True confession: I have always envied women who could ululate. It’s that trilling, rippling shout that women are known to do in Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia. It sounds like a heartfelt outpouring of emotion. It’s also done in the Basque and Galician regions of Spain. The Lakota in this country came to it as well. It is a sound that peoples in different parts of the world seem to have arrived at independently, so I think of it as very primal.
There are many different ululation “accents”, and people (women, mostly, by a wide margin) ululate for different reasons depending on the culture. It is the sound of celebration, of praise, and it’s done at weddings and graduations and concerts and even in church. It has also been used as a war whoop, and a sound of mourning. In ancient Greece it was sometimes the sound of fury. It’s also a way to draw attention.
Written references to ululation go as far back as 24th Century BC in Egypt. I always wanted to be a part of this amazing tradition, but I didn’t know how to ululate or who might teach me. Recently, I decided to check out Youtube, in the hope of finding an instructional video.
The first video I came across was one entitled, Learn to Ululate. Based on the title I thought that it held promise, until I watched it. It describes pointing your tongue to form the shape of a sausage, and then rapidly wiggling it from side to side. That video almost made me abandon all hope, because the side to side motion doesn’t come at all naturally to me, and I feared I’d never be able to produce the proper sound.
Fortunately, I then stumbled upon this video, called, simply, ULULATE 🙂. It demonstrated a kinder, gentler way of ululating, in my opinion, because the tongue moves up and down. Now you’re talking! I can do that!
Another component of ululating that I hadn’t anticipated was working up the courage to do so. I’m not one who generally calls attention to herself. I’m not one who blasts her feelings up to the cheap seats. And I absolutely hate making a fool of myself. So, even though I now basically understood the technique, it took me a bit to actually try it myself.
I decided to do so, for the first time, in the tower on my drawbridge. I figured that even if someone walking below heard me, they at least wouldn’t see me. So late one night, I tried it.
And a funny thing happened. It left me feeling emotionally drained, but in the best possible way. Maybe I should describe it as emotionally purged. It wasn’t the most sophisticated ululation in the world, not by a long shot. But it was a release. It made me feel powerful. It made me feel connected. I felt as though I had released bile from my stomach that I hadn’t even realized was there. It allowed me to blast joy into the wider world.
Clearly, this was going to take practice to perfect my sound, but now I was looking forward to it. Anyone walking across the bridge that night probably heard some interesting vocalizations. I wonder what they thought.
Since then, I’ve also practiced in my back yard, in hopes of getting the coyotes that live in the adjacent park to sing along. (No such luck, so far.) It’s probably a good thing that I don’t have any other neighbors close by.
The first (and so far only) person I’ve ululated around is Dear Husband. I had a few false starts because I was shy and blushing, but then I did it. I gave him fair warning. And still he pronounced it “startling.” I’ll take startling. It’s a start!
I suspect that I’ll have limited opportunities to ululate. This is not the kind of sound you usually hear in quiet, staid Seattle. But it’s a sound whose time has come for us all. We women need to make more noise if we want to maintain any rights at all.
I love that this sound is mostly made by women, and quite often it is made in countries where the women are oppressed. It’s a powerful sound. It’s magical. It connects women to each other. It shows strength, confidence, and a depth of mutual understanding that men don’t realize that we’re capable of most of the time. It links us to the women of the past, present, and future. I’m proud to finally be a part of it.
So, I leave you with three gifts, dear reader. The first is a poem about ululation that I stumbled upon. I love the concept of sisters and aunts teaching ululation to the younger generation. That’s beautiful. Check the poem out here.
The second gift is this gorgeous video that gives you that sense of connection that ululation provides.
And the third? It’s a recording of my humble but triumphant attempt to ululate. I’m sure it will improve with time. It makes me feel vulnerable to share this, as if I’m cracking open my chest and exposing my heart to you. But it also makes me proud.
Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5