The Racist Roots of the Song "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" (2023)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Last updated: April 15, 2022

Anecdotal evidence suggests that early versions of the chant now known as "Five Little Monkeys" (aka "Ten Little Monkeys") were based on the song "Shortnin Bread".

These early versions of "Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed" used the plural "n-word" or "darkies" instead of the word "monkey" as references to black people. And "monkey" itself is a word that has also been used, past and present, as an offensive reference to black people.

This post by Pancocojams is a compilation of the online comments I've found to date regarding the likely racist roots of the "Five Little Monkeys/"Ten Little Monkeys" chant. This post also includes my comments on this information and another possible source for this corner.

The content of this post is for folk and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thank you to everyone named in this post.
Clique the closely related 2014 Pancocojams contribution "Versions of the song "Shortnin' Bread" (1900-1950)"


Nursery Rhymes, from, December 31, 2013

Nursery Rhymes for Children:

"Five Little Monkeys", the funny lullaby about 5 cheeky monkeys having fun jumping around
Here is a summary of the video originally embedded in this Pancocojams post.
(This video is no longer available.)
The classic children's song "Five Little Monkeys" (or "5 Little Monkeys") helps children learn basic math skills. As each little monkey falls and "bangs their heads," children learn basic subtraction skills in the context of this whimsical song.


(unknown author)

Five little monkeys jumping on the bed
One fell and hit his head
Mom called the doctor
And the doctor said
No more monkeys jumping on the bed

Four little monkeys jump on the bed, etc.

Three little monkeys jump on the bed, etc.

Two little monkeys jump on the bed, etc.

A little monkey jumping on the bed
One fell and hit his head
Mom called the doctor
And the doctor said:
Put those monkeys back to bed.
- different fonts incl

Comment no. 1:
Out of
This is an answer to the question "What is the origin of The Five Little Monkeys [song]"?
Respondent: Supervisor of Books and Literature Myrab51
"It derives from the original first verse of 'Shortenin' Bread': Two little (insert N-word here) lying in bed the darkies on shortin' bread" We all know the refrain: Mama's little baby loves to shorten, to shorten, Mama's little baby loves shortened bread. Sad but true.

As with many nursery rhymes and nursery rhymes, the rhythm of the verse was too catchy for people to pull off, so parents/teachers just changed the characters and plot. "Monkeys" belies this...unfortunately, monkeys and apes are often used as surrogate figures for African Americans. This rhyme began to clear up as early as the late 1930s. My 77-year-old mother recently heard "Five Little Monkeys" on my son's Baby Genius CD and said, "Monkeys? they shorten bread!" By the time she was a child, the N-word had fallen out of use in the Northeastern United States, and "darkies" was preferred for both the opening and closing phrases."
This quote has been reformatted for this post.

Comment no. 2:
Out of

ChromaKelly, 19.09.2010, 13:56
5 little monkeys - racist?
... "I'm not that crazy about 5 little monkeys jumping on a bed anyway (I remember hearing that as a kid with an 'N') ... I'm sure the vast majority of people , repeating this rhyme, it doesn't 'I have no idea this has a racist root, so do I just let it be or educate people?' Even though I can't be 100% sure.

ChromaKelly, 19.09.2010, 20:14
"Just to be clear, I'm not like, 'Anything with a monkey is racist.' I'm mostly talking about the version of 5 Little Monkeys that goes like this -
Five little monkeys swinging from the tree
provoked Mr. Alligator can't catch me...can't catch me
came Mr. Alligator as quiet as possible
and plucked the monkeys from this tree *

*It's the combination of monkeys and being eaten by a crocodile that bothers me. Anyway, I just wanted to know if anyone knows if this is based on the alligator bait thing or not."

Comment no. 3
Out of"Five children's songs with racist stories" Posted by Angele on 04/29/2014
GB Harris May 6, 2014 at 3:01 p.m
“I'm not a mom but I found this site to find some activities for my little sister. I heard from my grandmother that some of the songs and phrases that we consider "trendy" today actually date back several centuries and obviously contain racist language, sexist, etc. I had heard of the racist version of "Eenie Meenie Mini Moe" heard, but the last "Short'nin Bread" blew me away because I recognized it as "Three Little Monkeys," a song I learned in private school. To my horror, I found that the N-word had been replaced with monkeys, a thinly veiled racial epithet to once again refer to black people. Fundamental. I think the more you learn about the past, the better equipped you are. As long as you don't delve into it, you are.” Growing up, I think my family could have done more to help make it whole. honest about how as a black woman I would face racism and how I might fight it. However, I'm studying on my own, but a more open dialogue would have helped my development."

Comment no. 4:
Angele, May 12, 2014 at 10:51 p.m
"GB Harris, you're right, the text and rhyme structure in this verse from Short'nin Bread bears a STRONG resemblance to 5 or 10 Little Monkey's Jumping on the Bed." I've heard from many people that the origin of "10 Little Monkey's Jumping on The Bed" was racist, but when I researched this post I couldn't find any credible sources to confirm or refute this claim. I visited a few libraries and spoke to several reference librarians and museums as well. I have found nothing on the provenance or authorship of the song. There is a book published by Eileen Christelow but even she claims that she is not the original author and does not know who she is It's unclear how long "10 Little Monkey's Jumping on The Bed" was, if at all, before or after "Short'nin Bread" etc. The only online reference I could find was this:*
"This reference is very anecdotal, and while it may be true, I didn't consider it a source of scientific information, so I didn't include it in the post. But I will say that the resemblance is undeniable.”
*This is the quote provided above as comment #1 on this post about Pancocojams.
Here is my comment on this comment on
Corresponding"There is no known origin of the song as it is a modern day lullaby. But the song has lyrics and melody similar to the first verse of the folk song "Shortnin' Bread".

"Shortnin Bread" is also likely the source of the American nursery rhyme "Ten Little Indians" (where the singers count down to "no little Indians" and each Indian meets a tragic end).

Tiffany M.B. Anderson wrote an interesting and informative article about this post-Civil War "raccoon song" entitled "Ten Little [n plural word] /🇧🇷 Here is the first paragraph of this online summary:
“During Reconstruction in the 1860s, the proud Confederate states found themselves in a place of submission. Forced to admit their free slave labor, former Confederate citizens refused to bow their ideology to the inferiority of freed slaves." [n plural word *]" in keeping with this ideology, has been prevalent in minstrel shows and children's lullaby books throughout the United States."
*This word is fully explained in this summary.
Here is a commentary on a song that is probably the German version of this composition:
"ciara1973, Jun 29, 2014 @ 9:21am
"In Germany we have "Zehn kleine Negerlein". A horrible song about ten little African children who do the stupidest things and kill themselves. The kindergarten teacher made my sister and the other children sing in a play. I later told my mother (she was at work) and she took care of it. Later a punk group changed their name and lyrics and are no longer allowed to teach. My brothers and I are biracial (African American and German)."

[last updated: December 11, 2020 - grammar corrections]

Here's a comment I wrote on July 20, 2014 in response to a question about whether versions of the "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo" rhyme should be taught to or used by children, even though those versions don't include "the n-word". : "Ask the ARP: What should I do about lullabies with a racist past?" Posted on October 24, 2007 by Carmen Van Kerckhove [This page is no longer available.]

"More than seven years after the publication of this post, I found it while searching for a thread and I'm surprised that there isn't an answer to your valid question.

As a folklorist in the African-American community with a particular interest in playground rhymes, I'm aware that some playground rhymes -- like other folk songs -- have problematic, and even quite obnoxious, reverse versions. However, I don't think people should avoid teaching and sharing with children those politically correct versions that were intentionally created to replace those obnoxious versions, or that happened to develop non-racist variants.

For what it's worth, I learned "Eeny Meenie Miney Mo" from the phrase "Grab a Tiger by the Toe" in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the mid-1950s. And it wasn't until my fifties that I learned that "tiger" (or any other word) was a substitute for "the n-word". From other discussions of this song online, including your comment, it appears that a number of people who know "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo" chose a rhyme don't know that it once contained the "n-word". .

I don't encourage people to forget the story of rhymes or songs that contain offensive references. I believe it would be beneficial for children of a certain age - at least young people - and adults to study and discuss this subject formally and informally, as an introduction and supplementary resource to the study of anti-racism, multiculturalism and folklore, etc. 🇧🇷

What worries me much more is the fact that even today some playground rhymes that are racist are still being recited - for example some examples of "I was in a Chinese restaurant". I firmly believe that these rhymes should not be recited and I would have no problem contacting the school or community center if I knew that a teacher or staff member was teaching my granddaughter these obnoxious versions of these rhymes. Her parents and I would age-appropriately redirect my grandson if she learned an offensive version of this rhyme or if she learned other offensive rhymes or songs from her friends, from TV, the internet, or elsewhere.

However, I would have no problem - and neither do I think her parents - if she recites a non-racist version of a rhyme or song that has a past or present racist version.

I agree with the director who had concerns about "raising a child's awareness of something that we can't fully explain because there's no context for the child - we can't tell them what the old words were".

Just saying that "some examples of this rhyme have offensive words" is too vague unless we also say what those words are. And I don't think adults need to do that unless the kids are older or they're being overheard using those words or someone is using those words and asking us about it."

Here's another answer I wrote [no date given] to the question "If "Five Little Monkeys" and "Shortnin Bread" really do have racist roots, does that mean people who are anti-racist don't sing those songs and should children teach them?

I believe that current versions of "Five Little Monkeys", "Shornin Bread" and "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo", despite their racist origins and adaptations, can be acceptable for singing and viewing with children when their cartoons or other visual aids are not are stereotyped and that these versions contain no offensive words or gestures.

I would also add that two reasons for teaching non-offensive versions of the Five Little Monkeys rhyme are that this rhyme demonstrates the fun of rhythmic recitation while teaching children to subtract.

VIDEO ADDENDUM [added September 12, 2020]

5 little monkeys remix tiktok ��❤️

Darryl Slaughter Jr., 30. Mai 2030

it's a father-daughter thing😂❤
Clique the contribution to the Pancocojams 2020 with the title "5 little monkeys remix tiktok (with an animated video of this rhyme and comments on how to recite rhymes with racist stories)"

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