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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Four White Horses" Caribbean Song & Hand Clap Rhyme, Part I: Speculative Origins & Lyric Examples

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part pancocojams series on the Caribbean folk song "Four White Horses" that is often used as a children's hand clapping rhyme.

This post presents selected comments from Mudcat folk music discussion thread and from other online sources about the origin of the song/rhyme "Four White Horses". Text (word only) examples of this song's lyrics are also included in this post.

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2017/07/videos-of-four-white-horses-caribbean.html for Part II of this series. Part II showcases five video examples of "Four White Horses" hand clap games. The Addendum to this post provides several suggested performance instructions for this hand clapping game.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and recreational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the unknown composers of "Four White Horses" and thanks to all those who have collected this song. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

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PANCOCOJAMS EDITOR'S NOTE-
Judging from its presence on the internet-including lyrics pages, questions about its origin and meaning, and YouTube videos, the song "Four White Horses" appears to be relatively familiar in the United States, at least compared to many other Caribbean songs. Although there is general agreement that "Four White Horses" is a Caribbean song, some websites give its origin as the United States Virgin Islands while others indicate that this song comes from Jamaica. Given the number and quality of the sources that say that this song is from the United States Virgin Island, I believe that origin is the correct one.

"Four White Horses" is described as an "old Caribbean song". Since that song has no known composers and no known composition date (or even century or decade that I've found), it can properly be considered a "traditional" Caribbean song and a "folk song". I have, however, found two collection dates for this song: Floice Lindgren Lund, Virgin Islands, 1960 http://kodaly.hnu.edu/song.cfm?id=723 and Karen Ellis, 1976 on St. Croix, United States Virgin Island http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=9634.

In addition, this comment about the collection of the song "Four White Horse" was posted to a YouTube discussion thread for a video of that hand clap rhyme: "elorenz57, June 2017: "Lois Choksy, the amazing Kodaly music educator who taught at the University of Calgary for many years, collected this song and game from the Caribbean island where she had a home..." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aqr44wfy9lA

As is the case with most if not all folk songs and rhymes, there are many different versions of "Four White Horses" and there are various meanings that have been attributed to this song's (rhyme's) lyrics.
I'm not interested in judging whether one version or another is correct or incorrect. However, it seems to me that it might be possible to determine which versions may be older than others, if not "the oldest known" versions. And it also seems to me that it's appropriate to speculate about the early origins of this folk song whether those speculations can be proven or not.

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SELECTED COMMENTS ABOUT "FOUR WHITE HORSES" FROM MUDCAT DISCUSSION THREAD
From http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=9634 Four White Horses??

Pancocojams Editor:
These selected comments are numbered for referencing purposes only.

1.
"Subject: Four White Horses??
From: Cleo
Date: 13 Mar 99 - 01:05 AM

I once heard a group of kids sing this song...
Four white horses on the river,
aye, aye, aye, up tomorrow,
up tomorrow is a rainy day.
Come and join our shadow play.
Shadow play is a ripe banana,
aye, aye, aye, up tomorrow,
up tomorrow is a rainy day.
I just wondered where it came from and if it's only supposed to be a nonsense song, or it actually means something. Any help?

Thanks, Cleo"

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2.
"Subject: RE: Four White Horses??
From: GUEST,Sheila
Date: 06 Apr 04 - 01:36 PM

Karen Ellis collected this in 1976 on St. Croix, USVI. A live sound field recording was made and submitted to the Folk Archive at the Library of Congress at that time. The words at that time were:
4 white horses on a rainbow
Hey hey hey up tomorrow
Up tomorrow is a rainy day
Come on out and let's shadow play
Shadow play is a ripe banana
Hey hey hey up tomorrow. (a salty sexy rhyme).
Still another version goes "4 white horses on the river" and "Come on up to the shallow bay/ Shallow bay is a ripe banana." "

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3.
"Subject: RE: Four White Horses??
From: GUEST
Date: 19 Mar 05 - 04:01 PM

Here are the original lyrics to the song:

Four white horses, on the river,
hey, hey, hey, up tomorrow.
Up tomorrow is a rainy day,
come on up to the shallow bay.
Shallow bay is a ripe banana,
up tomorrow is a rainy day!

It is an old carribean folk song"

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4.
"Subject: RE: Four White Horses??
From: GUEST,Ripe Banana
Date: 16 Dec 05 - 04:48 AM

This jaunty tune actually originated in 1963 in the Caribbean, and is closer to the version posted by Cleo:

Four white horses, on the river
Aye, aye, aye, up tomorrow
Up tomorrow is a rainy day
Come on and join the Shadow Gay
Shadow Gay in the last cabana
Aye, aye, aye, up tomorrow
Bite my banana."

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5.
"Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Four White Horses
From: MickyMan
Date: 10 Jan 06 - 06:25 PM

When I learned this children's game in the late 70s as a graduate level music educationn student at the Kodaly Musical Training Institute, we were told that the "up tomorrow" was derived from an erlier lyric of "hope tomorrow". These Kodaly Method people sourced their stuff bigtime ... and the lyric makes more sense when you know this. I taught it as a children's clapping game song similar to the one listed earlier. I'll bet there are many variants, one for every neighborhood girl gang in the Carribean. Great kid's game song!"

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6.
"Subject: RE: Four White Horses??
From: GUEST,k
Date: 19 Apr 09 - 05:35 PM

well im caribbean and it seem to me as if it is said differently then the way i learned it when i was a child for i've learned it as

4 white horses on a rainbow
hey hey hey up tomorrow
up tomorrow is a rainy day
come on down to the shallow bay
a shallow bay is a rotten banana
hey hey hey down tomorrow"

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7.
"Subject: RE: Four White Horses??
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 20 Apr 09 - 05:19 PM

GUESTk, that sure sounds like the folk process at work!"

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8.
"Subject: RE: Four White Horses??
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 01 Aug 09 - 07:18 AM

This is pure uninformed guesswork, but might the song be descended from a shanty? I've never heard it, but on reading the words one of those 'Sally Brown' sort of tunes seemed to be struggling for utterance.

Could 'Shadow day is a ripe banana' once have been 'Sally Brown's a bright mulatta?'

'Four white horses' appear in versions of 'Jordan', which is sometimes a spiritual and sometimes closer to a shanty.

Valmai"
-snip-
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_shanty:
"A shanty (also spelled "chantey," "chanty") is a type of work song that was once commonly sung to accompany labor on board large merchant sailing vessels".

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/04/sally-brown-sally-sue-brown-sea-shanty.html for information about and some examples of "Sally Brown" (also known as "Shallow Brown") shanties.

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9.
"Subject: RE: Four White Horses??
From: Dave Hunt
Date: 02 Aug 09 - 04:51 AM

I learnt this song in Barbados when I was there a couple of years ago as a visiting artist - looking at how they teach their traditions in school. The words they use are

Three white horses, in a stable
hey hey we go up tomorrow
Up tomorrow at the break of day
Come along with your shallow plate
Shallow plate is a white mulatto
hey hey we go - up tomorrow
Up tommorrow at the break of day
Come along with your shallow plate

Tendency noew to sing green banana in place of white mulsatto - in fact they have fun changing the coloutr of the banana - blue, gold, red, whatever one child shouts out."

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10.
"Subject: RE: Four White Horses??
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 29 Jan 10 - 12:52 PM

Valmai said exactly what I was thinking! I was immediately reminded by

Shallow Bay is a ripe banana

Shadow play is a ripe banana

Shadow Gay in the last cabana


of "Sally (Shallow) Brown is a bright mulatta" and the shanty. Dave's hearing of the song seems to confirm this. I would love to hear the tune this is sung to."

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11.
"Subject: RE: Four White Horses??
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Apr 16 - 08:02 AM

four white horses
in the stable
hey hey we go
off tomorrow
off tomorrow is a break up day
come along with your shallow plate
shallow plate is a white banana
hey hey we go
off tomorrow"

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OTHER SELECTED COMMENTS ABOUT "FOUR WHITE HORSES" (INCLUDING OTHER LYRIC VERSIONS) FROM OTHER ONLINE SITES
Pancocojams Editor:
These selected comments are numbered for referencing purposes only.

1. From http://www.newworldrecords.org/liner_notes/80427.pdf
"31. FOUR WHITE HORSES ON A RAINBOW
Schoolgirls, St. Thomas, 6/8/82
This hand-clapping game was performed by eight- and nine-year-old girls during recess
at school.

Four white horses on a rainbow,
Eh, eh, eh, up tomorrow,
Up tomorrow is a rainy day,
Come on down to the shadow play,
Shadow play is a ripe banana, Eh, eh, eh, up tomorrow...."
-snip-
This is the 31st song that is featured in this pdf file. That file also includes a rather extensive write up about the history of the United States Virgin Island as well as information about certain music forms including "Quadrille", "Masquerades" and "Scratch bands (also called "Fungi music" in the British Virgin
Islands).

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2. From http://www.mamalisa.com/?t=es&p=2200 "Four White Horses"
"This is a traditional Caribbean song. In one interpretation, it's about four white horses traveling on a river in a boat or on a barge. It's going to rain the next day, so they'd better come back up river to where it's safe in the shallow bay.

Four White Horses
Hand Clapping Rhyme
Four white horses, on the river,
Hey, hey, hey, up tomorrow,
Up tomorrow is a rainy day.
Come on up to the shallow bay,
Shallow bay is a ripe banana,
Up tomorrow is a rainy day.

Notes
Alternate lyrics:

Four white horses on a rainbow,
Hey, hey, hey, up tomorrow*
Up tomorrow is a rainy day,
Come on down to the shadow play,
Shadow play is a ripe banana,
Hey, hey, hey, up tomorrow.

*"Up tomorrow" may have originally been "hope tomorrow". There are versions with it as "for tomorrow"....
-snip-
This page also includes performance instructions. Those instructions are posted in Part II of this pancocojams series.

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3. From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aqr44wfy9lA
sysphus13, 2012
"Great video, thanks. Being my kids even thought both of these versions were strange and senseless, as did I , i'm changing it to: Hey, Hey, Hey, Hope tomorrow, hope tomorrow is a rainy day, come on up to the shallow bay, shallow bay has some ripe bananas, hope tomorrow is a rainy day. :)"

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From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aqr44wfy9lA
Elorenz57, June 2017
"Lois Choksy, the amazing Kodaly music educator who taught at the University of Calgary for many years, collected this song and game from the Caribbean island where she had a home. The words were: "Come on up to the shallow bay. Shallow bay is a ripe banana, Up tomorrow is a rainy day." "Shallow Bay" was the name of the bay close to her home. It was in the shape of a banana, hence "Shallow bay is a ripe banana."Thought you might be interested in the history of the text. Enjoy."

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This concludes Part I of this pancocojams series on "Four White Horses".

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. It seems to me that the "right" way to teach the Caribbean folk song "Four White Horses" is to admit that no one knows what the original words were.

    I'm leaning toward the theory that "Four White Horses" was originally a "Sally Brown" shanty (seamen's work song) and that the words "Sally Brown" became "Shallow Brown" and then "shallow bay" by folk processing.

    As to the theory that the line "shallow bay is a ripe banana" means that there is a location in the Caribbean (or anywhere else) called "shallow bay" that is shaped like a ripe banana, I don't know whether there is an actual bay in the United States Virgin Island or in any other Caribbean nation that is named "Shallow Bay". And I don't know if that particular bay is shaped like a banana. There is a Shallow Bay Beach in Canada http://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/PlanYourTrip/Detail/29641117.

    And there are a number of touristy type homes in the Caribbean named "Shallow Bay". But that's probably because those tourist residences/locations were named "Shallow Bay" because of the popularity of that folk song.

    Also, given that I think that it's likely that this song was a shanty, I also think that "four white horses on the river" might have been a reference to four high white waves on the river. That said, it's still possible that the words "on the rainbow" might have been an earlier than "on the river".

    There appears to be a lot of evidence that the word "up" in the "Four White Horses" song was the way people in the Caribbean (who have difficulty pronouncing the letter "h") pronounced the word "hope". Therefore, it doesn't seem to me to be any reason why people who have no difficulty pronouncing the letter "h" would sing "up tomorrow" instead of the "hope tomorrow"...

    Personally, singing "up" for me feels like insisting on singing "gwine" and “heben” instead of "gonna" and “heaven” in African American Spirituals, although I admit that it's not really the same thing because African Americans don't say "gwine" and “heben” anymore, but lots of people in the Caribbean may still pronounce the word "hope" like "up".

    Everyone can do as they choose, but I've decided to sing "Four White Horses" to children this way:

    Four white horses, on the river,
    Hey, hey, hey, hope tomorrow,
    Hope tomorrow's not a rainy day.
    Come on up to the Shallow Bay,
    Shallow Bay is a ripe banana,
    Hope tomorrow's not a rainy day.

    ReplyDelete