Human Learning

Education issues, within and outside the education system.

More Subject...

Gending Rare: Balinese Nursery Rhymes Teach Norms and Values

Foreword from Listen To The World

Nursery rhyme’s are crucial to the development of a child’s identity. However, in today’s world, where diverse forms of entertainment proliferate within digital domains, are nursery rhymes still significant, or are they more significant than ever?

“Wilderness” is how our parent organisation, Sacred Bridge, describes the explorative stage of identity building in adolescence (similar to identity moratorium in Psychology). According to Sacred Bridge Psychologist, Denny Putra, it is a stage where children experience conflict between their ideal identity (cultural norms and values) and their collective identity (belongingness to society at large) (read “Reintroducing cultural heritage to Indonesian diaspora in New York City”). Interactions with friends exemplify such wilderness.

Thanks to digital media, children today no longer need to venture outside to play with their friends in this wilderness; they only need to swipe their gadget and then they are in the digital wilderness. While digital media benefits mature audiences, for children and adolescents, it is a radically new world that could psychologically confuse them. Many platforms out there have yet to find parental guidance models, which makes it difficult for parents to protect their children from unwanted information.

So again, are nursery rhymes still significant today? For us, they definitely are! It is crucial to preserve and continue nursery rhyme traditions to young children, to enable them to establish the foundation of their identity in preparation for “global” wilderness — both physical and virtual. Nursery rhymes profoundly impact the child’s mindset by learning through repetition of their cultural norms and values, as an unimposing form of entertainment (learning can be a game which the children play). Secondly, whereas storytelling (folklore) ideally needs a narrator for guidance, nursery rhymes provoke children to educate themselves. Last but not least, encouraging children to keep in touch with their roots while embracing external influences.


Gending Rare: Balinese Nursery Rhymes Teach Norms and Values

By I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika

An aspect of Balinese culture that still remains to this day is the nursery rhyme, which in Balinese is called gending rare (gen.ding rha-ré) or sekar rare. It consists of a number of playful songs for children, that employ a simple form of the Balinese language, with dynamic music, and overall evoking positive emotions. With contagious melodies, this nursery rhyme is unsurprisingly a fixture during children’s playtime in Bali.

But behind its simplicity, gending rare contains hidden meanings that teach children norms and values. It serves as a vehicle to communicate the messages of life in a way that makes it comprehensible for a young child would understand; something of which is integral to Balinese traditional child rearing.

There are three types of gending rare: gending rare, gending janger, and gending sang hyang. Each form of gending rare has its own characteristics based on its nature and functions, which is evident when the song is sung. This nursery rhyme has proven effective in teaching young children ethics, norms, and values. In this article I am going to analyse three of the most popular rhymes.

  1. Cakup-cakup Balang

Cakup-cakup balang

Luwung titi luwung pengancang

Tumbuh gigi becat majalan


Pat your hand

Good bridge, good hand guide

Grow teeth, walk soon

This is one of the most popular rhyme’s sung during playtime. The lyrics, however simple they may seem, have much deeper meanings. It is aimed at teaching children about manners and respect. The first line – ‘pat your hand’ – means patting one’s hand on one’s chest as the sign of respect in Balinese tradition. Since an early age, children are taught to pay respect to God, people, and the environment. The second line – ‘good bridge, good hand guide’ – means that the next generation must be guided to the right path, along with their security and safety – physically, mentally, and spiritually – in order to allow them to grow without any serious disturbances. The third line – ‘Grow teeth, walk soon’ – describes that once a child grows his teeth, he will soon be able to walk. This lyric implies that once a child has the ability to walk and all their teeth have grown, allowing him to chew their food, it marks the time when they are capable of setting their own path.

  1. Putri Cening Ayu

Putri cening ayu, ngijeng cening jumah,

Meme luas malu, ka peken mablanja,

Apang ada daaran nasi.

Meme tiang ngiring, nongos ngijeng jumah,

Sambilan mapunpun, ajak tiang dadua

Di mulihne dong gapgapin


O beautiful daughter, please stay home

I am going to the market, to buy some food

So that we can have a dish to eat with rice

O mother, I hear you, I’ll be waiting at home

While cooking, the two of us

Please bring me a gift when you come home.

This song is sung as a lullaby. Not only is it comforting, it also serves as a means to implement the ideas of good conduct and manners to a child. The hidden meaning of the lyric is that a child should seek knowledge and experience by interacting and working together with others; a reminder that humans are social creatures that cannot stand on their own.

3. Meong-Meong

Meong-meong alih ja bikule

Bikul gede-gede

Buin mokoh-mokoh

Kereng pesan ngerusuhin

Juk meng juk kul

Juk meng juk kul


O cat, go hunt for mice

Big mice

Fat mice

Who like creating chaos

Catch the cat catch the mice

Catch the cat catch the mice

This song is usually sung when children are playing Meong-meong, a popular traditional game for children (meong is an Indonesian onomatopoeia for the sound a cat makes). Each line in the lyric contributes towards building a child’s character since an early age. It teaches a child to be a good person and not to cause any trouble. It also teaches moral values; that one may not use inappropriate, unethical behaviours, such as slandering, to get their own way.

Nursery rhymes are more than just a song. Behind its simplicity lies hidden, culturally laden messages that can enable children grow into becoming a good person with a firm identity. Obviously, one should never question the need to preserve gending rare.



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments