Sea Shanty TikTok has gone viral — it’s just so catchy. It touches all the right chords, and it stays on your mind long after you have heard it.
I kept playing it on loop until my ears started ringing.
Here’s all you need to know about it.
How did a folklore from NZ found its way to TikTok
A 26-year-old aspiring musician from UK named Nathan Evans started the “ShantyTok” trend with his rendition of the Wellerman song — 'Soon May the Wellerman come'.
It was originally penned by a teenage sailor or a whaler in the 1830s who had come to New Zealand and then settled there. He passed it down within his family before it found its way into the folklores of NZ and in the newspapers.
The Bulletin paper in Sydney had published the song n 1904. It was later picked up by folk musicians like Neil Colquhoun who documented and socialised it - singing in folk clubs around the world. He published it in his book named “Songs of a Young Country”, published in England in 1972.
Later in 1988, a former schoolteacher in NZ named John Archer, added his own twist to the shanty to teach his students. He put it up on his website in 1998, which was flat up until a few days back has suddenly gathered over 10,000 views just in the last seven days.
What do the lyrics signify?
The lyrics tell the beautiful story of the whalers set in that time. Whalers are people who hunt whales in the ocean. The shanty gives us a little snippet into the whaling industry.
Whale oil was used as a lubricant and a fuel back in the 18th century. Ships from across the world — Europe, America, and Australia would set up stations to catch whales in the waters off New Zealand.
Soon may the Wellerman come
And bring us sugar and tea and rum.
One day, when the tonguin’ is done,
We’ll take our leave and go.
One such whaling station was that of Joseph Weller's. He was an English businessman who emigrated to Australia with plans to start his whaling station in a few years.
Unfortunately, he died of illness and his sons Joseph Jr. and Edward Weller, took over the business, establishing themselves as the prominent merchant traders of the time.
They were also one of the biggest suppliers of provisions — such as the “sugar and tea and rum” to the shanties and whaling stations on New Zealand shores.
“Wellermen” in this verse refers to an employee of this Weller enterprise.
Sadly, their business collapsed by early 1840s because of lesser whales, opposition from other whalers, and the local Maori people.
As naughty as it sounds, it really just refers to cutting long strips of blubber, known as tongues, off the carcass of the beached whales. However gross and painful it sounds, that’s what it means. So no, not sexy at all.
There was a ship that put to sea,
The name of the ship was the Billy of Tea
The winds blew up, her bow dipped down,
O blow, my bully boys, blow.
Billy of Tea
This phrase was commonly used in the nineteenth century Australia . “Billy” refers to a container made of used tins and wires to hang it over the fire. They can use it to boil water for tea or something else.
Why is it so popular on TikTok?
People are experiencing something similar in the pandemic today — we have been in the lockdown for over ten months now and soon it would be time to celebrate the one-year anniversary of being in isolation.
We are also in a similar boat — tired of being confined to our homes, running out of necessities, being at the risk of death and having plenty of time on hand for such light amusement. It all draws an uncanny parallel to the whalers lives back then, except the shanties would not have travelled so fast from the far east to the far west.
The six verses of this shanty also have a very positive ring to it. The crew has been battling for over forty days to land a defiant whale — so to keep their spirit high and motivate them through the days to come, the whaler sings
As far as I’ve heard, the fight’s still on;
The line’s not cut and the whale’s not gone.
The Wellerman makes his regular call
To encourage the Captain, crew, and all.
We too shall overcome this difficult pandemic. With the vaccine in sight, hopefully the worst is already behind us. But we need to keep the motivation on and keep spreading the word of encouragement to all those who need it the most, especially those in the frontline and in the healthcare sector who have been tirelessly working since one year without much respite.