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An ululation ( pronunciation (help·info)) is a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound resembling a howl with a trilling quality. It is produced by emitting a high pitched loud voice accompanied with a rapid movement of the tongue and the uvula. The term ululation is an onomatopoeic word derived from Latin. It is produced by moving the tongue, rapidly, back and forth repetitively in the mouth while producing a sharp sound.
Around the world
Ululation is found in some singing techniques and ritual situations. In Arab countries ululation is commonly used to express celebration, especially at weddings. An example of the incorporation of ululations in traditional wedding songs can be found in Zaghareed, a collection of Palestinian traditional wedding songs reinterpreted and re-arranged by Mohsen Subhi and produced in 1997 by the Palestinian National Music and Dance Troupe (El Funoun)
Ululation is commonly practised in the Middle East, as well as in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Persian Gulf, and central and south Asia at all joyous occasions such as at a hachnasat sefer Torah (the dedication of a Torah scroll, circumcisions, communal celebrations, weddings, bar miswa celebrations, and most of all at henna celebrations. The cultural practice has spread to other Jews, particularly where members of different Jewish ethnic communities come together, and is also to be found among American Jews as well. Recordings of various styles of ululations are commonly found in the music of artists performing Mizrahi styles of music. In Morocco it is known as barwalá or youyou.
Ululation is also commonly used in Middle Eastern funerals. In the Middle East, zaghārīt (Arabic: زغاريت) is a ululation performed to honor someone. In East Africa, ululation (or ililta) performed by worshippers is a feature of services in the Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, and is also commonly used in secular celebrations such as parties or concerts. In Africa ululation is used as a cheer, mourn or attention seeking sound by women. In Hausa ululation is called guda, in Swahili it is known as udhalili and in Zulu lilizela in Tsonga nkulungwani. Ululation is incorporated into African musical styles such as Shona music, where it is a form of audience participation, along with clapping and call-and-response.
Ululation is also widely practiced in the eastern parts of India. People, especially women roll their tongues and produce this sound during all Hindu temple rituals, festivals and celebrations. This is also an integral part of most weddings in these parts where, depending upon the local usages, women ululate to welcome the groom or bride or both. In Tamil it is known as kulavai. In Kerala, ululation is essential for all ceremonial occasions and the term used in Malayalam is kurava. Bengalis call it ulu-uli. Oriyas call it Hulahuli. Assamese call it uruli. Ululation is also used in Afghanistan, Iran, parts of Azerbaijan, parts of Cyprus, and parts of Spain and Malta.
Ululation is, also, used to some extent by south European women In South Africa, ululating is used by women to give praises at weddings, celebrations and when good news has been delivered in a place of gathering, even in church.
In ancient times
In Ancient Egypt, reference to ululation appears on the inscription of the pyramid texts of Unas, on the West Wall of the Corridor (section XIII), and of Pepi I, in the Spells for Entering the Akhet. In ancient Greece ululation or ololuge was normally used as a joyful expression to celebrate good news or when an animal's throat is cut during sacrifice. However, in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, along with being an expression of joy, it is also used for fury, and in Sophocles' Electra it is employed as an expression of grief.
I think for my part that the loud cries uttered in our sacred rites came also from thence; for the Libyan women are greatly given to such cries and utter them very sweetly.
Or in another translation:
In popular culture
Ululation appears in many films set in the Middle East, such as Lawrence of Arabia and The Battle of Algiers and Lion of the Desert. Sometimes it is depicted as a battle cry, for example in Xena: Warrior Princess. Even the animated feature G.I. Joe: The Movie featured the ululation "Cobra-la-la-la-la-la". It appears as comic relief in The Simpsons episodes "The Last Temptation of Homer" and "Midnight Rx"; as well as on Family Guy in the episode "E. Peterbus Unum" where Stewie is curious about the sound Achmed "makes when you're about to assassinate an infidel". In the film Get Him to the Greek, during the threesome scene, Russell Brand "ululates" the girl. The word also appears in the book Lord of the Flies as a way in which Sam and Eric could warn the other members of Jack's tribe of the coming beast or other intruders.
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- Irrintzi in the Spanish-language Auñamendi Encyclopedia.
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- On Libya, from The Histories, c. 430 BCE, Book IV.42-43
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- For the ancient Greeks, Libya denoted a much larger expanse than present-day Libya.
- Golding, William; Gibson, Ben (2003). Lord of the Flies. New York: Berkley. ISBN 0-399-52920-9.