The hidden meaning behind Shakira’s tongue gesture at the Super Bowl 2020

The Super Bowl is always a breathtaking spectacle and 2020’s Show was no exception. In fact, everyone is talking about the Halftime Show that took place Sunday, February 2. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s performances are getting praise from fans and celebrities alike. Now, one of the moments that captivated the audience’s attention was Shakira’s tongue movement when performing the hit Hips don’t lie.

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Almost immediately, the gesture became viral on social media, with hundreds of memes created expressing fan’s amusement. But what might have looked like a random gesture or even an obscene expression is actually called a Zaghrouta, a traditional Arab gesture used to express joy and happiness. So, when is this gestured used and what did Shakira mean by it?


What’s the Zaghrouta and when is it used?

As defined by Arab America, this gesture is done by wagging one’s tongue while doing a high-pitched sound that represents thrills of happiness. It is very common in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions and is mostly used by women. This ululation goes back to the pre-Islamic era and was used in idolatry rituals by women to ask their idols for rain, fertility, and so on. But what about now? What are the uses of the Zaghrouta?

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  • At wedding celebrations: Middle Eastern weddings are unique and entertaining. They are full of ceremonies like the Lebanese Zaffe (a group celebration that includes dancing and shouting) or the Dabke dance show. Perhaps one of the most curious things to those not familiar with the Arabic culture is the Zaghrouta, produced by women every few minutes throughout the whole celebration! If you ever attend an Arab wedding, you’ll notice how women start ululating as soon as the newlyweds appear.
  • When pilgrims return from Hajj: The Hajj is a religious pilgrimage to Mecca and a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people. As soon as they go back home, they are welcomed warmly by their families. For example, they decorate their homes with lights and palm tree leaves, and women emit the Zaghrouta to congratulate their loved ones and celebrate their safe return.
  • When a baby is born: Nothing is more joyous and exciting than welcoming a new family member to the world. This is the perfect occasion for the whole family to use this gesture to express their delight over the birth of the new baby.
  • At a funeral: of course, funerals are not joyous events, but the Zaghrouta can also be used to honor a loved one who has just passed away and to express strong emotions like grief.



Shakira’s performance at the Super Bowl was unforgettable and became instantly viral after her “tongue-wiggle” left her fans puzzled Some people believe this gesture was probably a celebration of her Lebanese heritage (did you know her grandparents were born in Lebanon?), while some others think she was paying homage to the Colombian carnivals in Barranquilla.

One thing’s for sure: her breathtaking performance introduced many viewers to a small part of the Arabic culture, giving people the chance to research and understand what this “tongue thing” really is.

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