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Ululation (/ˌjljʊˈlʃən, ˌʌl-/ ,[1][2] from Latin ululo), trilling or lele, 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 practised in all parts of Africa, the Middle East, Americas and as far east as Central and South Asia. It is also practiced in a few places in Europe among the diaspora community originating from these areas.

Middle East[edit]

Ululation is commonly used in Middle Eastern weddings. In the Arab world, zaghārīt (Arabic: زغاريت) is a ululation performed to honor someone. For example, zagharits are widely performed and documented in Egyptian movies featuring traditional Egyptian weddings, where women are known for their very long and very loud performed ululations. Another example of the incorporation of ululations into traditional wedding songs can be found in Zaghareed (also spelled zaghareet), a collection of traditional Palestinian wedding songs reinterpreted and rearranged by Mohsen Subhi and produced in 1997 by the Palestinian National Music and Dance Troupe El-Funoun.[4] Ululations are a part of Kurdish culture. They are commonly heard during henna nights, weddings and Newroz as it's a display of celebration. Ululation also occurs among Mizrahi Jews during simcha (festive occasions) such as at the inauguration of a Torah scroll (hachnasat sefer Torah), brit milah (circumcision),[5] communal celebrations, weddings,[6][7] bar mitzvah[8] celebrations, and most of all at henna celebrations.[9] 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.

Africa and Asia[edit]

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,[10] Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and some Ethiopian Evangelical Churches. In Somali, ululation is known as Alalaas, and is widely used in music. In Hausa it is known as guda, 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 vigelegele 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-dhwani or Jokara and they use this during weddings and other festivals. Odias call it Hulahuli or Huluhuli.[11] [12] In Odisha, ululation is used to cheer during weddings, cultural gatherings and celebrations.[citation needed] 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.

A curling metal tube.
Sculpture "Irrintzi in the air" by Mikel Varas.

Ululation is used to some extent by south European women[3] The Basque irrintzi is a signal of happiness originating from shepherds.[13][14] It has been proposed as a technique for vocal rehabilitation.[15] The Galician aturuxo is performed with accompanied vocalization from the throat.

Ululation is rooted in the culture of North Africa, Northern parts of West Africa and Eastern Africa as well as Southern Africa and is widely practiced in Tanzania, Kenya, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Eswatini, 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.


It is also practiced by some Native American tribes. In the Lakota tribe, women yell "lililili" in a high-pitched voice to praise warriors for acts of valor.[16] The Apaches also practice ululation, as do the Cherokee, as war cries.

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),[17] and of Pepi I, in the Spells for Entering the Akhet.[18] In ancient Greece ululation or (Greek: ὀλολυγή, romanizedololuge) was normally used as a joyful expression[19] to celebrate good news[20] or when an animal's throat is cut during sacrifice.[21] However, in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, along with being an expression of joy, it is also used for fury,[20] and in Sophocles' Electra it is employed as an expression of grief.[19] 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.[22]

Homer mentions ololuge (ululation) in his works,[23][24] 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.[25]

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.[26][27]

The Hebrew word Hallelujah, translated as a call to "praise the Lord", contains the root H-L-L, with meanings related to "praise". This root may have originally been an onomatopoeic imitation of ululation performed in Israelite rituals.[28]

In popular culture[edit]

At the 2020 Super Bowl LIV halftime show, Colombian singer Shakira, whose father is Lebanese, ululated at the camera during her performance.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ululation". Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary. Retrieved 2016-01-22.
  2. ^ "Ululation". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 2020-03-22.
  3. ^ a b Pendle, Karin (2001). Women & music: a history. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21422-X.
  4. ^ "Zaghareed". El Funoun website. 1997. Archived from the original on 2009-01-05. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
  5. ^ Heber, Levi Y. Additional Sephardic Circumcision Customs: The customs of Sephardim and Oriental Jews at a Brit Milah. Brit Milah. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  6. ^ Stillman, Yedida Kalfon; Zucker, George K. (January 1993). New horizons in Sephardic Studies. SUNY Press. p. 298. ISBN 9780791414019.
  7. ^ See Sephardic Music section on History
  8. ^ Everson, Eva Marie; Vamosh, Mirian Feinberg (2008-08-31). Reflections of God's Holy Land: A Personal Journey Through Israel. Thomas Nelson. p. 242. ISBN 9781418577612.
  9. ^ Samin, Lisa (1996-06-14). "Moroccan nuptials combine ancient rituals, festivities". JWeekly.com. World Zionist Press Service.
  10. ^ "Review: Ethiopian Christian Liturgical Chant". Journal of Religion in Africa.
  11. ^ "Lost customs return to Bhubaneswar". The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Orissa. 2012. Archived from the original on July 7, 2015. Retrieved 2012-06-16. hulahuli — the typical sound made in chorus by women during religious ceremonies
  12. ^ "FAIRS & FESTIVALS :: RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS". Orissa-Tourism.com. 2006. Archived from the original on 2010-12-20. Retrieved 2012-06-16. Hulahuli' (a shrill sound made by wagging the tongue inside the mouth)
  13. ^ Trask, Larry Trask. "Some Important Basque Words (And a Bit of Culture)".
  14. ^ "Irrintzi". Auñamendi Encyclopedia (in Spanish).
  15. ^ Martínez-Arellano, Ana (8 July 2021). Bases fisiológicas y caracterización acústica del Irrintzi (in Spanish). Pamplona: Universidad de Navarra. Retrieved 3 October 2021. Esta técnica se puede utilizar para trabajar el volumen alto en pacientes con disfonía y para mejorar el rendimiento vocal y la eficiencia de la voz en personas que utilizan la a volumen alto o en frecuencias elevadas.
  16. ^ Bullerman, Mathias. "SAIVUS - Lakota Language Tutorial - Lesson One - Wóuŋspe Tȟokáhe". sioux.saivus.org. SAIVUS. Retrieved 2017-02-09.
  17. ^ van den Dungen, Wim. "The Pyramid Texts of UNAS".
  18. ^ Allen, James P.; Manuelian, Peter Der. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Goff, Barbara E. (2004). Citizen Bacchae: women's ritual practice in ancient Greece. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23998-9.
  22. ^ Wiktionary:ἐλελεῦ
  23. ^ Stein, Charles (2008). The Odyssey. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-55643-728-1.
  24. ^ Camps, W. A. (1980). An introduction to Homer. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-872101-3.
  25. ^ On Libya, from The Histories, c. 430 BCE. Vol. IV. pp. 42–43.
  26. ^ Waterfield, Robin; Dewald, Carolyn (1998). The histories. Oxford [England]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-282425-2.
  27. ^ For the ancient Greeks, Libya denoted a much larger expanse than present-day Libya.
  28. ^ Zevit, Ziony (2007). The First Halleluyah. Eisenbrauns. p. 164. ISBN 9781575061276. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  29. ^ https://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/ct-life-shakira-tongue-flicking-arabic-meaning-tt-soc-02032020-20200203-wxe5wv5f2jg77jux7xrb75nihu-story.html

External links[edit]

Media related to Ululation at Wikimedia Commons