Out of all the alien species that make up the Covenant in the Halo series, none are more beloved by fans than the imposing Sangheili, or Elites, as they are referred to by the humans. To the average player, the Sangheili are probably just the bipedal, reptile-like enemy within the ranks of the Covenant who pose the most consistent threat throughout most firefights.
Then in the third game, they switch sides because they are replaced by the ferocious and war-hungry Brutes, or Jiralhanae. Outside of that though, little else is revealed until Halo 5: Guardians at least, when fans finally get to see their homeworld of Sanghelios. So who are they really, this race of “Elites?” Here are a few things you probably did not know about them.
10 Unusual Allies
The Sangheili are people who have always thought highly of themselves. They respect honor and great prowess in combat, so those who do not show such characteristics are typically looked down upon. With this in mind, it was only inevitable that the Great Schism would occur between the Prophets and the Elites, breaking the Covenant apart. What was not expected was the Elites finding aid in the Grunts (Unggoy) and the Hunters (Mgalekgolo). As it turns out, even though the Grunts and Hunters were ridiculed by the Elites as being of the more “simple” species within the Covenant, the ridicule these two groups faced from the hegemony as a whole was much worse. In the Unggoy and Mgalekgolo’s choice to join them, the Sangheili gained a newfound respect for these two species and now profit from mutual alliances.
9 Dishonor To Doctors
Blood has a powerful physical and metaphorical significance to the Sangheili. Blood is the essence of all. It is sacred and revered for being more of who the Sangheili are than their actual bodies. To see another’s blood is to see the true self. This is why combat is so revered, to draw blood from another through the thrill of survival, there is respect and honor won in such a thing due to its difficulty. Doctors, however, are another story. Sangheili who study medical arts is pariahs in society, if any do at all.
They see just as much blood as a warrior, but to society, the fact that it is drawn far from a battlefield and from an “opponent” in a weakened state, where is the honor in that? So who does give the Elites medical care? If they do accept any, it will rarely be from another Sangheili. They would prefer someone outside of their species to take care of them and that’s usually as long as another is not around to see it.
8 Saga Walls
Following the trend of parallels that Sangheili culture has with some Earth cultures, the militaristic and warrior lifestyle usually ties in with a strong family or community unit as well. The Sangheili do share this. One unique feature of their families is that each one possesses something called a Saga Wall or Battle Poem that details said family’s history, particularly highlighting great deeds and conflicts. Elites are physiologically excellent for the role of warriors, so it follows that they would laud all of these martial achievements of their ancestors.
7 Lingua Franca
Something else that is not generally discussed is that the Sangheili is one of the two founding species of the Covenant. They and the Prophets (San’Shyuum). The Sangheili acted as the military backbone while the San’Shyuum took more of the religious and scientific roles. With that in mind, it is surprising to learn that the Sangheili language served as the principal language, the lingua franca, of the Covenant. The prevalence of their language was probably due to the fact that they were much more prevalent in society overall in comparison to the Prophets. Much to the chagrin of the Covenant’s leadership.
6 Watch Your “P”s And “V”s
Remaining on the topic of language, another interesting fact about the language of the Elites is that they can pronounce any phonetic sound in the English language, except for the fricative “p” and “v.” Fans who are used to hearing Sangheili voices from the game most likely have not heard or noticed such a thing. But this information is pulled from some of the Halo novels, as a character known as Dr. Evan Phillips, who specializes in Sangheili culture, is described as having his name pronounced as “Efanphilliss.”
5 Family Matters
On the Elite’s homeworld of Sanghelios, the typical family unit’s overall goal is contributing valued members of society. Children are raised by everyone in the household and no one typically learns who their father is. The bonds of family are so strong within the cultural foundation, that the institution of divorce is completely alien to the Sangheili.
This is so that each child is raised on equal footing and taught that merit is what allows for one’s betterment within society. This communal living and sense of family persist into adulthood as well, as warriors generally refer to their comrades in arms as “brothers” or “sisters” respectively.
4 Deadly Politics
The general structure of Sangheili politics is not entirely foreign to a human perspective. Indeed, much of their society is feudalistic, with a family’s council of elders typically selecting the “kaidon” or head within a particular household or “keep”. However, the main difference that humans might find shocking is that assassination is a tool that is employed and readily accepted by society at large. It is normal for any new leadership to expect at least one assassination attempt from a political rival, as Elites believe that if a leader cannot survive a “test of martial prowess,” then the leader was probably not fit to lead anyway.
3 Human “Nishum”
An interesting anecdote exists within Sangheili culture about the origins of one of the words for “human” within their language; “nishum”. The word translates to something along the lines of “worm” or “intestinal parasite.” The anecdote goes that during the first encounters the Sangheili had with humanity, the Elites believed the creatures they were fighting were the actual sets of armor that humans wore into battle. When Sangheili first inspected the dead and opened the armor to find the humans residing within them, they immediately assumed that homo sapiens were a parasite that was infecting the “beings” of body armor and they were disgusted.
2 No Love For Swordsmen
Energy swords and those with the skill to wield them are highly prized within Sangheili culture. Sword wielders are typically members of the aristocracy, but exceptions do exist, and if society recognizes an individual as such, they are never allowed to marry. The trade-off to that is, they are allowed to mate with any female they see fit, so that for the good of society, the genetics and traits of a mighty sword-bearer will be passed on as the bearer sees fit. Such is the idolization of individuals within a culture that is foundational communal.
1 Wort Wort Wort
The last interesting fact that players may not have known about the Sangheili is the origin of their language and their manner of speaking. It stems from a small feat of technical magic that was performed all the way back during the development of Halo: Combat Evolved. When trying to figure out how the Elites would sound, some of the audio designers decided to experiment with Sgt. Avery Johnson’s unique voice. What they ended up doing was cutting apart various parts of his lines, reversing the audio for said snippets, then lowering the pitch. With that, the iconic voices of the Elites were born in the first Halo game.