During the Second Boer War, Baden Powell listened to songs in African languages. The nonsense lyrics of Ging Gang Goolie might have been inspired by these songs. Baden-Powell is said to have written this song during the first World Scout Jamboree in 1920.
In the deepest darkest Africa, every year, after the rains, the "Great Grey Ghost Elephant" arose from the mists and wandered throughout the land. When it came to a village, it would either go around the village or through it. Villagers believed that if it went round the village, the village would have a prosperous year, and if it went through it, there would be drought.
The elephant had gone through the village of "Wat-Cha" three years in a row, and the situation was really bad in the village. A plan to deter the elephant from going through the village was made by Ging-Ganga, the village leader and Ha-la-shay, the medicine man. Ging-Ganga and his warriors were going to frighten the elephant by standing in its path and shaking their shields and spears. Hay-la-shay and his followers were going to cast magic spells, and frighten the elephant by the sound of shaking medicine bags. When the elephant arrived, the villagers gathered at the border of the village and started shouting the name of their leaders, "Ging-Ganga" and "Ha-lay-shay". "Shally wally" was the sound made by shaking medicine bags. The villagers were successful in their plan, and the elephant went around the village, making the "Oompah, oompah" sound. The villagers rejoiced and sang the "Ging Gang…" song.
Many variant forms have sprung up over the years.