This song is based on a Victorian poem called My Mother by Ann Taylor.
Who sat and watched my infant head
When sleeping on my cradle bed
And tears of sweet affection shed
When pain and sickness made me cry,
Who gazed upon my heavy eye,
And wept for fear that I should die?
Nyango M. Nambangi sent me this song with the following comments:
Who sat and watched my infant head, when sleeping on my cradle bed, etc. is from a poem titled: "My Mother". I do remember that we used the "Oxford English Reader" growing up and that is why many of the nursery rhymes and poems I remember are so British and some with African tunes. I think the version (of My Mother) in our Oxford/Longman's readers/primers had fewer verses and these two were the ones we all remembered and sang.
Children sing all the time (in Cameroon), while playing, while fetching water or washing dishes, baby-sitting their younger siblings, etc. As children, we are encouraged to sing by our parents, teachers, etc. Children are also adept at making up songs to suit the situation, such as the victory songs I sent you about winning games – some of those are distinct children compositions.
And the "Three Gypsies" song, we sang it because the English Primers we used in Primary and Secondary schools in the English-speaking part of Cameroon, had these as poems in them. These were British/Oxford Printing Press primers and poems like "The Keeper did a-shooting go, and under his cloak he carried a bow…" became songs we sang as children.
I asked Nyango if this song is sung for Mothers Day or as a lullaby. Here's what she replied: "Yes, by all means, it is appropriate for Mother's Day. Seeing that it is a Victorian poem, I guess… we sometimes use it as a lullaby".
Nyango said this is a popular song in Cameroon.
Many thanks to Nyango M. Nambangi of the Minnesota African Women's Association for contributing and singing this song and for telling us about the singing traditions in Cameroon.