pizza kanna
Duluri ta’ Sant’ Anna – Dolores of Saint Anne
Sant’ Anna tal-Murina – Saint Anne of the Marina
Ħabba biċċa pellegrina – Because of a piece of Pellegrina
Mgħaref tal-fidda – Spoons made of silver
Bandiera tal-ħarir – A flag made of silk
Noli kannoli – Noli Kannoli
Insara Qaddisin – Christians and Saints