Have You Ever Heard a Ululation?

You probably have, quite likely in a film set in a mysterious North African desert locale, but just didn’t know what it was called. You certainly can’t forget this high-pitched trilling howl that rapturously pierces the sky at any gathering where it’s shared.

Commonly practiced in various forms in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia and the Persian Gulf region, in Morocco, where this photo was taken, it’s used primarily in celebration and welcome rituals.

This was part of a traditional ahwash, or ahouach, in the village of Ait Iktel, a Berber village in the High Atlas mountain region about 100 kilometers south of Marrakech that I mentioned in a post last week here and here. (A 36-photo photo essay from the celebration is here. Please check it out if you already haven’t.)

Unique to this corner of the country, an ahwash is a traditional folkloric song and dance performance unique to this corner of the country, where women and men, standing opposite each other, chant, sway and sing as if engaged in a rhythmically sublime poetic conversation.

An ululation is produced by moving the tongue back and forth rapidly and repetitively while emitting a sharp sound, as displayed by the woman on the left. Whether by design or happenstance, she was the center of attention, with others timing the rhythm of their chants and wails to the trill she was creating.

The practice dates back to Ancient Egypt and Greece, where it was associated with good news or celebration. Wikipedia reminds us that it was chronicled by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Homer and Herodotus.

Youtube has no shortage of examples: here’s an example from Palestine, another from Syria, one from Iran, and another from Malaysia.

Below, another shot from the same celebration. Even here, doesn’t the women doing the ululating seem to be commanding center stage?

Ait Iktel, Morocco 01

And for the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the 407th (!!) straight, was taken in Ait Iktel, Morocco, on 14 September 2014. As always, feel free to share. 🙂



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