Civic Imagination

Al Naddaha

As a city dweller myself and growing up in the heart of Cairo, Egypt, this was not a story that I have often heard as a child, but one that I have come across as a teenager in my readings of popular culture texts. It’s the myth of Al Naddaha (the caller) which originated in Egypt’s more provincial areas among Egyptian peasants of the Nile Delta. According to the legend, Al Naddaha is beautiful woman with a hypnotizing voice who calls upon men to join her into the Nile. She is purported to be a type of Genie (in Islamic tradition) or a naiad (in Greek mythology). While men are not immediately affected by her, they usually suffer a period of disturbance after which they stop resisting and follow her sweet voice into the Nile. According to the legend, Al Naddah drowns her victims or takes them away with her to the underworld. As unbelievable as the myth may sound, I cannot deny it has kept me awake many nights as a teenager. In the collective imaginary of Egyptians, the sound of crickets in the fields of rural Egypt at night, the unlit dirt roads, and century old trees paired with the calm sound of the Nile’s gentle waves, all bring this myth to life if you find yourself walking by the river banks of rural Egypt after dark. It might have been the burgeoning modernization of Egypt, the mass internal migrations towards the city by Egyptian peasants leaving behind the fields on hopes of receiving an education or finding better paying jobs that has encouraged this myth. The myth was very common that I recall its reference being used in an Egyptian movie titled “Al Naddaha” were Al Naddaha alluded for the city to which people leave only to be devoured by its cruel dwellers. Currently, Egypt is undergoing a similar brain drain, however, this time to the US and Europe, due to the political turmoil that followed the Arab Spring; perhaps they too were called.

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