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To Ululate or Not to Ululate for President Obama? Kenyans Are Asking That Question

Kenyan TV host and anchor Julie Gichuru. Creative Commons photo by the World Trade Organisation.

Kenyan TV host and anchor Julie Gichuru. Creative Commons photo by the World Trade Organisation.

Kenyan TV host and anchor Julie Gichuru welcomed US President Barack Obama at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in a unique style: She ululated to welcome him during his official visit to Kenya.

Ululation is commonly used in Africa as a cheer, mourn or attention-seeking sound by women. The YouTube video below posted by Citizen TV shows Gichuru ululating:

Her ululation has ignited online debate about whether the occasion was right for it. Some are strongly in support of her, while others think otherwise.

After a story of her ululation was posted on Kenya Today website, readers took to their keyboards to express their views.

Eve liked the gesture:

she is an African woman.
I liked it too.

An anonymous reader asked:

Whats wrong with ululating? I thnk it was a very unique way of welcoming the heads..its different from the usual official ways….sometimes its good to appreciate we are Africans and this is part of us! Stop hating!

James Mathu noted:

I liked it.It’s African and I dont think President Obama took offense to it.I bet he wanted to know about it’s origin and meaning.

Wakisome thought what she did was part of African culture:

it depends on which angle you look at it. infact the African way of appreciating our kings, heroes and heroins to the podium is through ululation. it is very African and I remember her saying to do it African way. I mean what’s wrong with that? I think she right.

Mimi said that those who are complaining have been brainwashed by Western imperialism:

These complainants Guchurus welcome is a direct evidence of how western cultural imperialism has brainwashed black Africans to turn against their modes of speech and communication. Keep it up Gichuru.

The ululating made Onyango proud of his Kenyan and African heritage:

I liked the way Julie did it, it is unfortunate that some of us are unable to appreciate themselves to the extent that they extend their self-hatred to other people, Julie is Julie and let her be Julie and she cannot be anyone else but herself. She made me proud to be a Kenyan and an African and I appreciate our diversity.

While Mimi went further by suggesting that the practice should me made official:

Julie give us more and more of this! Actually, why not make it the official Kenyan welcome style!

Referring to those who are criticizing Gichuru, Justus Atuti warned:

I thought Gichuru did so well and her did was so African, a reflection of who we are as a people. With this level of hatred, Kenya is as good as dead. 2017 is a dangerous year for us all.

However, one reader claimed that ululating on a microphone is a health hazard:

Why must we hide behind culture and tribalism when avoiding correction?Then why do we go to school? Journalists have their ways of doing things and 2 wrap it all,it is health hazard to spat on mike in the name of ululation,just for your good ears to listen. African ululate a lot but this time round,my sister Julie,it was a little bit bad so next time try and change on it. Let’s avoid ths political mood,it has cost Auma to reign where it’s known well as your domain and actually,she won. Wish u better next time my sister Julie.

Utamaduni thought it was unprofessional:

Its all got to with journalists putting aside professionalism to pander to the whims of politicians and its rampant in this country.

  • Of COURSE it’s professional to behave according to your culture, WTF, why is this even a question? The one commenter’s words are very telling: “why do we go to school?” Indeed, why DO you go to school? It should be to learn the values of your own culture. Instead it’s a method used to standardize your minds to agree with Western values. Something to think about as you progress with your various school systems in Africa–what kind of a future do you want to produce? It is bad enough that some of us here in the West tell you your cultures are something to be ashamed of–don’t agree with us! Fight it!


    It is a custom followed by people of Kerala State, India to mark an auspicious occasions like weddings It is used as part of celebrations. This custom, however, is reserved for women folk. However the custom is thinning out as educated girls aefuses to practice it.
    Vaikom Madhu

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