What Is the “Fuzzy Wuzzy” Nursery Rhyme?

There are numerous variations on the nursery rhyme “Fuzzy Wuzzy”, but one of best known goes: “Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, was he?” There is also a poem by Rudyard Kipling called “Fuzzy Wuzzy,” referring not to a bear but to the Beja warriors who fought the British in the Mahdist Revolt of the late 19th century.

The “Fuzzy Wuzzy” nursery rhyme owes its enduring appeal to the clever word play and the trick ending, but the origin of the poem may not be so innocent. The Mahdist Revolt was a colonial war fought between the Madhist Sudanese and the Egyptian and British forces. The nomadic Beja, who fought on the Sudanese side, tended to wear their hair in large mats which earned them the nickname “Fuzzy Wuzzies” among the British.

While Kipling’s poem praises the prowess of the Beja fighters and declares them “the finest o’ the lot,” the nickname likely served as a disparaging term among British soldiers rather than a term of respect. It’s not known for certain whether the familiar nursery rhyme was derived directly from the name given to the Beja, but it could certainly have been its original source, according to Readers’ Guide.