scout camp fire

At last it can be told. The true story of ‘Ging Gang Gooli’ (apparently) who wrote it and why (allegedly) , where it was first performed (possibly) and what it means (if anything)

‘Ging Gang Gooli’ is one of those songs that is irrevocably linked with the Boy Scout movement although it has been covered by artists as disparate as The Scaffold, The Tremeloes, The Megatons, Karl Denver, The Rutles, Kim and Sandara, Inner Kneipe, Billy and Vhong plus Cubs, Scouts, Brownies and Guides around the world.

1st World Scout Jamboree poster

The story starts on July 26th, 1916 when the Scout Movement was 9 years old and already an international institution. A Committee decided … “That an Imperial and International Jamboree shall be held in 1918 provided the war is over in 1917.” Although the Committee was a little optimistic in its dates the first World Scout Jamboree did take place between 30th July and 8th August 1920 at Olympia, West Kensington. Over 8,000 Scouts from 34 countries attended along with an alligator from Florida, a baby crocodile from Jamaica, monkeys from South Africa, a baby elephant, a camel and a lioness cub from Rhodesia.

Jamboree 1920

Because accommodation in Olympia was limited 5,000 of the Scouts attending camped on the Old Deer Park in Richmond fed by 180 former “Comrades of the Great War” who each day boiled, basted and barbecued 1,500 kilos of meat, 2,500 kippers, 1,600 loaves, 1 ton of potatoes and 5,000 rock cakes.

For a more detailed description of the Old Deer Park Jamboree Camp in 1920 check out… 5,000 Boys and the Old Deer Park

Lord Robert Baden Powell of Gilwell, who founded the Scout movement in 1907, decided that what was needed to unite the international visitors to the Jamboree was a song that everyone could enjoy. First of all it needed a simple, catchy theme – so B.P borrowed one from Mozart’s Symphony No.1 in Eb major, composed when Mozart was only eight years old.

Mozart Symphony No 1 in Eb.

Next, to avoid any language difficulties, he wrote the lyrics in the purest Gibberish so that everyone could sing it but nobody would understand what it meant…

World Jamboree   Old Deer Park

Ging gang goolie goolie goolie goolie watcha,
Ging gang goo, ging gang goo.
Ging gang goolie goolie goolie goolie watcha,
Ging gang goo, ging gang goo.
Hayla, hayla shayla, hayla shayla, hayla, oh-ho,
Hayla, hayla shayla, hayla shayla, hayla, oh.
Shally wally, shally wally, shally wally, shally wally
Oompah, oompah, oompah, oompah

And there it was – rolling round and round, with half the singers ‘ging gang gooliing’ like crazy on top while the rest ‘oompahed’ frantically underneath. It was a 1920 hit, performed for the first time no doubt, on the Old Deer Park in Richmond.

Baden Powell

The Scouts are used to singing songs that appear to have nonsense lyrics. One favourite, borrowed by Baden Powell from the Zulus, has the opening line “Een Gonyama, gonyama invoboo!”. It is apparently about lions and hippopotamuses (hippopotami?) and is still sung to this day by the 1st St Margarets Cubs. Ask one. They will tell you. Bless!

In 1991 Dorothy Unterschutz, a Canadian Scout Leader who obviously had too much time on her hands came up with a story explaining the song’s lyrics. It told of the occupants of Wat-Cha who wanted to stop an elephant wrecking their village. Their leader, Ging Gang, shook his spear and the Medicine Man, Shayla chanted a magic spell, ‘Shally Wally, Shally Wally’. So stunned was the elephant he ran off trumpeting ‘Oompah, Oompah’. The villagers celebrated by singing the song "Ging Gang…etc etc. Dorothy’s story was not on the short list for the Man Booker Prize.

Lorensberg Park

Some archivists suggest that the song predates Baden Powell. Swedish sources say that the song existed as early as the 1890’s when it was popular with Swedish students. (Same tune, Swedish lyrics) Another source claims that the first documented performance of the song was in Lorensberg Amusement Park in Gothenburg in 1905. Whatever its source ‘Ging Gang Gooli’ became and remains a Scout favourite around the world although I suspect that this comes more from sentiment than genuine fondness. For all that, there are moments around a campfire when the song finds itself again and reminds us, Scout and non-Scout alike, of an earlier time when our international humanity could be celebrated in song. The 1st St Margarets Cubs sing it to this day. Oompah! Oompah!

’Ging Gang Gooli – a particularly lively version