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Ululation (/ˌjljʊˈlʃən, ˌʌl-/ (About this soundlisten)),[1][2] from Latin ululo, 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 back and forth movement of the tongue and the uvula.[3]

Around the world[edit]

An Egyptian woman ululates after having cast her vote in the 2014 Egyptian presidential elections.

Ululation is practiced either alone or as part of certain styles of singing, on various occasions of communal ritual events (like weddings) used to express strong emotion.

Ululation is commonly practised in most of Africa; the Middle East; and Central-to-South Asia, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bengal, Odisha, and Assam in India, and Sri Lanka. It is also practiced in a few places in Europe, like Cyprus, and among the diaspora community originating from these areas. Ululation also occurs among Mizrahi Jews at all joyous occasions such as at the inauguration of a Torah scroll (hachnasat sefer Torah), brit milah (circumcision),[4] communal celebrations, weddings,[5][6] bar mitzvah[7] celebrations, and most of all at henna celebrations.[8] 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.[citation needed] The Modern Hebrew word for ululation is "tsahalulim" (Hebrew: צהלולים). 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.[5][9]

Ululation is commonly used in Middle Eastern Weddings. In the Arab World, zaghārīt (Arabic: زغاريت) is a ululation performed to honor someone. For example Zaghrit are widely performed and documented through out Egyptian movies showing traditional Egyptian weddings where women are known of their very long performed and very loud ululations. Another example of the incorporation of ululations in traditional wedding songs can be found in zaghrit or 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).[10]

In Ethiopia and Eritrea, ululation (called ililta) is part of a Christian religious ritual performed by worshipers as a feature of Sunday or other services in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church,[11] Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and some Ethiopian Evangelical Churches. And it is also randomly (spontaneously) uttered during secular celebrations such as parties or concerts. Elsewhere in Africa ululation is used as a cheer, mourn or attention seeking sound by women. In Hausa ululation is called guda, sigalagala and in Zulu lilizela in Tsonga nkulungwani and in Northern SiNdebele ukubulula. Ululation is incorporated into African musical styles such as Tshangani music, where it is a form of audience participation, along with clapping and call-and-response.

In Tanzania ululation is a celebratory cheer sound when good news has been shared or during weddings, welcoming of a newborn home, graduations and other festivals even in church when sermons are going on. In Swahili it is known as vigelele and in Luo dialect it is known as udhalili. Generally women exuberantly yell lililili in a high-pitched voices. Female children are usually proud of being able to ululate like their mothers and aunts.

Ululation is also widely practiced in the eastern parts of India, where it is also known as Ululudhvani. 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. Bengalis call it ulu-uli and they use this during weddings and other festivals. Odias call it Hulahuli or Huluhuli.[12] [13] In Odisha ululation is used to cheer during weddings, cultural gatherings and celebrations.[14] Assamese call it uruli. In Tamil it is known as kulavai (Tamil:குளவை). In Kerala, ululation is essential for all ceremonial occasions and the term used in Malayalam is kurava.

Ululation is used to some extent by south European women[3] The Basque irrintzi is a signal of happiness originating from shepherds[15][16] The Galician aturuxo is performed with accompanied vocalization from the throat.

Ululation is rooted in the culture of North Africa and Eastern Africa as well as Southern Africa and is widely practiced in Tanzania, Kenya, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Sudan, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Somalia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It is used by women to give praises at weddings and all other celebrations. It is a general sound of good cheer and celebration, when good news has been delivered in a place of gathering, even in church. It is also an integral part of most African weddings where women gather around the bride and groom, dancing and ululating exuberantly. During graduation ceremonies ululation shows pride and joy in scholastic achievement. The women ululating usually stand and make their way to the front to dance and ululate around the graduate.

Among the Lakota, women yell lililili! in a high-pitched voice to praise warriors for acts of valor.[17]

In ancient times[edit]

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),[18] and of Pepi I, in the Spells for Entering the Akhet.[19] In ancient Greece ululation or (Greek: ὀλολυγή, romanizedololuge) was normally used as a joyful expression[20] to celebrate good news[21] or when an animal's throat is cut during sacrifice.[22] However, in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, along with being an expression of joy, it is also used for fury,[21] and in Sophocles' Electra it is employed as an expression of grief.[20] As in many cultures, use depended on context, as ululated exclamations could appear in different circumstances as a cry of lament or as a battle-cry.[23]

Homer mentions ololuge (ululation) in his works,[24][25] as does Herodotus, citing ululation in North Africa – where it is still practiced – saying:

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.[26]

Or in another translation:

I also think that the ololuge or cry of praise emitted during the worship of Athena started in Libya, because it is often employed by Libyan women, who do it extremely well.[27][28]

In popular culture[edit]

Ululation appears in many films set in the Middle East and Africa, 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". Further, Peter learns how to do this in "Turban Cowboy". 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[29] as a way in which Sam and Eric could warn the other members of Jack's tribe of the coming beast or other intruders. The word ululation is used in H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds to describe a sound that the Martians make during battle. Ululation is found in the song Pray For Me by Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd from the official Black Panther: The Album.[30] Sting used the sound as well as the soundtrack to Gladiator. Shakira, who is of Lebanese descent, ululated during the 2020 Super Bowl halftime performance.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ululation". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2016-01-22.
  2. ^ "Ululation". Oxford Dictionaries UK Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2016-01-22.
  3. ^ a b Pendle, Karin (2001). Women & music: a history. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21422-X.
  4. ^ Heber, Levi Y. Additional Sephardic Circumcision Customs: The customs of Sephardim and Oriental Jews at a Brit Milah. The Handbook to Circumcision. Brit Milah.
  5. ^ a b Stillman, Yedida Kalfon; Zucker, George K. (January 1993). New horizons in Sephardic Studies. p. 298. ISBN 9780791414019.
  6. ^ See Sephardic Music section on History
  7. ^ Everson, Eva Marie; Vamosh, Mirian Feinberg (2008-08-31). Reflections of God's Holy Land: A Personal Journey Through Israel. p. 242. ISBN 9781418577612.
  8. ^ Samin, Lisa (1996-06-14). "Moroccan nuptials combine ancient rituals, festivities". JWeekly.com. World Zionist Press Service.
  9. ^ "Sephardic Music in Morocco. Sephardic Singing". Travel Exploration Morocco.
  10. ^ "'Zaghareed' (Ululations)". El Funoun website. 1997. Archived from the original on 2009-01-05. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
  11. ^ "Review: Ethiopian Christian Liturgical Chant". Journal of Religion in Africa.
  12. ^ "Lost customs return to Bhubaneswar". The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Orissa |. telegraphindia.com. 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2012. hulahuli — the typical sound made in chorus by women during religious ceremoniesCS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  13. ^ "FAIRS & FESTIVALS :: RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS". Orissa-Tourism.com. 2006. Archived from the original on 2010-12-20. Retrieved 16 June 2012. Hulahuli' (a shrill sound made by wagging the tongue inside the mouth
  14. ^ Dr. Krishna Gopal (2003). Fairs and Festivals of India: Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura. Gyan Pub. House.
  15. ^ Trask, Larry Trask. "Some Important Basque Words (And a Bit of Culture)".
  16. ^ "Irrintzi". Auñamendi Encyclopedia (in Spanish).
  17. ^ Bullerman, Mathias. "SAIVUS - Lakota Language Tutorial - Lesson One - Wóuŋspe Tȟokáhe". sioux.saivus.org. SAIVUS. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  18. ^ van den Dungen, Wim. "The Pyramid Texts of UNAS".
  19. ^ Allen, James P.; Manuelian, Peter Der. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts.
  20. ^ a b McClure, Laura (1999). Spoken like a woman: speech and gender in Athenian drama. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01730-1.
  21. ^ a b Allan, William; Altena, Hermann; Michael, Jr Perna; Gregory, Justina (2005-09-16). A Companion to Greek Tragedy (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World). Blackwell Publishing Limited. ISBN 1-4051-0770-7.
  22. ^ Goff, Barbara E. (2004). Citizen Bacchae: women's ritual practice in ancient Greece. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23998-9.
  23. ^ Wiktionary:ἐλελεῦ
  24. ^ Stein, Charles (2008). The Odyssey. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-55643-728-1.
  25. ^ Camps, W. A. (1980). An introduction to Homer. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-872101-3.
  26. ^ On Libya, from The Histories, c. 430 BCE. IV. pp. 42–43.
  27. ^ Waterfield, Robin; Dewald, Carolyn (1998). The histories. Oxford [England]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-282425-2.
  28. ^ For the ancient Greeks, Libya denoted a much larger expanse than present-day Libya.
  29. ^ Golding, William; Gibson, Ben (2003). Lord of the Flies. New York: Berkley. ISBN 0-399-52920-9.
  30. ^ The Weeknd; Lamar, Kendrick. Pray For Me. Retrieved 2 March 2018 – via YouTube.
  31. ^ Chiu, Allyson Allyson (2020-02-03). "'It's not a turkey call': The cultural significance behind Shakira's meme-worthy 'tongue thing' at the Super Bowl". Washington Post. Retrieved 2020-02-03.

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