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An Ancient Lullaby from Mesopotamia in Shadow Theater

Updated: Mar 15

AMANILI SINGS/ אמנילי שרה


Akkadian lullaby: Anonymous. Mesopotamia, about 2500 BC. Sung in Hebrew and Akkadian at the end of the show.

Direction, Text, Design, Scenery, Shadow Puppets and Performance : Patricia O'Donovan

Music written and played live by: Yarden Erez.

Metal construction, puppet rods and body lamp: Mario Keizman.

On stage: Patricia O'Donovan and Yarden Erez

Production 2008: Train Theater of Jerusalem

To watch a trailer in Hebrew click here

An ancient Akkadian saying: " May the baby slip out of the House of Darkness

( the womb) as quickly as a gazelle!!!"

Amanili and baby Elali (names were chosen from a list of ancient Akkadian names)

The show brings to life the story of a young couple and their village somewhere in Mesopotamia, 4000 years ago. It develops throughout 8 scenes that begin with the creation of the Mesopotamian world and ends with the birth of a baby that will only calm down if his mother sings to him.

When I first read the lullaby in its Hebrew translation, I was amazed to find it mentioned Enkidu. A figure dear to me since the time I formed part of a Shadow Theater group in Buenos Aires in the 70's, "Transparencias" and we created a Shadow Show on the epic of Gilgamesh (click here) I wondered what was the role of Enkidu with lulling a baby to sleep?. There started my journey of research about the lullaby. Enkidu was known to stay awake at night protecting the animals in the waterholes and watching out for hunters. Mothers would beg him to give his sleep to their babies: Enkidu! If you stay awake please give your share of sleep to my baby! , and  Sleep my baby! May sleep get hold of you as strongly as the embrace of Enkidu!

Lullabies are not stories mothers tell their babies; the last thing they want is to keep the baby awake listening to it. It is not the words that matter actually. What puts the baby to sleep is the rhythm of the song, the comfort of her voice and body and the rocking. Mothers sing the lullaby and add whatever is in their minds, very often venting out worries and family problems. These became the material from which I reconstructed her life, from pregnancy to birth. When the baby is born and the mother goes back to work, nothing but her voice will calm baby. Munawirtum, the midwife who taught the mother the lullaby, must get her back from the market to calm Elali and make him stop crying. The show ends with the original lullaby sung in both Akkadian and Hebrew with original music by Yarden.

Enkidu's embrace is an obstacle to overcome giving birth.

"May Enkidu's embrace not hold you back in the womb" ( another ancient saying)


Lullaby: German translation of Akkadian lullaby by Z.A. Farber (*)

Hebrew translation: Nadav Linial

Consultants: Kamal Kizel, student of Babylonian language at the Department of Linguistics of Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ), Dr. Uri Gabbay and Professor Wayne Horowitz from the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at HUJ, Atida Braun German translator

Cuneiform clay replica of lullaby tablet: Dr. Uri Gabbay.

First production: Train Theater of Jerusalem 2008

(*) Farber, Z.A (1981) Baby –Beschworungen, 34-35.Literature: Farber, Antophos,85(1990), 140-143.( needs correction)

Each scene has a separate screen with black cutouts. The puppets that enter and exit the scene, are colored. I work with a lamp attached to my waist to have free hands for the puppets.

Below: Yarden Erez who composed music for the show and for the lullaby, plays live next to me.


Israel: International Festival of Puppet Theater, Jerusalem, August 2010

Israel: International Festival of Puppet Theater, Jerusalem. August 2009

Israel. Haifa International Festival of Children's Theater. April 2009

Israel: International Festival of Puppet Theater Public Works, Jerusalem.

August 2008

Israel: HOLON International Festival of Puppet Theater, July 2008



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