Sunday, June 30, 2013

What Does The Ghanaian Song "Tue Tue" REALLY Mean?

Edited by Azizi Powell

Anyone searching for a translation of the Ghanaian song "Tue Tue" (also known as "Tue Tue Barima" is bound to be very confused because there are widely conflicting translations of this song online.

As of June 29, 2012 there are ten YouTube videos of American [?] children singing "Tue Tue". There's also one video of a woman playing "Tue Tue" on the recorder. In all of these renditions of "Tue Tue" the tune is the same and the words vary only slightly. In most of these videos, "Tue Tue" is performed as a "round", and the tempo for a few of those renditions is faster than the tempo for other renditions.

Click for a post which showcases five videos of "Tue Tue".

What all those posting videos & lyrics to this song agree on is that "Tue Tue" is an African song. All but one of the examples of this song that I've found to date indicate that "Tue Tue" is a Ghanaian song. That lone example is a version of this song entitled "Tue Tue Mareema" which purports to be from the Republic of Guinea. [Information about that song is found with Example #1 below.]

Some sites describe "Tue Tue" as a "traditional Ghanaian folk song" while others categorize it as a "Ghanaian children's song" - these song categories aren't always the same thing. Many websites which include lyrics for "Tue Tue" add the name of an arranger for that particular version of that song. No composer's name is given for this song which may suggest that it really is a traditional folk song. Also, I've yet to find information on how & when this song became known to English speaking people in the United States and elsewhere.

This post provides six text examples of "Tue Tue" that I've found on the internet, along with the meaning that those contributors gave to this song. Those meanings are given in italics to highlight that statement.

These examples are representative of the widely varying meanings that have been given to this song. I use the word "meanings" instead of "translations" because it's my sense that those adults who have taught this song were more interested in identifying a song that met their multicultural need for an African children's song with a lively rhythm & spirit than they were in determining what the individual words of the song might actually mean. That is fine if you believe that the words to the song have no actual meaning as is the case with Example #3 given below. But it seems to me that if the individual words of this song do indeed have a specific meaning in the Akan/Twi language from which the song is suppose to come, then we do children a disservice by "making up" a feel good meaning for those words & that song. Instead of using that opportunity to teach children something about a particular African language, teachers may be introducing or reinforcing the idea that Africans speak "gibberish".

Furthermore, if these examples are adaptations of a traditional Ghanaian song, then it seems to me that teachers should specify what the adaptations are. For example, since so many of these examples specify singing in a "round", children might believe that that style of singing is the way that song was traditionally sung in Ghana. But is that true? Also, accompanying this song with body pats might give children the impression that this song-and perhaps all African songs- are supposed to have such accompaniment. But is that true?

These concerns wouldn't be problematic if multiple examples of "African" songs were taught to children in American schools. However, that certainly isn't true. Given that "Tue Tue Barima" might be the only African song or one of very few other African songs that non-African children learn, it seems to me that we owe it to those children to make sure that the information shared about that song are correct. I believe that efforts should be made to ensure that the words of the song being taught are accurate. And indeed those words appear to be relatively consistent in the examples that I've found. But I'm far less concerned about getting the words "right" than I am concerned that people are "fudging" a feel good meaning for this song, or indicating that the song is a nonsense song whose words have no meaning, if those particular words- or some of those words- actually do mean something in the language from which the song comes.

These examples are not presented in any order of preference. Notice that in each of these examples no English words are sung.

Example #1:
[These lyrics came from a person who identified himself or herself as Ghanaian]
"Mawuli wrote:
March 20th, 2010 at 7:47 am

My dear, l am a ghanaian from the EWE tribe of Ghana.and your request is an ASHANTI language which l speak very well.
the right sentence will be/—- DUE DUE BARIMA DUE DUE


English translation:
1.DUE DUE means sorry sorry
2.BARIMA means a man/young man/boy–(simply a male).
3.ABOFRA BA means a young boy/young girl.
4.AMA WA DA WAA means you have fallen flat or helpless.

Source: [hereafter known as Mama Lisa: Tue Tue]
For what it's worth, the name "Mawuli" is a Ghanaian Ewe name which means "God exists".

On another page, that site editor also credits Mawuli and wrote that "This song is spelled "Tue Tue Barima" or "Due Due Barima". The pronunciation is "doo-way doo-way".

On still another Mama Lisa page, a contributor named Abi shared the very similar lyrics for a song entitled "Tue Tue Mareema". Abi also wrote that "I understand you have found a Ghanaian version of this song and you might find this information below of interest as well, as I know many versions exist of most African songs as it is, after all, the natural outcome of a mostly aural tradition.

...this is a song which accompanies the Moribyassa rhythm of the Malinke people from Northeast Guinea"."
I'm not that concerned that there are slight changes in the lyrics of "Tue Tue" in the examples of that song that I've found online. What does raise my doubts about the African authenticity of the internet versions of this song that I've found are the widely diverging meanings that have been given to this song's lyrics.

Example #2:
..."anyone here know of the song/game Tue Tue? (pronounced "too-ay too-ay")

Tue Tue, barima tue tue (repeat)
Ambasa dow, ama dowa dowa tue tue (repeat)
Barima tue tue

(a little girl is selling rice cakes in the marketplace)

Children stand in a circle, performing a complicated hand clapping pattern:
clap twice
pat legs twice
clap twice
pat partner's hands twice
clap twice
pat legs twice
clap twice
pat neighbor's hands (person on the child's other side) twice

According to my source, this is done whilst side-stepping around the circle! My 5th graders can manage the patschen but only one group several years ago could add the footwork!

I learned this from Carolyn Parrott, director of the women's chorus Songweavers in Concord, NH. The year they performed this they had a woman from Ghana in the audience who came up to Carolyn after the concert with tears in her eyes, saying they had sung it exactly as she remembered it as a child. "
-Allison; 27 Jan 08 - 07:03 PM
Source: [hereafter known as Mudcat: Tue Tue]
Notice that the Ghanaian woman indicated that the song was sung the same way that she remembered it. This might mean that the tune & the words [but not the performance movements] were the same. Also, the blogger didn't write that the Ghanaian woman agreed with the statement about the song's meaning.

Example #3
"...With that, I'll leave you with the song that caused all the uproar among my students - Tue Tue, a nonsense song from Ghana.

Tue tue barima tue tue
Tue tue barima tue tue
Abofroda, ama dawa dawa tue tue
Abofroda, ama dawa dawa tue tue
Barima tue tue .... tue tue.

Consider adding two claps after the first and second lines. This song can also be sung in a round.
-Posted by MegMcelweeeatSaturday, May 26, 2007

Example #4
Tue Tue (A round from Ghana proclaiming gratitude for food at harvest time)
Tue tue barima tue tue (Repeat)
A maza bo amma dawa dawa tue tue
A maza bo amma dawa dawa tue tue
Barima tue tue Barima tue tue
Tue Tue (Ghana)
Tue tue Berima tue tue
[tue tue bE Ri ma tue tue]
Abofuma amanawae tue tue
[a bo fu ma a ma na wa ye tue tue]


Example #5
Traditional Ghanaian folksong, arr. Rachel Wadham
Yam it up! Tue, Tue is a traditional Ghanaian song about harvesting. This would fit perfectly into Harvest Festival assemblies and can be used to explore food and farming in Ghana
Tue tue Tue tue
Tue tue Tue tue
Abo fra ba a-ma da wa da wa tue tue
Abo fra ba a-ma da wa da wa tue tue
Tue tue Tue tue
Tue tue Tue tue

English translation:
We are thankful for our harvest
Do you want to come down to Ghana
Do you want to come along, brother
As we travel we'll sing our happy song

Example #6

Tue tue, barima tue tue
Tue tue, barima tue tue
Abofra ba ama dawa dawa
Tue tue
Abofra ba ama dawa dawa Tue tue
Barima tue tue
Barima tue tue
Barima tue tue
There are many different languages spoken in Ghana. Although the words of this song come from a combination of languages and have no particular meaning, they are rhythmic and up tempo. It is important to sing this song with lots of energy and spirit."

If the words to "Tue Tue" are made up of a combination of languages from Ghana, what are those languages, and why would a song whose words have no particular meaning -as is noted above- need to be made up from a combination of languages?

It occurred to me that an online Akan to English translation feature could determine which -if any- of the translations given above for the song "Tue Tue" were accurate. Here's the results of my translation efforts using
[The Akan/Twi word is given first followed by its English translation.]

tue - [no English translation]
due due - condolences
barima - young boy
abofra (bofra) - child
Ama (ama) girl born on Saturday
wa - yɛ (yɛ) was
waa (waa) strip
da wa – never strip
da - never; not, rarely, seldom etc
These translations seemed to me to be close to Example #1's translation with the big exception of the line "Ama Wa Da Waa" (whose meaning the Ghanaian contributor Mawuli gave as "you have fallen flat or helpless".

I tried to find the Akan words for "helpless" and for "fall":
helpless - no English translation
fall - powbere
I then looked up the Akan word for "weak" as I thought that was close to the meaning of the word "helpless".
weak - bosaa; guahaa; mberɛw
I then looked up the meaning of the English word "strip":
transitive verb
a: to remove clothing, covering, or surface matter from
b: to deprive of possessions
c: to divest of honors, privileges, or functions
a: to remove extraneous or superficial matter
b: to remove furniture, equipment, or accessories
If a word of that last line in this song means "strip", I wonder if "2a", does that line mean "removing all obstacles from the person's path?

I also didn't find any results for falling down or flat that were spelled like the words in that line from Example #1.

I then looked up Akan words that pertain to the harvest, thanks food themes that are mentioned in some of the "translations" of "Tue Tue" that are given above:
Harvest – [no translation result]
food - eduane, ediban, eduan
rice - mo
cake - keeki
praise - ayeyi
thank - aseda
to thank (thank) { da ase } verb; show appreciation

It seems that the translation given in Example #1 is the most accurate. However, the meaning of that last line "Ama wa da waa" is still unclear. If this is the "right" English translation for this song, and is this song "just" an apology to someone for making them trip & fall, or is this truly a nonsense song? I'm not sure, but from the results of those Akan to English translations, "Tue Tue" doesn't appear to be a song about selling rice cakes. Nor does those translations support the theories that "Tue Tue" is a harvest song about giving thanks.

Does it matter that the meaning isn't as warm & feel good as those "harvest song, praise for food" type meanings? I believe so for the reasons that I gave above. I think lack of knowledge about the Ghanaian culture coupled with a desire for a catchy multicultural addition to a school's repertoire and the desire for a "feel good" meaning were the probable reasons for the creation of another meaning for this song.

The widely diverging meanings given to "Tue Tue" makes me question the authenticity of this song. Is "Tue Tue" a real African song? If so, how was it actually sung in Ghana and/or any other African nation which might have variant forms of this song?

Although I like the spirit & the sound of the song "Tue Tue", if I were a music teacher, I'd be reluctant to teach this song to children until I knew for certain just what the words of that song really mean.

I'd love it if any folks who know Akan/Twi & English would confirm [in English] what the Akan lyrics for "Tue Tue" really are and what that song truly means. Thanks in advance.

Thanks to all those who I've quoted.

Thanks for visiting pancocojam.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. WOW!!! I was taught this song at an acting workshop up in New York a while back! I have tried so hard to find it again! We in the workshop were taught it was a traditional song to Africa (cannot remember the exact country of origin) and that it was a song used to welcome newcomers to the village. The workshop head explained that the song is best sung in a round because the image the song strives to illustrate is that of people coming out of their huts (at different times) yet still being able to add their voices to the welcome. For a group of almost 100 strangers to be able to learn that song together by ear AND sing it (almost flawlessly) in a round to every eighth note was encouraging, but I had no idea how accurate the meaning was or wasn't. However, none of the translations I find here have the same words we were taught in the second half - we were taught:

    Tue tue, ariwa, tue tue (repeat)
    Ambasa do, ama do do
    Tue tue, ariwa, tue tue (repeat)
    (wait two beats, then start from beginning again)

    1. Thanks for sharing that information and lyrics, Marie!

      I'm wondering if the workshop leader who taught that song was from an African nation, and if so, which one. However, a person who is from the nation & the ethnic group which were the source of "Tue Tue" could have taught an adaptation of that song, with a new style of singing (the round?) and/or could have shared a made-up (variant meaning).

      Besides that, the words to & the meanings of folk songs can be different in varying places within the same culture (and in more than one culture) and those words and meanings can change over time within the same place and within different places.

      I'm inclined to believe that the earliest meaning for this song was that given in Example #1 above- an apology for causing someone to trip and fall. However, it seems that a "feel good" meaning has been given to the song - and what I believe is a grafted on way of singing this song (singing in the round) seems to predominate in "Western" nations.

  2. I found your blog this past spring, when I was teaching music at a school in Costa Rica. I've read your posts about both Funga Alafia and Tue Tue Barima. It is a bit disconcerting to find that the origins and meaning of these songs are not clear, and have even been changed (possibly) to fit the user's needs! The challenge is that these songs -- in their current and possibly misrepresented form -- are really infectious and kids love them. Your research really helps, though. I feel like I'd rather explain to the kids a more accurate history of these songs than just rely on the scrap of 'background" I was taught (i.e. Tue Tue is a song about a girl selling ricecakes!). Your blog posts offer a real but important challenge to music teachers out there who are using these songs. Thank you for delving into this.

    1. You're welcome, anonymous. And thank you for taking the time to add your comment.

      I agree with you that "The challenge is that these songs -- in their current and possibly misrepresented form -- are really infectious and kids love them." But I also agree that it is better to "explain to the kids a more accurate history of these songs than just rely on the scrap of 'background" I was taught."

      It would be great if someone from that culture will write in to share some information about this song.

  3. Hi. I have learnt the version that goes Tue tue Mareema, abossum ta Yaroma ... I have been looking for the meaning for a very long time and I'm still non-the wiser. I wonder if it isn't indeed Ghanian at all but Guinean. I actually fantasised that it was an invocation to 'Yaruma' who I imagined might be the equivalent of an Orisha in whsyever language and culture it came from. May I put the emphasis again on 'fantasised' and 'imagined' so please don't quote me. This is a figment of my imagination. Iwould still love to lnow what it really means

    1. Thanks for your comment, Radoubi Cinders.

      Like you, I'd love to know what the "Tue Tue" song really means.

  4. Here's an email that I received about this blog post:

    Hi Azizi

    I saw your blog on 'Tue Tue' on Pancocojams, and your comment that "the meaning of that last line "Ama wa da waa" is still unclear". I have a friend in Ghana whose mother-tongue is Akan, so I will write to her and ask for her opinion, but as it may be a while before I get a reply I thought I would give you my own opinion first.

    I am not an expert on Twi, but I think that your source #1 is likely to be correct, if the words are as given.

    "Due, due!" is an expression of consolation to someone who has hurt himself or had an accident. ("Sorry" is commonly used in Ghana as the English equivalent, and implies sympathy, not apology.)
    "barima" means an adult man.
    "abofra" means child; "abofra ba" is probably used to make it clear the child is a boy.

    "AMA WA DA WA"
    I think this is likely to be a phonetic rendering of "ama wo ada wa":
    • The verb "ma" means 'to give'. "ama" means 'has given'. This verb is commonly used as an auxiliary verb, when it can mean 'let', e.g. "ma yenko" = 'let us go'.
    • wo = you
    • The verb "da" means 'to lie down'; "ada" = 'has lain down'.
    • "wa" is an onomatopoeic adverb expressing a sound such as shaking or falling, so probably qualifies the verb 'da', indicating an unintentional action.
    The suggested translation "had made you fallen flat" is therefore probably a good translation, though not in good English, which should of course be "has made you fall flat".

    I hope this helps. I will also ask my friend in Ghana if she knows anything about the background of the lyric. I would not be surprised if it is, like many English nursery rhymes, a political allegory.

    Best wishes
    John Turl
    Project Manager
    Ghana Place Names
    Thanks, John for this informative email! I look forward to any additional information that your friend may send you about this song.

  5. The 5th example you have here looks like it might be a corruption of the words to Obwinsa (Goin' to Ghana)"Hey do you want to go on down to Ghana? Hey do you want to come along, my brother. Hey do you want to go on down to Ghana? And as we travel we sing this happy song". The sheet music for this song that I have seen lists the copyright as 1999, and indicates that it is a combination of two folk songs (Tue Tue, and Obwinsa) with NEW lyrics and music added by Mary Donnelly. Perhaps someone heard a performance of this piece, and misinterpreted the new lyrics as being a translation.

    1. Thanks for sharing that information, Anonymous. I really appreciate it.

      I checked YouTube and see that there are a number of videos of "Obwinsa" (Goin to Ghana).

      I'll publish a post of song which showcases some of those examples ASAP and I'll add the link to this post.

    2. Hi, Anonymous.

      Here's the link to a post that I just published on the Ghanaian rock passing song "Obwisana":

      Thanks for the information that you shared regarding the "Goin to Ghana" song.

  6. Hi, thanks for this post. It is nice to track these things down! Sweet Honey In the Rock includes this song in their Website section titled Just for Kids. The pdf references an original transcription from Ghana playgrounds in 1993 and indicates it is sung while playing a partner clapping game. I'd love to see the collection of games that were collected from the playground!

    1. Hi Katie.
      Thanks for sharing this great find from Sweet Honey In The Rock's website.

      For the folkloric record, here's that transcription:
      [words indistinguishable in the musical notation].

      I remember playing this game as a child growing up in Ghana, West Africa. It is a hand clapping game which helped to develop an awareness of beat, rhythmic competence, listening skills, and team spirit. As with other traditional games, the meaning changes and is lost as a game travels throughout the country. This game is popular in all parts of the country and the children coin words to suit them. This transcription is made from games collected in 1993 from playgrounds in Cape Coast, Ghana.

      How to play:
      Players form two lines facing each other. The players do a four beat body percussion pattern with the player they are facing. The player then turns to the side and does the four beat pattern again. The player is then expected to face the first partner again. In the second section the players create a bridge above their heads tapping facing partner maintaining the beat. The couple at the end come under the bridge and walk through still tapping hands. The next couple follows till all have had a turn".

    2. Here's a link to a YouTube video of the African American singing group Sweet Honey In The Rock's version of "Tue Tue":

  7. Thank you for your great research for this song.

    In Austria & Germany, most of our Singing-Groups, use this Version:

    It is from Hagara Feinbier's Songbook "Come Together Songs 3".

    "Doe Doe Barima Doe Doe
    Doe Doe Barima Doe Doe
    Amba-sa do ama do do
    Doe Doe Barima Doe Doe"

    The added Meaning:
    1) A Fertility song
    2) "Let's greet the New and the Sun!"

    1. You're welcome, Anonymous.

      I'm glad to add that example of "Doe Doe" ("Tue Tue") from Hagara Feinbier's Songbook "Come Together Songs 3" to the examples that I've found thus far.

      I believe the meanings that are given to that version are made up and not a literal translation of the song's original Twi/Akan language.

      But it's good to know that that Ghanaian song is also known in Austria and Germany.

    2. Thank You :-D)

      I think you are right, when You say that it is not the correct translation, we have used.

      I come from vienna and in one of our Sing-Festivals I've made this Record (in Jan 2015)

      Best Wishes from Austria: