1. The Yu-yu

The ululation of women, known, (amongst many other local names) as the twalwil or yu-yu, is a sound commonly heard in the towns and cities of North African countries, and yet, at least for men, it is seldom easy to identify its source. In Eastern Morocco and Western Algeria the yu-yu typically emanates from the barred windows of private houses, or from unseen courtyards, invisibly permeating and transforming the listener's experience of urban space.

Yu-yu or twalwil (wav file: 116 kb)

This call was made exclusively by women when gathered together, and indicated emotionally-charged circumstances of some kind. These included wedding (and especially pre-wedding) parties, during mourning for deceased relations, small boys' circumcision processions and at women-only religious gatherings, in short, wherever the structures of everyday life were being publically reconfigured.

Even when such the event was more or less public, I, as a male observer, still found it difficult to pinpoint exactly which person was making this sound. One woman's cry was usually joined by others in her company and, by either turning aside or veiling faces, no individual could be identified as its source, despite the volume. Clearly, the precise social meaning of this expression depended upon the circumstances in which it was produced. Nevertheless this was invariably a gender-specific and communal action, which indicated to all listeners that a trauma of some kind was taking place.

I mention this phenomenon, not only because it was such a characteristic feature of life in the Maghreb nor because of its frequent occurrence within the context of the women's religious rituals I shall shortly describe. Rather, I suggest that this largely wordless, anonymous and communal outburst of emotion is suggestive of the manner by which many Moroccan women negotiated with the public, masculine, world at large.

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