The Doum Tree

by serafina88

Review One

Joan Gauthier

The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid

For most readers, “The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid” by Tayeb Salih is sure to bring back those delicious memories of listening to grandparents and parents pass down family stories to ensure that not only do we understand our past, but also to make certain that the stories themselves continue and are not forgotten.

In Salih’s story, an elder from an unnamed village in the Sudan, explains to a younger visitor the significance of a large Doum Tree that stands in a prominent place in the village.

Through a carefully paced woven story, we gradually learn how the tree came into existence, and how over the years it has assumed a magical, mystical quality and significance for the villagers. Not only is it believed to have healing qualities, but in some circumstances a person can even evoke a visit from the great Wad Hamid himself.

However, the purpose of the story is not only to pass along this information to a stranger; it also portrays that tug between the old and new, especially new ideas from outside forces. We quickly realize that this story is about change and resistance to change; a clinging to the old ways represented by the elderly gentleman, and the hopes and ideas of the new modernity as envisioned by the younger visitor. We see that each time progress has attempted to come to the village it has been proposed by a department of the post-colonial government in power, and each time, the tree to be threatened in some way. The steamship could not service the village without the tree being cut down to make way for a new dock, a monstrous idea to the villagers who would rather travel to the next community to catch the steamship if it meant their sacred tree would remain untouched.

In a unique twist, as the narration draws to a close we realize that the younger man is relaying the story as told to him by the older gentleman and there is in fact two narrators to give us two conflicting viewpoints. By letting us the reader hear the story of the Doum Tree in the first person we get a greater feeling for the passion and soul of the elder gentleman that we would not get by hearing it in the third person.

In the same way the stories of our grandparents eventually make their way into museums and photo albums, so the tree suffers the same fate. Fenced off and adorned with a commemorative plaque, it moves from mystical, magical and importance, into an object to be looked for amusement and novelty.

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