Jewish Muslim Feminine Traditions in Troubadour and Courtly Love Poetry from Northern Morocco

Updated: Sep 4, 2018

Jewish Muslim Feminine Traditions and the Origins of Feminist Narrative in Troubadour and Courtly Love Poetry from Northern Morocco and Al-Andalus!

Jewish Muslim Feminine Traditions in Troubadour and Courtly Love Poetry from Northern Morocco and Al-Andalus!

Traditionally, women lived and interacted generally in the private sphere of home and family and were the guardians of human as well as national values and survival. This was not a matter of oppression or misogyny but as Susanne Carol Rogers points out in her research it was a matter of women maintaining the most important power centers and dynamics in society while balancing them, as we will see immediately, by giving men access to other center of societal forms of power namely that of the formal ones. From both of the powers, informal as well as formal, it was not the informal power held by women but the formal held by men that was dependent on the female one. In other words, as we will see immediately, it was the informal power (upon which formal power rests) that was the more important one (while the formal power was the less imperative or dominant one). As Cinweizu writes, expands and explains about the African culture in general (in his book "Anatomy of Female Power", which once again emphasizes the true and universal nature of Rogers' observations from other parts of the world), "conventional modern opinion, as well as the social science consensus, would appear to support the feminist picture. It is conventionally assumed that female power, if it existed, would be wielded by women, through some public system of authority. It is also held, by conventional expert opinion, that matriarchs (who would be the natural wielders of female power) are illusory; and that matriarchy (a system of females wielding authority) does not exist.

He continues and writes: "For instance, The Concise Oxford Dictionary (6th Edition, 1976) defines a matriarch as a "woman corresponding in status to a patriarch (usually jocular)". The venerable compilers of that dictionary add that the word is derived "from Latin mater mother on false analogy of patriarch". Treating the notion as a joke derived on a "false analogy" suggests that matriarchs are illusory, phantom figures. However, powerful matrons, often elderly, who dominate family groups and clans, who are patriarchs in all but their gender, are neither unknown nor rare. Similarly, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, (15th Edition, 1986) matriarchy is a "social system in which familial and political authority is wielded by women". And that repository of conventional knowledge adds that "the consensus among modern anthropologists and sociologists is that a strictly matriarchal society never existed." When a definition will not allow us to acknowledge what is before us, it is flawed. For example, if we defined the sun as a square star, it would then be, strictly speaking, true that there isn't and never has been a sun. But since such a claim flies in the face of our experience, we would have to reject that definition for not capturing the reality, and for misleading us into the absurdity of denying the existence of the sun we can see and point at.

He then writes: " On similar grounds, we would have to reject the conventional definitions of matriarch and matriarchy for flying in the face of the examples cited above. In any case, even if no "strictly matriarchal society" ever existed, that would not imply that female power did not exist. Here, he points precisely Rogers' observation and comes to the same conclusions that "Authority is only one of the many types of power; and the wielding of authority is not necessary for the exercise of many types of power. Power without authority is neither unknown nor rare, as is recognized when it is said that someone is "the power behind the throne". Such obscurantist views from the organs of conventional knowledge suggest that female power has yet to receive the investigation it deserves. Feminist propaganda and conventional knowledge notwithstanding, it seems prima facie odd to claim that women are powerless in society and, in particular, over men what one wants, then women are far from powerless. Women do get, and always did get, what they want - be it riches, or thrones, or the head of John the Baptist, or routine exemption from hardships and risks which their men folk are obliged to endure.

Another striking similarity in observations between Rogers and Chinweizu can be found in his following statement: "That women operate by methods which often differ from those available to men does not in any way mean that women are bereft of power. If women are not powerless, are they, perhaps, less powerful than men? Some feminists find it in their interest to have the world believe this. And for proof they point to the public structures of political, economic and cultural power, and show that these are almost exclusively occupied by men. But does that prove what they aim to prove? Not at all! All it shows is that in the public structures, which form the domain of male power, women are not well represented. If this under-representation is to prove that women are less powerful than men, it would need to be also true that those public structures exhaust the modes and centers of power in society. Alas, for feminist claims, they do not; for, there, indeed are other modes and centers of power which women monopolize. In those centers, women control scarce resources, commodities and opportunities; and they distribute them. They exercise power through education, propaganda, directives, suggestions, rewards and punishments. They wield instruments of persuasion and coercion.

Matriarchs (who wield all power) and matriarchy (an organized structure or institution for the exercise of all power) may not exist but gynocentrism which shows such dynamics is indeed found and ground in reality. As Chinweizu writes: "the power they wield is neither illusory nor a joke. Furthermore, he emphasizes the basic paradigm in Rogers research by affirming "that in human society, it is not male power but female power which is supreme. Or rather, to change the imagery, however great male power may be, it is to female power what that one-seventh of an iceberg which is visible above water is to the six-sevenths which lies below the water line. As we shall see, the male modes of power are actually tributary to the female modes, in as much as the fruits of male power are poured at: the feet of women through the workings of female power. That men seek wealth, power, status and fame for the love of women is widely attested to by knowledgeable commentators. Chinweize goes then to mention Esther Vilar who once said that:

"Man's work is only done with woman in view'

He mentions the Sigmund's Freud studies of the human psyche by comparing it to Vilar's Statement:

"... in the greater number of ambitious day-dreams, too, we can discover a woman in some corner, for whom the dreamer performs all his heroic deeds and at whose feet all his triumphs are to be laid"

And then quoting Aristotle Onassis, an ambitious and very successful businessman of this 20th century, who confirmed this when he declared:

"If women didn't exist all the money in the world would have no meaning".

Moreover, Chinweizu correctly defines here "that "male preoccupation with the material, economic and financial security, power, fame and status in order to win the love of women is quite natural, being rooted in the animal origins of humanity". As Robert Ardrey reports:

"It would be unreasonable, in the light of our new knowledge of animal behavior to conclude that feminine attraction for wealth and rank, and masculine preoccupation with fortune and power and fame are human aberrations"

He then finally reaches the closing deduction "that if the natural goal of male power is to pay tribute to women, then male power is naturally tributary to female power. If, however, powerful a man may be, his power is used to serve the women in his life, that would make dubious the notion that men are masters over women. Because every man has as boss his wife, or his mother, or some other woman in his life, men may rule the world, but women rule the men who rule the world. Thus, contrary to appearances, woman is boss, the overall boss, of the world". In that Chinwezi gives Rogers research more credibility by enabling us to understand the more hidden and covert dynamics.

So, as one could see, especially in ancient peasant societies (but also in general) and clearly in such societies as the one in Northern Morocco that directly influenced Muslim Spain women were primarily associated with the domestic sphere which bore the central importance, for sure socially and culturally, and had crucial implications for life beyond the domestic. "To the extent that the distribution of jural and other formal rights belie the power of women, ", writes Rogers and make the same correct and logical conclusions as Chinweizu, "most ordinary and important interactions occur in the context of a face to face community where informal relationships and forms of power are at least as significant a force in everyday life as formalized, authorized relationships and power". In fact, as Chinweizu states they are more important, significant and crucial. So, although women wielded the greater power how in this specific gynocentric society before the advent of misandrist feminism power was balanced between the sexes? Rogers continues and gives us the answers, she writes: "Men have greater (notice: not all) access to jural and formal rights. They are occupied with activities which may at least overtly considered important. With this two components, we have the basis for some kind of (a delusion) of male dominance. The five elements together give male dominance a mythical nature (remember it's a delusion not the true nature or state of affairs) ……."Men and women are approximately dependent on each other economically, socially, politically or in other important ways. This component ensures that both groups will "play the game" and a relatively even balance of power will be maintained. Because the two groups are mutually interdependent, neither can be autonomous than the other

Therefore, according to this dynamic, Jewish daily life and identity depends overwhelmingly on women and female power as well as authority. Women were always steadfast, loyal and faithful protectors of Jewish heritage and belief system. According to Jewish law, subsequently to the acceptance Torah as its holly book, Judaism is passed through the maternal line to the children (it was different prior to it and passed through the father). In the traditional female domestic role, the woman creates the Sabbath (which happens also to be the bride), Kosher food and is in charge of laws concerning sexual relations as regards to her monthly cycle, all three of which are in place to ensure ritual purity in body and soul. In the words of Chinweizu this is the embodiment of the three most important (informal) powers through which a woman rules over a man: a) the womb power; b) the kitchen power; c) the cradle power! But more than this, it enables the woman the most powerful control, social engineering and conditioning of men namely being the sexual and natural selection who also has authoritative and strict monopoly over sex. Being a small nation in an extremely important geopolitical area for all the political powers in history, women using their power were considered the last and most important frontier to socially and culturally safeguard the nation and religion although not only cultural cross-pollination was always unavoidably but in practical terms happened all the time. The small Moroccan Tetouan’s Jewish community was not really different and being at the crossroad of two giant cultures, the Christian and the Muslim, whereas Tangier, as the port of entry from Europe was quite a cosmopolitan city even before its International Zone days, it was quite safe and protected from such an influence although the cross-pollination as our research shows was huge in its nature. Even its mellah the equivalent of the Jewish European Stetl, had closed its doors at night and on Shabbat.

Regarding this cultural and otherwise cross pollination, diverse experiences of interaction between the Jewish community as well as the Christian world affected specifically women’s culture which alongside with the Muslim female culture created the oral literary tradition as well as art and poetry, a dynamic which later in gynocentric Europe will elevate woman as Guardian of human art, culture and even specifically the queen patronesses of the troubadour. The Spanish Muslim poetry as one of the origins of courtly love and troubadour poetry sprung exactly of such a heritage and legacy and it was originally the oral domain of Jewish as well as Muslim women. Just to name some of the more known literary works that survived and exhibit such Moroccan narrative in Al- Andalusi Spain emphasizing the feminine aspect in art are: a) Aisha and the Carpenter; b) Ali and the Spinner Too; c) Lawza El-Bhiya; d) Who'll buy a word; e) Aisha Jarma; f) The Female Camel; g) Woman as source of Good. So, following the dynamics as explained by Rogers and Chinweizu and as a part of a more balanced gynocentric society before the advent of misandrist feminism and medieval European gynocentrism II, apart from some rare exceptions, Jewish women were generally uninvolved until the twentieth century in the written Hebrew liturgical tradition. Their domain of literacy was contained in this repertoire of songs, stories and para-liturgical rituals which in itself show that women were literate and well – educated as men again in the same dynamic as displayed in medieval Europe were simple women were educated in fact even more than men only in different ways and having incredible social power as through the realm of natural and alternative medicine.

Anyway, at the verge of the troubadour era and especially in the time a little bit prior to Mosarabic Spain, the Jewish community at times also occupied the position of buffer community between Muslims and Christians. They had family and contacts in both Christian and Muslim lands and were thus often involved in cultural or political encounters. You may wonder, with such a vibrant influx of information, how it is that the Romancero in Morocco was preserved with such detail and semblance to early Peninsular versions? It would likely be the victim of multiple influences, which would change it to the point of non-recognition. However, this is not the case. Specifically, Judaism that as a religion that influenced both early Islam and Christianity and played a significant role through the realm of Muslim Spain in influencing not only greater parts of European culture neighboring at the Iberian-Peninsula but specifically the oral tradition emphasizing the tradition of oral poetry, the accentuating of the feminine and thus particularly the troubadour culture displays this dynamic and further inherited it altogether with the Germanic and Celtic legacy to other Western religions and cultures. However, in the context of Muslim Spain and specifically the Troubadour culture it was the main source and thus Jewish women alongside with Muslim ones played a great role in spreading this sort of gynocentrism.

According to this Jewish – Muslim heritage of Northern Morocco, the realm of jongleurs, troubadours and well-educated poets of Muslim Spain which among other displayed a lot of Jewish itinerant musician, troubadours and minstrels, nourished the co-mutually shared feminine oral tradition as well as ideals, which was later transmitted into Christian troubadour Europe and carried back to the Sephardic diaspora. The varied streams, the original and the later ones that fed into the river of Romances in Sephardic women’s oral tradition brought Jewish women in cultural contact with Muslims and Christians through these literary connections. Even though they may have lived within the confined Jewish communities as the mellah, they never led the life of a recluse and were shut out of wider social interactions as were their Christian medieval sisters and especially the Cathars one. As in the case of Tetouan, their customs as well as oral tradition displayed their informal societal dominance that was at the base of their communal identity and history.

The language for home and family was a particular version of Judeo-Spanish called Haketםa (Coming from the Arabic Haka – to tell or recount). Haketםa was built on a base of Spanish with Hebrew and Arabic insertions. The Hebrew insertions usually referred to the specific Jewish experience of rituals, places, names and things. The linguistic code-switching which Haketםa speakers were proficient in also hints to a cultural code-switching between Spanish, Arab and Jewish cultures. This linguistic hybrid is an embodiment of hybridity in these languages, which held different status in the community’s context. Thus it was less the linguistic part but rather the conceptual and to lesser degree the musical one especially as being the realm of practicing musicians who spread the message that was the Jewish contribution to the troubadour culture and courtly love. While still considering the liturgy as a more of a divine form of art and the secular as the mundane lower sphere Jews still participated in this culture, men as musicians in the more formal sphere of the mundane secular and women more in the domestic both of them mutually sharing a co-joint contribution. It was not a matter of high or low status as Sherry Orthner’s misandrist theory in the feminist article originally written in 1972, “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?”, claims where dismissing man's natural connections to nature she spreads the common eco feminist lies and incitement of the maternal discourse and states that woman’s biological status as continuer of the species through childbirth and lactation and her function as the first socializing factor in the life of an infant places her in an intermediate position between nature and culture.

Being ignorant about the dynamic explained by Rogers and Chinweizy she continues to spread the nonsense of the nowhere existing patriarchy, where she also ignorantly states that men are generally considered more transcendent in patriarchy because of their removal from the long creative process of renewing the species, and thus focus most of their creative energies on abstract cultural development whereas displaying basic lack of understanding and knowledge in the workings of social and cultural power structure as outlined above bit also the purpose omission of truth as to man's natural intimate relationship with nature. The reason for this manipulation as in regard to the above contribution and cultural activities of women is obvious. Manipulatively she tries inking the linguistic and literary pattern of oral narrative in a hybrid language while falsely attributing it to “lower” and “higher” languages (Hebrew as well as Spanish and Arabic) although in this context as we have seen it has nothing to do one with each other but mere exhibiting adhusment in the activity in the mundane sphere of both sexes. While feminine narrative in Moroccan Judeo heritage does play a significant role in the spread of gynocentrism from the East and Africa she falsely tries to presents as a feminist cause in fighting the oppressive patriarchy which in reality is nothing but part of gynocentric culture giving women all gender freedoms they wish.

As standing opposed to those claims this poetry and female contribution within the community was a women’s way of paving the “transitional” path between nature and culture but in general way a female contribution to the co-joint male and female effort to combine the divine and mundane art and liturgy under one umbrella whereas women additionally gained the advantage of spreading in here the gynocentric message too. Therefore, as theologically the emotional expression was never considered lower just again incorporating tow important aspects of worship in two corresponding realms, it was never about a lower or higher narrative of an imaginary intrinsic, emotional and unconscious creation. Again, it not the creative expression that seems to be the basis with which this community wishes to begin the process of socialization as regards gender and societal norms because women the generator of those norms denied them to men beginning here and ending in the code of chivalry of courtly love. Not only it is not a “lower” and thus more natural and visceral language, being also oral it does not carry the inherent fragility that is present in non-documented forms of expression. Those dynamics show extreme female strength in perusing whatever they want and as it was always so.

Oral traditions are not seen as she claims as the “lesser” of traditions, because of the impossibility to trace their origins, the troubadour culture is the best refutation for such a nonsense, but from academic point of view unless cross checked required more prove and examination. Thus while this un-academic claim is baseless judgment, essentially it is not less but technically unless checked and only for certain purposes inspection and thus maybe temporarily insufficient for certain use. Thus again it has nothing with values as anyway are beyond measurement but still most of the time the higher ideal. Orality as she states can maybe als connected to someone reading to you or singing from a text that they are reading from a written source you have no access to yet again as troubadour culture shows it goes beyond values thus having nothing to do with baseless judgements as "higher" or "lower". In early Spanish, ver (to see) and oםr (to hear) are both verbs connected with literacy. In the Diccionario medieval espaסol by Martin Alonso un decir (a saying) is a brief song. Thus again when not dismissing the importance of values as having nothing to do with exalted or ignoble status these romances then have no intrinsic tension between or seen as “lower” oral, nature-based emotional communication or the deep emotional charge that they hold for the listener within this cultural context as in regard to their value and importance.

So while a written, more intellectualized literature has theoretically a higher status in society for certain purposes, first of all not all oral transmission touches on deeply emotional chords within the listener that go beyond the intellect and if they do for the purpose they use they might even be more important. Most of the religious and moral as well as legal transmissions before the writing was invented were transmitted in this way thus it does not exhibit any essential meaning. Interestingly enough, the narrative threads in these Romances are heavily focused on women characters and their behavior. There are repeated examples of women’s infidelity in medieval literature that are praising women and degrading men and normally those are the despicable consequences he and not she faces not only when discovered but especially the threats to the men, the mocking of him when discovered and the general condition of cuckolding men. (see Douglas Ghalbie on Purple Motes). Another common narrative is the senseless violence perpetrated against men and incited by women (see also Douglas Ghalbie on Purple Motes). These were not only medieval European man but it goes back as long as to the Arab Bedouin tradition (Ghalbie Purple Motes). The tradition of women supporting men in ending this situation as well as men teaching their daughter so is a tradition that has it roots earlier than the medieval literature and once again it goes back to early Arab Muslim culture. All of those dynamic survived and traveled to Spain from the original Arab homelands over Northern Africa and Morocco and were adopted by the troubadours where there experienced a revival under the medieval culture (Douglas Ghalbie Porple Motes).

However, before the misandrist advent of courtly love and feminism there were also positive expected behavior from an ideal woman. The faithful wife, waiting for her voyaging husband beyond even the time he indicated she should wait for him (Porque lloras?) reinforces the chaste and faithful attitude the ideal woman have. These women are celebrated, and in the case of Sol, she has become the sole female tsaddeket in Morocco (Jewish saint). These Romances were used as work songs, lullabies and songs sung in private gatherings. These feminine narratives, with female characters and narrated by women permeate the collective memory in this community and were culturally "exported" to Muslim Spain and flourished in medieval Europe. During creative moments, in Hebrew or Spanish, portions of these texts appear as known allusions, which are revealed from their unconscious. They come out as “lo primero que pasa por la mente”, “the first thing that pops into my head. More than this they shaped the unconscious and the DNA of the west as in regard to courtly love, romantic relationships and also the gender narrative and dynamics in general

Virginie Dumanoir while searches for the origins states that "When one explores the possible sources for the presence of these traces of orality, we find evidence in the Romancero Viejo that there is a remnant from epic songs, and also of the privileged motifs found in Castillian Court poetry, which is in itself evolved from the Troubadours from Provence". In fact, dismissing the original link of female Jewish as well as Muslim influence on the Mosarabic and the troubadour's courtly love poetry, what is show that Mosarabic art was heavily influenced by female motifs and art and in return influencing back those traditions. Thus trough such back and forth dynamic and cross pollination, the Judeo-Spanish Romancero song tradition found a hospitable dwelling in the Jewish communities of Northern Morocco. The modern day expression is the Israeli Andalusi Ensable. The proximity between Spain and Morocco led to a constant cultural, economic and political exchange across the Strait of Gibraltar. This maritime frontier, which today is experienced as a formidable barrier for those Moroccans without a visa, was confronted with much more ease and openness in centuries past. The very fact that each population establishes almost daily visual contact with the land across the Strait determines the continuous presence in the imaginary realm as well as the palpable reality of their contiguity. A sustained exchange of music and ideas migrated along with commercial goods and diplomatic missions earlier than the 10th and 11th centuries. I like to think of this aqueous frontier as a fluid and live center of intercultural, interreligious and inter-lingual encounters.

References and Works Cited:

Judeo-Spanish Feminine Narratives in Morocco

The Heritage of Spanish Jewry in Morocco

from the Expulsion to the Present Day

Vanessa Paloma

Feminist Traditions in Andalusi – Moroccan Oral Narratives

Hasna Lebbady

Female Forms of Power and the Myth of Male Dominance: A MODEL OF Female/Male Interaction in Peasant society

Susanne Carol Rogers

The Anatomy of Female Power


Purple Motes

Doghlas Ghalbie



  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • LinkedIn Social Icon
  • Google+ Social Icon

© 2023 by Samanta Jonse. Proudly created with