Julianne Jennings: The history behind 'Ten Little Indians' song
Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2012
"Many of us remember learning and singing the bubbly little pre-school nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians” as we sat in a circle with our legs crossed, Indian style. And what appeared to be an innocent way to educate and stir young imagination through “comic” song, it was also a peculiar way of mental conditioning. The coded historical narratives, found in many children’s nursery rhymes, was to circulate an ideology that followed generations; intended to define Indians as “inferior” and “backward.” The song coupled the Anglo-constructed definition of “savage” with American Indian consciousness, but the ultimate legacy of this children’s nursery rhyme was the systematic murdering of Indians, leaving “One little Indian boy livin’ all alone."
The original version was written by songwriter Septimus Winner in 1868 and performed at minstrel shows—a form of American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music. The traditional folk tune has a Round Folk Song Index number 13512 to establish the traditional origin of the work. However, today’s modern lyrics are believed to be in public domain, allowing for various renderings of the song to be created, especially in nursery schools. Sure you can change the words to “Ten Little Indians” to “Ten Little Puppies,” but it is still degrading when trying to compare spilled milk to spilled blood."
Get the Story:
Julianne Jennings: The History of ‘Ten Little Indians’
(Indian Country Today 10/11)
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