The doum tree of Wad Hamid

by haleywilliams

Haley Williams

“Look at it, my son, look at the doum tree; lofty, proud, and haughty as though – as though it were some ancient idol.” The doum tree of Wad Hamid is more than a mere tree to the village that it overlooks; the tree is a spiritual symbol, a cultural icon, and a part of rural village life. Tayeb Salid uses beautifully descriptive language to show the passion and respect that the village feels towards the doum tree and through the stories of an unnamed elderly man, the listener comes to learn of the difficulties that the village faces to dissuade progress from the city from ruining their place of worship and traditional lifestyle.

The graphic writing of this short story allows the reader to be transported into the Sudanese village in which the doum tree is a part of and to experience the horrendous physical environment while at the same time be lulled into the majesty of the stories that are shared. The stories reveal the differences between the people of the village and the outsiders who visit, never lasting more than one day. These outsiders bring with them new ideas of what the villagers need and are a representation of colonial forces slowly eating away at a culture, which in the end can only do their best to retain the lifestyle of the past.

Salid uses a rural village environment to show the how the doum tree is viewed differently by persons belonging to different locations, cultures, lifestyles, and generations. The tree is only saved from being destroyed at one point due to political benefit and this begins the story’s disturbing shift from the real accounts and bedtime stories being told to the listener and into the uncertain future. The understanding of the story changes as the reader becomes aware that what is being told is merely an account of the interview and that the general ignorance of the village culture continues.

The doum tree of Wad Hamid is a brilliant mixture of ancient fable and tangible political issues. It provides a rollercoaster ride of emotion and disbelief as the reader attempts to grasp the situation when a true understanding can never be possible. Tayeb Salid is an amazing writer and has created a work of art that will be relevant to the world for generations to come.

Salih, Tayeb. The doum tree of Wad Hamid. London: Heinemann Educational Books

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