Children's Rondas: You've Sung Them, But Where Did They Come From?

Children playing traditional children's rounds.

If you didn't sing these traditional rolitas over and over again, you didn't have a childhood.

Surely we all remember having played as children to form a round and sing or play certain children's songs. The kind that we sang from memory even when we were asleep. But have you ever wondered about the origin of the children's rounds?

The traditional children's rondas in Mexico are a piece of history shared over several generations. This is why they are a valuable factor in our Mexican culture. You will be surprised by their stories!

The Origin Of The Children's Rounds

The Sea Viper

Girls playing the Viper of the Sea, one of the traditional children's rounds.

A wedding without this catchy song is not a wedding.

The Viper of the Sea was born as part of a game in ancient Greece. The children imitated being a kind of toll booth, which is now the bridge that is made between two children. Another group of children formed a line pretending to be mules.

When the game was exported to Rome and from there to Spain, the mule train was exchanged for some edible snails, typical of the peninsula, which they called periwinkles.

Periwinkles, periwinkles of the sea, who can pass through here?
Through here I will pass and an infant will leave,
Who will that infant be ?; a donkey that will be left behind

After the conquest and in the New Spanish houses of Mexico where children of different castes came together to play, many mestizos had no idea what a periwinkle was. This is how it was changed to the Viper of the Sea.

As adults, many adopted the children's game for weddings where the bride and groom work like the old booth and if the line of people manages to separate them, it means that the couple will not last long.

Happening right now! #lavivoradelamar

A post shared by Alvin Caampued (@djalvinc) on

Los Maderos De San Juan

Sawdust, they saw ... Los Maderos de San Juan is one of the children's rounds that caused me a lot of grace when I was a child. Especially when he mentions: "They ask for cheese, they give them a bone that gets stuck in their necks."

Mia doll Rica I love you so much #gaby #losmaderosdesanjuan #hermanassobrinas #amoreterno

A post shared by Karem (@kliway) on

When Europe became Christian, people used to make pilgrimages to Rome. That trip was called “pilgrimage” and on the way people asked for bread, cheese or wine.

However, most still conserved pagan customs linked to the night of San Juan where bonfires were lit to help the sun and the solstice. The first songs said:

The pilgrims of San Juan
Some come others go
Those who come ask for wine
Those who go ask for bread

It is believed that in those times people still used to practice a divination game called "Rocotín rocotán", also linked to the night of San Juan.

As a consequence, to Christianize the phrase with magical connotations, it was changed to “sawdust sawdust” and the pilgrims called them “Los Maderos de San Juan”. Who would say that this childish round would have a pagan tone to guess luck?

Cartoon of the children's round Los Maderos de San Juan.

Mrs. White

Doña Blanca de Borbón was a French noblewoman who married King Pedro of Castile in 1353. According to the story, after the marriage, Pedro refused to see Blanca again, but no one knew why. After learning that the parents would not be able to pay her dowry, King Pedro not only avoided her, but imprisoned her in the castle of Sidueña in Spain. Then the legend began.

Upon learning of the woman's imprisonment, scores of romances, legends and folk songs about the queen began to circulate, including one that claimed a peasant was secretly bringing her bread. Hence the song was born:

Doña Blanca is covered
Of pillars of gold and silver
We will break a pillar
To see Doña Blanca

When King Peter learned how popular his story was becoming and the pressure from different nobles to free the queen, Peter ordered her death.

This is how the queen was poisoned inside the fortress that is now known as El Castillo de Doña Blanca. That nice family!

Mambrú went to war

Now we turn to the France of 1709, full of powdered wigs and rich eccentrics. That year the battle of Malplaquet was being fought between the English and the French. The main commander was John Churchill the English Duke of Marlborough.

A rumor had said that the duke had died in battle and the French soldiers began to mock him by singing:

Marlborough s'en va-t-en guerre
Mironton, Miroton Mirontaine, ne sais quand reviendra.

But the duke was not dead, and not only that, but in the battle he fought, he defeated the French.

That did not prevent the song from reaching the nurses of Louis XVI and from there to Spain during Bobón's control. But since no one in Spain could pronounce Marlborough, they better said: "Mambrú has died in war, they take him to bury ..."

Animation of Mambrú when he is taken to bury.

Traditional children's rounds are still popular games for children, and despite digitization, their verses continue to be played. Although we do not all know where their sticky lyrics come from, it is great to know that a little piece of our ancient history continues to be reproduced among the new generations.

So I invite you to go out and play this children's day and discover the secrets behind the children's rounds. And if you are not a child, you could well teach them to the little ones in the family.

Show your children the most beautiful places in Mexico with this original and fun board game: Mexican Monopoly: The Most Cultural and Original Board Game