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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Original Meaning of The Song That Became "Sea Lion Woman"

Written by Azizi Powell

The 1999 American movie "The General's Daughter" might have been the first time many people heard the song "Sea Lion Woman" ("Sea Line Woman"). For others - including me -"Sea Lion Woman" is forever associated with the soulful vocalist Nina Simone. Here's a video of Nina Simone singing that song:

Nina Simone- See Line Woman



Uploaded by mardenhill on Oct 5, 2009

Live Performance - Montréal, Canada (1992)
-snip-
Update 6/7/2012: Lyrics to this version of "Sea Line" are found below.

Since the only version of "Sea Lion Woman" that I knew for a long time was the one that Nina Simone sang, it came as a suprise to me that some people believe that a children's playground song was the basis of "Sea Lion Woman" (or similarly spelled titles).

In a comment that is posted on the Folk music & Blues forum Mudcat Cafe, blogger Jim Dixon shared the following information

"Sea-Lye Woman (Sea Lion)was included on the album "Field Recordings Vol 4: Mississippi & Alabama (1934-1942) which was released in 1998 on the Document label. There it is sung by Katherine & Christeen Shipp, who sound very young. In fact, the song has the flavor of a girl's jump-rope rhyme, with a sort of African beat....

By the way, I doubt that African American girls in Mississippi or Alabama in the 1930s or 40s would be singing about a "sea lion" woman anyway. They seem to be awfully far removed from the "selkie" legends. And they are definitely pronouncing it "see-lye" or maybe "seal-eye". "Sea Lion" seems like rationalization to me. Do you suppose the song had been handed down from some African language?
April 3,2003 http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=33719
-snip-
Instead of thinking that the "sea lion" phrase might have come from an African language, my guess [which I shared on that same Mudcat thread] was that "sea lion" was a folk etymology form of the Biblical phrase "Selah". But I dropped that theory after reading several comments from guests who identified themselves as being from the South* and who shared that that "sea lion" ("see-line"; "see-lye") originally was "she lyin'". The phrase "She lyin" (or "she's lying" as one guest wrote it) was said in response to a call & response tattle tail type statement such as one person saying "she drank coffee" and the second person saying "(No I didn't) She lyin'".

*I'm a Northern girl with no known Southern relatives. The only Southern city I've ever visited is Atlanta, Georgia. I guess Atlanta still counts as the South in spite of all the Northern people who've moved there).

It should also be noted that another guest wrote that "sea lion" was originally "C-line", a referent for a railroad line. But I'm sold on the "She lyin" meaning for a number of reasons.
1. That phrase fits the likely pronunciation customs of some Black folks in the South (and elsewhere)

2. The back & forth tattle tailing and denial statements fit the call & response pattern that Nina Simone has preserved so well in her renditions of this song

and

3. That theory fits the comment that was shared earlier that the first recorded version of this song in 1939 [which I haven't heard yet] sounds like a girl's jump rope song.

I should also mention that I happened upon another children's game song version of "Sea Lion Woman" from Mississippi. That version was included in the 1965 book Children's Games From Many Lands (Nina Miller: New York, Friendship Press, pp 121-122). That version was credited to a number of females from Mississippi (no age or race given). The words to that version can be found on Mudcat thread whose link has been previously given.

I believe that it's important to also share that two comments on that same Mudcat thread on "Sea Lion Woman" were posted by guests who indicated that she (or he or perhaps the same person) were members (or a member) of the Shipp family. The first of these comment was written in August 2007. That guest (who didn't share her or his name) wrote:
"I feel the song has been stolen from the family, but having trouble proving it. My grandmother and aunt wrote that song."

The second comment from a Shipp family member was posted to that same Mudcat thread in November 2010. That comment was signed by LaVern Shipp who wrote
"My father Isaac Shipp, my grandmother Mary, and grandfather Walter Shipp was known in the South as the singing Shipp. My aunts are catherine, christine, they both are on the recording in 1939. My grandmother used to write songs and make up tunes to various songs. She passed away in 1966."

UPDATE WITH LYRICS & COMMENTS 6/7/2012
Although the original version of "Sea Lion Woman" ("Sea Line Woman") may have been a children's playground rhyme, the lyrics of that song as sung by Nina Simone were clearly about a "bad" woman who sleeps all day and "balls" all night. However, eventually, the woman returns home to her roots "to save her soul(because she realized that her lifestyle was wrong).

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LYRICS TO SEA LION WOMAN
[As sung by Katherine and Christine
Shipp; 1939]

Sea Lion Woman (Sea Lion)
She drank coffee (Sea Lion)
She drank tea (Sea Lion)
And he gamble lie (Sea Lion)*
Way down yonder (Sea Lion)
I'm going maul (Sea Lion)
And the rooster crow (Sea Lion)
And he got no lie (Sea Lion)
Sea lion woman (Sea Lion)
She drank coffee (Sea Lion)
She drank tea (Sea Lion)
And she gamble lie (Sea Lion)
Sea lion woman (Sea Lion)
She drank coffee (Sea Lion)
She drank tea (Sea Lion)
And a gamble lie (Sea Lion)

Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Lion_Woman

"The exact origins of the song are unknown but it is believed to have originated in the southern United States. It was first recorded by folklore researcher Herbert Halpert on May 13, 1939. Halpert was compiling a series of field recordings for the Library of Congress in Byhalia, MS, when he ran across African Americans Walter Shipp, a minister, and his wife Mary, a choir director of a local church. Halpert recorded Shipp's daughters, Katherine and Christine, singing a sparse version of "Sea Lion Woman" that defined the basic rhymes and rhythm of the song."

-snip-
*In the Gullah dialect of English, the pronoun "he" in the Gullah dialect, also means "she". I've read that this is similar to some West African languages, and that practice of using "he" for females can also be found in some Caribbean dialects of English.

UPDATE July 18, 2013
Here's the original recording of "Sea Lion Woman":

Sea Lion Woman - Christine and Katherine Shipp



mypianoisbroken, Uploaded on Jul 29, 2010

Library of Congress field recording Herbert Halpert.

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Here's a track of "Sea Lion Woman" from the movie "The General's Daughter" that is based on the original recording of the Shipp sisters:

Christine & Katherine Shipp sisters - Sea Lion Woman



Emma Blaque, Uploaded on May 5, 2011
-snip-
LYRICS TO SEA LINE WOMAN
[As sung by Nina Simone at a Montréal, Canada (1992)]

Sea line woman (Sea line)
She drink coffee (Sea line)
She drink tea (Sea line)
then she go home (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Sea line woman, dressed in white (Sea line)
Sleep all day (Sea line)
Ball all night (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Sea line woman (Sea line)
She drink coffee (Sea line)
She drink tea (Sea line)
then she go home (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Wiggle Wiggle (Sea line)
Purr like a cat (Sea line)
Wink at a man (Sea line)
Then he'll wink back(Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Empty his pockets (Sea line)
And wreck his days (Sea line)
Make him love her (Sea line)
She'll fly away (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Sea line woman (Sea line)
Dressed in gold (Sea line)
Goin home (Sea line)
To save her soul (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Sea line woman (Sea line)
Dressed in red (Sea line)
Make a man (Sea line)
Lose his head (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Wiggle Wiggle (Sea line)
Purr like a cat (Sea line)
Wink at a man (Sea line)
Then he'll wink back (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Empty his pockets (Sea line)
Wreck his day (Sea line)
Make him love her (Sea line)
And she'll fly away (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Sea line woman (Sea line)
Dressed in black (Sea line)
Sleep all day (Sea line)
On her back (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Sea line woman (Sea line)
Dressed in yella (Sea line)
Watch out fellas (Sea line)
You gonna lose out fellas [?]
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Sea line woman (Sea line)
Dressed in blue (Sea line)
Watch out fellas (Sea line)
She's gonna steal you (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

He can't hear you (Sea line) **
I can't hear you (Sea line)**
Sea line woman (Sea line)
She drink coffee (Sea line)
She drink tea (Sea line)
Then she go home (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Sea line woman (Sea line)
Dressed in yella (Sea line)
Watch out girls (Sea line)
You gonna steal your fella
Sea line woman (Sea line)

Sea line woman (Sea line)
Dressed in gold (Sea line)
Goin home (Sea line)
To see [save?] her soul (Sea line)

Sea line woman (Sea line)
She drink coffee (Sea line)
She drink a little champagne (Sea line)
Then she go home (Sea line)
Then she go home now (Sea line)
Then she go home (Sea line)
Then she go home now (Sea line)
Then she go home (Sea line)
Whoah!
Sea line!
Sea line!
Sea line!
Sea line!
Sea line!
Sea line!
Sea line!
Sea line!

Sea line woman (Sea line)
She drink coffee (Sea line)
She drink tea (Sea line)
Then she go home (Sea line)
Sea line woman (Sea line)
Dressed in gold (Sea line)
Goin home (Sea line)
To save her soul (Sea line)

Sea line woman (Sea line)
She drink coffee (Sea line)
Then she go home (Sea line)
Then she go home (Sea line)
Then she go home now (Sea line)
Then she go home (Sea line)
Then she go home now (Sea line)
Then she go home (Sea line!)

[transcription by Azizi Powell from the video; words that I'm unsure of are followed by a question mark in brackets]

**lyrics directed to the audience to sing louder

It's should be noted that- as is the case with other folk songs- the lyrics to Nina Simone's "Sea Line Woman" weren't fixed. The words, the order of verses, and the length of the song could change with different performances. For that reason, there are several "Nina Simone" versions of "Sea Lion Woman" (or "Sea Line Woman") online. Most of them follow the "color pattern" (Sea lion woman/dressed in ___) as found above, with the "she drink coffee/she drink tea" verse being repeated more often than any other verse.

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36 comments:

  1. Sea Lion Woman could be referring to the fact that Sea Lions are said to be highly intelligent and social AND THEY choose their males (lek system)...hence the SEA LION WOMAN!!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. No sea lions in Africa or Mississippi

      Delete
  2. Thanks for your comment, Flo. And congratulations! You are the first person to comment on pancocojams.

    I believe that the lyrics to certain songs may have more than one interpretation. However, regarding this song, my bet is that the earliest version was the children's rhyme with the repeated phrase "she's lyin".

    ReplyDelete
  3. I would have commented earlier, but I was trying to figure out how this comment feature worked. Lol!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4WDMWklIpw
      The Shipp Sisters.

      I think you are close. I think that is it is a children's song based upon observation of adult behavior
      See [the] lying woman,
      she drank coffee,
      she drank tea
      [perhaps waiting for her husband, when he arrives from his night of creeping]
      The gambler lies [to his wife, or is he shaking up somewhere?]
      The song definitely uses call and response.
      Preatorius
      See 9the}

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your comment, AnonymousJuly 18, 2013 at 1:51 AM

      Delete
  4. Beautiful site: informative, well-written and erudite. Way ta go, Azizi. Congratulations.

    BM

    ReplyDelete
  5. Very interesting and informative site, Azizi. I wish you every success with it.
    Anne XX.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks, BM & Anne for your comments.

    I'm glad you like this blog!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I like the blog as well.
    I thought sea lion or sea line woman meant Gullah woman. Women who lived off the sea islands of the Carolinas Ladys Island ,Frippe Island,etc The mystic culture of isolated Blacks.
    Thats what gave the song a mystic touch with the African rhythms
    The women were Gullah and therefore different than the norm.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for your comment and compliment Anonymous June 7, 2012.

    I'm certainly open to the possibility that this song title can have multiple meanings. I like your theory that the sea line woman being a referent for women who live in the sea isles (and ,therefore, near the sea line). And yes, according to the information that we have, the song's composers were Gullah. Gullahs (Geechees) are a small population of African Americans who live in the Sea isles of South Carolina & Georgia. And Gullah people speak (or used to speak) a dialect of English and they have other customs that are different than those of other Americans, so I guess you could say that they were/are different from the norm- but their lives are normal for them.

    That said, I continue to believe that if the original purpose of the song was as a children's playground rhymes as is documented, then the phrase "She lyin" best fits the spirit of the composition - "she lyin being a response to another child's accusations ("she drink coffee"/ she lyin; "she drink tea"/ She lyin"/"she gamble"/ she lyin.). "She lyin" is of course "She's lying".

    However, the phrase "Sea line woman" probably best fits the meaning of the Nina Simone versions of this song.

    Also, Anonymous, I also want to thank you for your comment because it caused me to go back and re-read this post. I didn't realize that the video I had included in this post was no longer assessible. I added another video and also updated this post with two versions of that song's lyrics and additional comments.

    Best wishes!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Please read the book THE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC ALL AROUND US by Stephen Wade. Published 2012. It tells the back ground of the Sea Lion Women Song research.
    LaVern Shipp ( University of Chicago, the Chicago press

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks Anonymous August 26, 2012!

    I appreciate you posting information about that book.

    I look forward to reading it.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Below are the words for "Sea Lion Woman" as published in "Songs to Sing & Sing Again" copyright 1984 by Shelley Gordon. At the time, the book was available in the USA from World Around Songs, Inc., Rt. 5, Burnsville, NC, 28714.

    Shelley Gordon attributes the song to "Folk Music and Tales: Afro-American Blues and Game Songs." Singers: Katherine and Christine Shipp; collectors: John A. and Alan Lomax. Printed in her book by permission of Archive of Folk Culture.

    I've been singing this song for a while, and my basic interpretation of the lyrics given below is that children used them to teach each other about potentially dangerous people in their vicinity. I've been reworking the song into a very basic blues that sounds a warning about the shadow elements of the industrial-scientific establishment and humanity's need to escape the technocratic road to death currently being unleashed on our planet.

    Sea lion woman, seelah.
    She drink coffee, seelah.
    She drink tea, seelah,
    In the candle light, seelah.

    I've got a horse, seelah,
    and a buggy, too, seelah.
    and the horse is black, seelah,
    and the buggy's blue, seelah.

    Please be careful, seelah,
    what you do, seelah,
    Yonder little girl, seelah,
    will get you too, seelah.

    See that man, seelah,
    blue shirt on, seelah.
    You'd better leave, seelah,
    that man alone, seelah.

    Repeat first verse.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Greetings, Sibylle Ingeborg Preuschat

      Thank you for your comment & for posting the lyrics to this song as found in "Songs to Sing & Sing Again" copyright 1984 by Shelley Gordon.

      I'm aware of the theory that "Sea Lion" was sung by African American children outside of a building to warn adults in that building who were engaged in illegal activity that the police were coming. That theory is similar to the one you cited "that children used them to teach each other about potentially dangerous people in their vicinity". However, my sense is that the use of this song as a warning is either fakelore or perhaps a later use of the song and not the earliest use [with "earlier" here meaning in the late 1930s or thereabouts - the Shipp sisters' rendition that I referenced in the post.]

      Also, I'm convinced by what I've read that the words "seelah" or "selah" or "sea lion" are folk etymology forms of the earliest words "she lyin".

      That said, I commend you on your intent to revise this song to the contemporary uses that you shared in your comment.

      Peace!

      Delete
  12. "Although the original version of "Sea Lion Woman" ("Sea Line Woman") may have been a children's playground rhyme, the lyrics of that song as sung by Nina Simone were clearly about a "bad" woman who sleeps all day and "balls" all night. However, eventually, the woman returns home to her roots "to save her soul (because she realized that her lifestyle was wrong)."
    I'm fairly certain the lyrics as nina simone is singing them are "She bawls all night" (as in cries) not "she balls all night".

    Kind of changes the meaning...

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    Replies
    1. Greetings, Anonymous Feb 19, 2013.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, the word "bawls" (cries) instead of "balls" (slang for "have sex") would definitely give a different meaning to the song. But it seems to me that the verse
      "Watch out girls (Sea line)
      You gonna steal your fella"

      and other lyrics to this song support the position that the word in that song is "balls" instead of "bawls".

      Given the over all tone of the song, I don't get the impression that this woman was so upset by her behavior or other reasons that she cried all night.

      But it's possible that a woman who balled all night could decide to change her lifestyle and go back home "to save her soul".

      Delete
  13. Thank you for this - I was looking for meaning and interpretation of the song as sung by Nina Simone for a facebook group I am in.
    When I found your site I was so pleased. I love the exchanges of ideas. Wonderful!
    Wicca, from DC

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome, AnonymousMarch 4, 2013 at 12:35 AM

      I'm glad that you found this blog.

      I hope you and your facebook group find other post here interesting, and will add to the exchange of ideas.

      Delete
  14. Well, as I enter this discussion late (per usual), my first thoughts were that the Shipp sisters were singing Selah! It does follow the pattern of a Psalm, were Selah is used 71 times. The girl's father was a preacher, mother a choir director,it would certainly be possible that the Grandmother included the Hebrew phrase in her lyric. People today are still arguing about what the word means,so I don't believe it's too much of a stretch that the girls heard it as sea lion, or one of the other spellings (See Line, C Line, etc.) Growing up "in Church" during the 60's, I remember preacher reading a Psalm and saying the Selah at the end of a phrase. The inflection was identical to the Shipp's!

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    1. Greetings dave currie. Thanks for sharing your comment.

      My initial thoughts about this song were that "sea lion" was a folk etymology form of the Biblical exclamation "Selah!". However, as a result of the other words of the song, and comments that I read that were purportedly from Shipp family members, plus the story that this song was originally a children's playground rhyme, I switched my bet to the words "she lie" or "she's lyin."

      However, I'm still open to reading other people's comments in support of other theories about that song.

      Delete
  15. Hi Azizi, Thanks for your response! I guess part of the fun, as others have noted, is that we will not know precisely since folk music was not "documented" as everything is now! I'm kinda glad of this fact as it allows the hearer leeway to interpret, and the music to speak personally to each one :-)

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    1. Dave, I partly agree with what you wrote, except that some song interpretations are more likely than others. Furthermore, even though contemporary songs (and chants & rhymes) are better documented than songs previously were, topical references meanings & vernacular terms are still open to mis-interpretation since people don't always document what those songs, chants, and rhymes mean or what was meant when those works were first composed by known or unknown individuals.

      Delete
  16. Hah, I definitely always thought it was "Sea Lion Woman" because she was something akin to a selkie. Filtered through the brain of a kid growing up with a lot of Celtic mythology, I guess. This blog is great, thanks!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, anonymous.

      Thinking that this song is about selkies isn't that much a reach given for those who know about selkies-but it's not the correct meaning.

      I love Celtic mythology!

      Best wishes!!

      Delete
    2. Oh, and thanks for the compliment about this blog!!

      Delete
  17. Thank you for sharing your interesting investigations and analysis as well the several contributions of your readers! Admiration and best ;_)))

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    1. You're welcome, argumentonio!

      I appreciate your comment.

      Delete
  18. You seem very partial to the idea that the refrain is 'She Lyin'. I'm not sure why you are, but I think you're wrong.

    As a black person of African descent, I can tell you that when black children sing folk songs, they (like most children) often don't understand the words they're using, and so substitute them with what they think they're hearing, and sometimes with similar words.

    Also, since these songs aren't written, different people would have slightly different versions (like in a game of telephone, everybody hears something slightly different).

    So this means nobody can know for sure, but the most likely explanation for me is actually the one provided by KCRW:

    http://blogs.kcrw.com/rhythmplanet/the-real-meaning-to-nina-simones-classic-song-sealine-woman/

    This says the Nina Simone version is actually a 19th century folk song about female prostitutes who lined up at the port to tempt sailors. The 'sea line' of prostitutes perfectly describes the bad woman in the song, who drinks tea all day, balls all night and wears sexy clothes before emptying a man's wallet.

    Now, note the time line. If this is 19th century, it significantly predates the Shipp childrens' version. So what likely happened is, these Schipp children (and other black children at the time) simply heard this popular and old folk songs, and interpreted it their own way, probably not understanding half the words, this being an oral tradition, and they being children.

    However, we can still see the theme of the 'bad woman' in the childrens' lyrics.

    One thing I'm certain about is that this isn't a 'Sea Lion' woman. There are no sea lions in Africa or Mississipi.

    So there you are. A 19th century folk song about prostitutes who form a 'sea line' at the ports was song by Nina Simone, and black children sang a version they heard in their communities.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, anonymous.

      I've not read that theory before that this song is about prostitutes who line up at the port (of the sea) to tempt sailors. I think that's a interesting interpretation, but I remain in the camp of those folks who think that the words are "'She's lyin'". That said, I think that Nina Simone's interpretation is that of a "bad woman" (prostitute) while the Black children's version isn't.

      When I first started thinking that title and the word/s in this song, I thought that it was the Biblical word "Selah" (which means something like "Amen". However, the comments about the Shipp children's singing this song swayed me to that camp.

      And (as a Black woman of African descent) I agree with you that
      "One thing I'm certain about is that this isn't a 'Sea Lion' woman. There are no sea lions in Africa or Mississipi."

      Here's the hyperlink to the site that you shared http://blogs.kcrw.com/rhythmplanet/the-real-meaning-to-nina-simones-classic-song-sealine-woman/.

      Thanks again!

      Delete
    2. I don't think you can credibly ignore the chronology here.

      If there is a version existing before the Schipp childrens' version, that that must logically be the more 'original' one, and the logical conclusion is the children were singing their version of THAT version.

      This makes sense, as I'm sure nobody believes these little girls were songwriters. Also as I said, kids often copy words they hear phonetically, since their vocabularies are limited. So I would place very little weight on the girls' version for this reason.

      If the KCRW source is credible (and this seems to be buttressed by the Nina Simone version), it's very unlikely that the refrain is 'She Lyin'. Nina is clearly singing about a prostitute, who dresses sexily, empties a man's wallet and balls all night. The fact that the different verses describe a woman in different colored dresses reinforces the idea of describing a parade of prostitutes in different colored clothing.

      So the most credible theory to me is, the original19th century folksong was about a 'Sea line' woman (woman who stands in line by the sea to tempt sailors) or alternatively 'See line woman) woman who stands in line to be seen.

      This song was then passed down the generations, the young girls heard their parents singing it, and sung their own slightly altered version (which I admit may include the refrain She lyin' or Seelah or whatever the kids THOUGHT they were hearing, but can't be considered the original), while Nina Simone sung something more closely related to the original.

      Seems perfectly logical to me.

      Delete
    3. I'm not convinced that "Sea Lion Women" was composed in the 19th century song. I don't know if there's any documentation of " Women of the pleasure quarters would be waiting, lined up dockside" let alone those women would wear different dress colors that "signified the specific delights they offered". It seems to me that such a custom would have been documented somewhere.

      While I appreciate speculating about the meaning of this song, the aesthetics of the song tops that exercise in speculation . I use the word "speculation"" because we may never really know which story about this song is the earliest one.

      Also, I'm satisfied thinking about "See Line Woman" being two different songs - the children's song and the much more sexualized song that Nina Simone sung.

      Delete
    4. "It seems to me that such a custom would have been documented somewhere."

      It seems tome that you're being rather closed-minded, believing what you want to believe and clinging to your preconceived notions. If you're going to have that attitude, why even bother investigating the origin of something?

      It's rather bizarre to talk of 'documenting' the behaviour of prostitutes. Really? have you ever been to a brothel or red light district? It's the same everywhere in the world: women line up in a straight line on the street, by the port, in front of the brothel, wherever, for the customers to take their pick.

      This specific account has been 'documented' in the blog I linked you to, based on a first-person account of someone from the area. It's not fiction.

      It's also inconsistent that you talk of 'speculation' and then in the same breath, talk of how certain you are of your own views. If nobody can be sure, then how can YOU be sure?

      "I'm satisfied thinking about "See Line Woman" being two different songs"

      They are very clearly the same song. Same structure, same refrain, same everything. Even some of the lyrics are the same ('drink coffee' 'drink tea' 'rooster crow' etc). For you to say they are two different songs therefore just makes you seem like you're stubbornly refusing to consider new information that modifies your understanding.

      But that's normal for people: psychologists call it a confirmation bias. We avid cognitive dissonance by rejecting information that contradicts what we're comfortable with. Your prerogative I guess.

      Thanks anyway for helping me spark my own investigations into the origins of this song. Having considered all points of view and sources, I am as comfortable as I can be that this is a 19th century folk song about port prostitutes passed down through generations until a pair of little girls sung a version they'd heard from grownups, and distorted it due to their limited childish understanding, while Nina Simone popularised the more accurate, adult version.

      Delete
  19. Thank you, anonymous, for adding your opinion to this blog.

    I leave it to readers to form their own conclusion based on this and other material, which may include the blog post you so helpfully linked to.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Just a thought, but couldn't it have come from "She Lion" as in the boss female of the pride?

    Urban dictionary defines "Sea Lion" as:
    "A woman who is seen as a strong, independent woman that takes good care of affairs and is heavily involved in politics, business, or some other industry in which some may have earlier deemed her unable to be successful at. Woman may sometimes be omitted and it can also be used as a masculine term."
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Sea%20Lion%20Woman

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    Replies
    1. While I don't believe that's what was originally meant in this song, I like that meaning.

      Thanks for sharing it , anonymous!

      Delete