In Moroccan popular culture, the image of the terrifying female is constructed in popular myths and legends starting from the legend of the Moroccan guerrilla Aicha Qandisha (La Contessa) to the myth of Ttab’a. In this article, we will expound how the image of the terrifying female (la femme fatale) is incarnated in an example of a monstrous female jinni believed to hinder man’s social progress named “the female jinni pursuer” (ttab’a).
Patients who suffer from consecutive failure to realize their expectations and wishes are told by traditional healers to be hounded by a female jinni called ttab’a, or al-qraina (“companion” derived from the Arabic word “qarin”), who utterly hampers their way to success. It is thought that unless patients appease her wrath by sacrifices and fumigation, she may never slacken her crippling chase.
According to some Moroccan healers, ttaba’, or al-qraina as some prefer to name it, is a female jinni ( jenniya), or rather, a strong jinni (‘afrita) that harms people by impeding their way to success. According to Sayouti (died in 911 A.H./1505 C.E.), “ttab’a is um sabyan (mother of children) that demolishes households and palaces, and impoverishes people day and night” (p. 247; my translation). According to the same author, when King Solomon issued orders to chain all rebellious jinn, soldiers came from heavens and earth to fulfil his decree except ttab’a. The soldiers warned the King of her monstrosity and told him that his territory was doomed to extinction if ttab’a was kept released. He immediately ordered his soldiers to enmesh her.
In the twinkling of an eye, she was dragged in chains in front of the King. She looked very old; her molar teeth were like the tusks of an elephant, her hair like leaves of palm-trees, smoke emanating from her nose, her voice like thunder and her eyes like lightening. When the King set eyes upon her, he prostrated himself in fear to Allah and then addressed her: “who are you damned monster!” she replied: “my name is sorrow daughter of sorrow – l-hima bent l-hima – and my nickname is um sabyan (the mother of children). I have ten names: qalnush (1), maqlush (2), hailush (3), qarqush (4), ‘amrush (5), ilaqush (6), qamtanush (7), qush (8), maqarqatush (9), um maldam (10) [all these labels may evoke fear and disgust in the addressee because of their repulsive sound and indecipherable meaning – no need to mention here that many incantations, talismans, and magical names originate from ancient Semitic languages like the Syriac and Hebrew alien to Moroccan Arabic].” She adds: “I live in the air between the sky and earth!” When the King asked her about her targeted victims, she answered that she targeted pregnant women and little children. She also harmed people in their health and fortune. She ate flesh and drank blood. When the King exorcised her with foreboding threats, she gave him seven vows not to touch those people who carry with them his talismans. She revealed to him the secrets of undoing her magic influence (for further details see chap. 175, rahma [Mercy] by Sayouti).
According to the same author, ttab’a has met the Prophet of Islam. When he was walking in town he met a beautiful woman with blue eyes and asked her:
Prophet: Where are you going?
Ttab’a: I am going to those who crouch in their mothers’ laps to devour their flesh and drink their blood.
P: “(Allah) damn you!”
T: Please do not damn me! I have twelve names. I won’t harm he who knows them and carry them with him.
P: What are these names, you damned one!
T: lawlabun (1), khal‘asun (2), dusun (3), maltusun (4), sayusun (5), salmasun(6),
tuhun (7), tusadun (8), asra‘un (9), rabbun qaruhun (10), ‘ayqudun (11) salmanun
(12). (Sayouti, n.d., chap. 175, p. 253; my translation)
Ttab’a as it is described above is stereotyped as an untrustworthy insatiable female. She is described as a monstrous woman who eats children and destroys family bonds. This mythical description stems from a presumed need in a patriarchal order to control and protect women. The collective threat women represent for the male world is projected on the world of jinns. The assumption that if women are left unrestrained can cause tumult and chaos, fitna, is represented in the myth of um sabyan, especially in the second version where she is a model of hazardous beauty (femme fatale).
Also, the myth of this female jinni may have an organizational function in society. Um sabyan is referred to in popular culture as rahmat Allah (the mercy of Allah) – a euphemistic expression that some parents prefer to use so as not to harm their children when threatening them to call the jinni if they do not cease their naughtiness.
*Dr. Mohammed Maarouf, Chouaib Doukkali University, Morocco