For the happier times in life, to be celebrated with family and friends, Lebanon revels with the traditional zalghouta – a unique way to express and share joy!
Also known as the act of ululating, the zalghouta is practiced all the over the Middle East and in some parts of Africa. An ululation is a high-pitched tongue trill, a physical skill that involves the throat and tongue. It is a distinct ability and not many people can hit such high notes.
Women, who mainly use this loud expression to celebrate a joyful event, for instance the end of bachelorhood, solely practice the art of zalghouta. Other uses include welcoming an important guest or getting a degree.
Now, what makes the Lebanese zalghouta different from the others is that it is not limited to the act of ululating. Instead, there are a few verses before the loud cry. These verses usually compliment the bride and groom, highlighting their beauty, family and good manners.
How do you learn the zalghouta?
You don’t! Zalghouta is improvised and tailored to the specific occasion it is celebrating. Just like zajal (cf Lebanon Traveler issue 5), it requires wittiness and inventiveness. In the past, weddings included a contest between the bride and groom’s parties, each showing off their many oratory skills.
Today, there are very few who still practice the art of zalghouta as there once was. However, women have recorded and memorized verses that would fit any occasion and recite them during weddings. The ululation that follows the verse is of course still practiced and can be heard whether recorded or live. Ululation can also be used ironically, for instance when you finally receive something you have been waiting for. It is the Lebanese equivalent to the hallelujah.
The Zalghouta that could have ended it all!
Deir Mimas, a village in the south, was preparing to wed one of its native sons. The bride came on a horse from a neighboring village and as tradition dictates, she was welcomed by music and dance by the whole village.
As she was riding around the village, she passed by several houses where women welcomed her with a zalghouta. They finally arrived to the home of Im Touma, who was known to love blondes with fair skin. She took a look at the bride who was a brunette with darker skin and ululated:
Ø¥ÙˆÙŠÙ‡Ø§ Ù†ØÙ†Ø§ Ø§Ù„Ø¨ÙÙŠØ¶ ØŒ Ù†ØÙ†Ø§ Ø§Ù„Ø«Ù„Ø¬ Ø¹Ø§Ù„ØªÙˆÙ…Ø§Øª
Ø¥ÙˆÙŠÙ‡Ø§ ÙƒÙ„ Ù…ÙŠÙ† ØªØ¹Ù„Ù‚ Ø¨ÙŠ Ù‡ÙˆØ§Ù†Ø§ Ù…Ø§Øª
Ø¥ÙˆÙŠÙ‡Ø§ Ø´Ùˆ Ø¨ØªØ¹Ù…Ù„ÙˆØ§ ÙŠØ§ Ø³ÙÙ…Ø± Ø´Ùˆ Ø¨ØªØ¹Ù…Ù„ÙˆØ§
ÙƒÙ„ Ø¹Ù…Ø±ÙƒÙ† Ù„Ù„Ø¨ÙÙŠØ¶ Ø®Ø§Ø¯Ù…Ø§Øª
“Eh weeha, we the fair skinned are the snow on the high peaks,
Eh weeha, all those who loved us died from it,
Eh weeha, what are you to do you dark skinned, what are you to do,
All your lives, you shall remain our servants.
Of course such a declaration upset the bride’s party, who immediately took her off the horse and stated that the union was to be cancelled. At that point, Im Touma’s relative ululated in return:
Ø¥ÙˆÙŠÙ‡Ø§ Ù†ØÙ†Ø§ Ø§Ù„Ø³ÙÙ…Ø± Ù†ØÙ†Ø§ Ø´ÙˆÙƒÙ†Ø§ Ø¯Ø±Ø¯Ø±
Ø¥ÙˆÙŠÙ‡Ø§ Ø´Ùˆ Ø¨ØªØ¹Ù…Ù„ÙˆØ§ ÙŠØ§ Ø¨ÙÙŠØ¶ ÙˆÙ„Ùˆ ÙƒÙ†ØªÙˆØ§ Ù‚Ù…Ø±ØŸ
Ø¥ÙˆÙŠÙ‡Ø§ ØØ·Ùˆ Ø§Ù„Ø´Ù‡Ø¯ ØØ·Ùˆ Ø§Ù„Ù„Ø¨Ù† ØªØ§Ù†Ù‚Ø·Ù Ø§Ù„Ø£Ø³Ø¹Ø§Ø±
Ù„ØØ³Ù‡ Ù…Ù† Ø§Ù„Ø´Ù‡Ø¯ Ø¨ØªØ³Ø§ÙˆÙŠ Ù…Ù† Ø§Ù„Ù„Ø¨Ù† Ù‚Ù†Ø·Ø§Ø±
“Eh weeha, we dark-skinned our effects are extensive,
Eh weeha, what can you fair-skinned do, despite your beauty?
Eh weeha, bring the honeycomb, bring the yogurt, to compare their value,
A taste of honey is worth a gallon of yogurt,
Satisfied by the beautiful comparison and the affirmation of her value, the bride’s family put her back on the horse, the festivities went on and the couple lived happily every after.
On the path…
…of the zalghouta
So, although we cannot give you a list of where to go to hear a zalghouta nor where to go to learn how to ululate, we can say, you will know one when you hear it! And weddings will probably be your best bet.