Category Archives: Hippopotamus
Etymology – Crocodile (Modern Hebrew), Serpent or Snake, Dragon
There may be a root word that means “howling” or it is in reference to the way smoke spirals or coils upwards. The first part of the word, “tan” likely means or refers to snakes and lizards that are seen as foul or hidden. In Modern Hebrew, tannin can refer to either alligators or crocodiles.
Alternate Spellings: tannina (tannine for plural), Tanin, Tinnin (Arabic), Tunannu (Ugaritic), Ophioneus (Phoenician)
For those who are Bible Scholars and know their Torah or the Old Testament, they will likely already be familiar with Tannin (or Tanninim for plural) of who and what it is.
Depending on the interpretations and the context that Tannin appears, it will be either a dragon, a serpent or a large sea monster.
The struggle against Chaos; this is a familiar motif found throughout the world in many different regions and mythologies of a culture hero or god going up against a creature of chaos. This creature is often shown as and takes the form of a great serpent or dragon. This is the familiar Knight slaying the Dragon seen in many European mythologies. Parallels to this concept are even found in other cultures.
Tannin is no different as it is used as a symbol of chaos and evil in the ancient Canaanite, Mesopotamian and Phoenician mythologies and beliefs that are much older and more ancient than medieval stories of slaying dragons. Much like how Tiamat is equated as a symbol of chaos in Mesopotamian mythology. It is this part of being a sea monster or dragon and symbolic of chaos that has modern scholars identifying Tiamat with Tannin.
Tanninim appears in the Hebraic Books of Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Job, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Tanninim are among the many creatures created by God or Yahweh on the fifth day during the creation story in Genesis. The description of these creatures varies widely depending on the context of the scripture they’re referenced in.
The translation into the King James Bible will translate most of these instances to mean a whale. Back to the Genesis creation story, tanninim are translated as whales.
Why mention one particular creature, Tannin in all of these other passages and books and then call it a dag gadol in one Jonah? It’s assumed that whales are what’s being mentioned. Yet when we get into Isaiah, tannin is again mentioned as a sea monster that will be slain by God or Yahweh. When we go back into the King James Bible, that translation of tannin becomes dragon.
So, if dag gadol is a whale or rather, a great fish; then what’s tannin? Sticking to just Jewish mythology, tannin is often linked to the sea monsters Leviathan, Lotan and Rehab. In modern Hebrew, tannin means crocodile or alligator.
Alongside the name Rahab, Tannin is the name used to reference ancient Egypt after the exodus to Canaan.
It’s really interesting and fascinating the number of times that the word tannin is used, such as Aaron’s staff turning into a tannin in the Hebrew version of Exodus and the King James translation uses snake. Or wherein other instances, the translation is dragon.
Jackals – Since we’re already about translations. When translating the word Tannin into English, a bit of care needs to be taken.
Tannin is singular and Tanninim is plural for serpents or dragons. If the word is misspelled, then you get Tannim, the plural for Tan or Jackal. Something that can cause confusion among Bible scholars when translating texts and given the confusion with Tannin alone, this just adds fuel to the fire for which context and what creature is being referred to.
Whales – Since Tannin could exist on land and sea, given the variety of translations, such as in the Greek bible, Septuagint a whale is sometimes mentioned as being what’s referred to, notably in the Genesis creation story and the story of Jonah and the Whale.
Kabbalah – A blind, cosmic dragon called Tanin’iver is Lilith’s steed.
It’s not just in the Kabbalah, the name Tannin can also be the name for a demon as they can take the shape of dragons.
Tannin appears specifically in the Baal Cycle. It is a story similar to the Mesopotamian myth of Marduk (or Enlil) slaying Tiamat and the Grecian Perseus slaying Cetus or Zeus slaying Typhon.
Tannin is a monstrous servant of the sea god Yam who is defeated by Baal or it is bound by his sister Anat. In the myth, Tannin is described as serpentine in appearance and likely has a double tail.
As the story goes, from the Ugarit texts found at Ras Shamra and other places that have been translated, Baal and Yamm weren’t the best of buddies and their conflicts are symbolic of the short Syrian winters with the conflicting weather of rain, hail, and tides. Baal and Yamm were fighting over who would take over as head of the pantheon after El is stepping down. El had told Yamm he would get to take charge and Baal wasn’t happy with the news.
Yamm keeps on sending messengers to Baal about this edict and Baal is having none of it. With the aid of Kothar to create some magical clubs, Baal eventually defeats Yamm.
Baal’s conquering of Tannin and defeating Yam has been seen as being similar to the myths of Zeus defeating the Titans to become King of the Gods or when Zeus usurps Poseidon as King of the Gods from Mycenean Greece to the more well-known Ancient Greece.
Jumping back to the Judaic mythology, scholars have noted that a passage in the book of Isaiah parallels the Baal Cycle. In the Ugaritic passage for the Baal Cycle, Tannin is described as “the encircler.” The other description given is “the mighty one with seven heads.” It gets debated between the Ugaritic and Hebraic texts if this is three separate figures being described or if these are epitaphs of Lotan or Leviathan.
Me, being a lover of mythology, “the encircler” makes me think of Norse mythology and the Midgard serpent Jormungand. And the seven heads, D&D anyone and the evil dragon goddess of chaos, Tiamat?
The Enuma Elish from Babylonian myth is a creation myth showcasing Marduk and his rise to becoming the head god of the Babylonian pantheon of gods. Tiamat is the primordial goddess of chaos often depicted as a dragon. After she declares war on the gods, Ea tasks his son Marduk to go slay Tiamat. The result of which is her death and the creation of heaven and earth from the two halves of her body.
Tiamat – It has been noted the similarities between Tannin in the Baal Cycle with Marduk defeating Tiamat.
It’s not hard to see a similarity and a possible connection between the two. And, for the longest time, Biblical scholars did think that the Old Testament or Torah referenced the Babylonian myths. That would change in 1924 with the discovery of texts found in Ras Shamra or Ugarit as it was anciently known. Once the Ugarit texts were translated, it became apparent that the Old Testament references the ancient Canaanite mythology more.
Dragons & Dinosaurs
Dinosaurs in the Bible! The usage of the word Tannin and how it gets translated to mean dragon, based on the context to which it’s translated into the King James and other versions of the Bible, likely and strongly contributes to this idea.
After all, there are those who, on taking a cursory look at paleontology and history know that anciently, people who came across the fossilized remains of giant creatures from millions of years ago believed that it was possible that these creatures and monsters were still around. There wasn’t the understanding of fossils, how they form and just how ancient these remains are.
The word and term dinosaur are relatively new as it originates in 1841 with British scientist Sir Richard Owen. Before this, the term dragon was applied, especially to the more reptilian looking fossils. The descriptions between both dinosaur and dragon could lead many, who want a literal translation and understanding of the Bible to mean dinosaur.
However, seeing that Tannin has the meaning of crocodile in Hebraic. We’re still describing a real creature. This just may be a more plausible explanation. Especially with any of the prehistoric crocodiles. Even today, the alligators in Florida, U.S.A. can get fairly huge.
Those who aim for a more scholarly approach to the Bible, know that mention of dragons tended to be poetical or symbolic and likely remnants of mythology within this text, the triumph of order over chaos.
There certainly is a level of confusion and some suppositions put forward say it could be Hippopotamuses that are being referenced. Some might try and apply the newer understandings from paleontology and the classification of animals that Tannin is just a generalized use word for any large, unknown animal that could be dangerous and thus scary.
Sea Serpents By Any Other Name….
Cetus – The Grecian sea monster that depending on the translation given, is either a sea monster or a monstrous whale.
Illuyanka – The name of a giant serpent killed by Tarḫunz in Hittite mythology.
Jormungand – This is the infamous sea serpent from Norse mythology that encircles the earth.
Leviathan – The name of a giant, monstrous sea serpent mentioned in the Books of Job, Isaiah, Amos, and Psalms.
Lotan – Originating more in Canaanite mythology, this is a sea creature much older than Leviathan and was just one of Yam’s many sea servants he could call on. Additionally, Lotan is also known by the name Tannanu that is similar to the name Tannin.
Rahab – A sea serpent associated with the Red Sea, Rahab is often equated with Tannin. It also the more poetic name for Egypt in medieval Jewish folklore.
This one took me a while to be satisfied with sources that were beyond just one or two sources.
Basically, Nana Miriam is who helps the hero Fara Maka to defeat a monstrous hippopotamus.
Parentage and Family
This one can get a little odd and confusing as it depends upon the narrative and who’s telling the story.
Fara Maka – When the story is told by the Soroko, he is the father of Nana Miriam.
Faran Maka – Or Fara Maka, among the Mali people, he is Nana Miriam’s spouse.
What’s In A Name?
This is a tidbit I found interesting. The name Nana Miriam is an Islamicized version of the original name. In addition, the name Nana is used as a title for older women. During the African Diaspora, Nana became a name for grandmothers.
Among the people of Mali, Fara Maka is a hero who slew a monstrous hippopotamus known as Mali. But he doesn’t do it without help!
The short version –
Mali had eaten all of Fara Maka’s crops. Fara Maka tried to kill the monster hippo using his spear and sending out as many 120 black hounds to attack the beast. Fara Maka failed and was eaten in the process by some accounts. His wife, Nana Miriam used a spell to paralyze the monster Mali and finally defeated it.
The long version –
As told by the Soroko of Niger, a long time ago there was a monstrous hippopotamus by the name of Mali that would eat all of the crops before they could be harvested.
The Soroko banded together to attack and take out this monster. To their dismay, none of their spears could hurt the giant hippo. The spears would fall away harmlessly or fall into fiery pots hanging around the Mali’s neck.
To make matters worse, Mali was also a shapeshifter and would change into the forms of a crocodile, manatee or other creatures to get away.
Even the greatest hunter among them, Fara Maka was unable to defeat Mali. Fara Maka went after Mali with seven spears and all of those melted in the hippo’s fire pots.
Not giving up, Fara Maka went to get the help of a fellow hunter, Kara-Digi-Mao-Fosi-Fasi (sometimes he’s just called: Karadigi). Kara-Digi brought 120 hunting dogs with him to help take down the monster hippo. Each dog was chained to the other and as big as a horse.
In the Soroko story, Mali is able to talk, which makes sense given its supernatural nature with shape-shifting and being so huge; seeing Fara Maka with Kara-Digi and his dogs, the monster hippo laughed and taunted them, stating that a rat couldn’t make a cat accountable. At which, Mali then proceeded to eat all 120 dogs.
Crushed and thoroughly defeated, the two men returned to Fara Maka’s home where they were met by Fara Maka’s daughter, Nana Miriam. Now it is said, that for as ugly as Fara Maka was, Nana Miriam was just that beautiful. Like her father, who taught her of course, Nana Miriam knew magic and her abilities far out striped Fara Maka’s magic. Seeing the despair on her father and his friend’s face, Nana Miriam decided to take matter into her own hands to do something about stopping Mali.
Like any parent who loves their child and there’s a vicious monster out there, Fara Maka is understandably upset that his daughter wants to go out and face off with Mali. No, just no. Kara-Digi takes the approach of telling Nana Miriam that she’s just a girl and should listen to her father. Of course, from Nana Miriam’s perspective, what Kara-Digi likely sounds condescending, that she’s weak and can’t do it and with her father, that need for independence and showing that, yes, she can do this.
So, grab the spear and a juju (magic) bag and off, out the door Nana Miriam goes in search of this monstrous hippo, Mali. It doesn’t take our heroine long to find Mali and the two get into a verbal spat wherein Mali taunts Nana Miriam that she can’t hurt him.
A magical battle follows, first Mali creates a giant wall of fire around himself that Nana Miriam counters with some powder from her juju bag that turns the flames to water. Next, Mali lets out a loud shout, creating a great iron wall to separate them. This, Nana Miriam counters by pulling a hammer from her bag and breaks through the wall.
Worried that he may have met his match, Mali transforms into a river and starts to flow towards the larger Niger river. Nana Miriam pulls a bottle of lotion from her juju bag that she flings at the river to dry it up, forcing Mali to retake his animal form.
Around this time, Fara Maka and Kara-Digi return to see Nana Miriam kill the monstrous hippopotamus. When the two arrived, Mali charged towards Fara Maka. Seeing the hippo barreling towards her father, Nana Miriam leapt in front of Mali. She proceeded to grab the monster’s leg and with enough force and momentum; Nana Miriam swung Mali up over her head, hurling him off into the distance.
Now, depending on the version of the story told, Nana Miriam either threw hard enough that he circled the earth three times or that it would take ten years of marching to reach where Mali finally landed. Either way, Mali was dead.
Nana Miriam wasn’t stopping there, she next told the villagers to leave their hunting gear home and to get ready for a vast quantity of food to arrive soon. Taking a magical egg from her juju bag, Nana Miriam threw it into the Niger river. Once the egg hit the water, it caused every hippo within it to die and the villagers had food a plenty to eat for a while.
Well, there was still one hippo left after all this, one who was pregnant. As Nana Miriam prepared to make short work of this one like she had all the others, Fara Maka intervened. He stepped in front of his daughter and said that if Nana Miriam killed all of the hippos, that there would be none left later for people to eat. Nana Miriam relented and allowed the last hippo to live. This hippo would go on to become known as the Mother of Hippos.
Variations to the story –
Some variations have Nana Miriam getting the egg she tosses from her father, Fara Maka.
Another variation has her using a spell to paralyze Mali before killing him. In this version, Fara Maka is her husband, not father.
Among the Soroko, whenever people go hunting hippopotamuses, they will chant Nana Miriam’s name over the charm as they make it.
Etymology – hippopotamus
Mali is the name of a shape-shifting, monstrous and carnivorous hippopotamus responsible for the destruction and eating entire fields of rice.
Among the Mali and Songhay people, the hero, Fara Maka is the one who finally defeats this monster after numerous attempts. In his first attempt, Fara Maka tries throwing spears to no affect, as the spears would disintegrate or melt on contact with Mali’s skin.
In Fara Maka’s next attempt, he is joined by fellow hunter, Karadigi who set his pack of 120 black dogs on the raging monster. Karadigi’s pack were all eaten in short order by Mali.
At last, Fara Maka decided to consult with his wife, Nana Miriam. She cast a spell of paralysis on Mali. With the monster unable to move, Fara Maka was now able to destroy this monstrous hippopotamus.
In some versions of this stories, the crops eaten were Fara Maka’s. When he had failed at killing Mali, Fara Maka’s wife, Nana Miriam used the spell of paralysis to defeat the monster.
The Niger River
The third longest river on the African continent after the Nile and Congo rivers. This river is the location for where the confrontations with Mali and Fara Maka take place in traditions and legends.
Also called: Faran Maka, Faran Maka Bote
Among the Songhay people of Africa, Fara Maka is a significant culture hero. He is described as being a giant of a man who fished and grew rice for a living. Stories about Fara Maka have him using his long beard to catch fish and to eat at least one hippopotamus a day. As a result of his divine heritage, Fara Maka also had magical powers.
The Songhay are able to trace their origins back to the 8th century B.C.E. when Aliman Dia came to the Niger River. Aliman Dia had iron weapons that enabled him to overpower the people living there along the river. Namely the sorko or fishers and the gow or hunters. By uniting the different villages in the area, Aliman Dia founded the first Songhay dynasty.
Aliman Dia’s descendants ruled until around the 15th century when the Sonni replaced them.
Parentage and Family
Fara Maka’s father was a mortal man by the name of Nisili Bote, a fisherman by trade.
His mother’s name is Maka, a river spirit. As a result, this is from whom Fara got his mystical and divine heritage from.
This one is a bit odd, Fara Maka found a girl in a termite mound who gave birth to his two children.
Among the Mali people, Fara Maka or Fara Maka’s wife’s name is Nana Miriam.
Fara Maka is the father of Wango and Weikare. Not a whole lot else is known about them other than their children in turn become the sorko of the Songhay tribe.
The most significant story involving Fara Maka is that of his battle with the water spirit Zinkibaru for control of the Niger River.
Zinkibaru has caused the fish to eat Fara Maka’s rice crops. In response to this, Fara Maka fought the water spirit and in the process, won a magical guitar from it.
After his battle with the river spirit Zinkibaru, Fara Maka soon got too overconfident with his abilities and victory. This angered Dongo, the god of lightning and thunder. Dongo displayed his anger towards Fara by burning many Songhay villages and people.
Eventually Dongo cooled down enough and summoned Fara to him. Dongo demanded that Fara humble himself in order to stop the attacks on the villages by offering up music, praise-poems and animal sacrifices. Dongo further told Faran that if he would organize these festivals, that he, Dongo would enter into the bodies of the dancers for a spiritual ecstasy and help all those living along the Niger River.
Songhay Possession Ceremony
After Dongo’s forced meeting with Fara Maka, the first Songhay Possession Ceremony was held. Even today in modern era, this ceremony is still performed. The most important people of the Songhay Possession Troupe are the Sorko, the praise-singers to the spirits. The Sorko are direct descendants of Fara Maka Bote, keeping alive the traditions, folklore and religion of the Songhay.
Among the people of Mali, Fara Maka is a hero who slew a monstrous hippopotamus known as Mali.
Mali had eaten all of Fara Maka’s crops. Fara Maka tried to kill the monster hippo using his spear and sending out as many 120 black hounds to attack the beast. Fara Maka failed and was eaten in the process by some accounts. His wife, Nana Miriam used a spell to paralyze the monster Mali and finally defeating it.