Doum Tree

by jenniemacphee

Jennie MacPhee

The Doum Tree

“The doum tree of Wad Hamid”, written by Tayeb Salih, is structured as a narrative, primarily from the perspectives of an old man and a young guest in a rural village in Sudan. The young man, whose name remains anonymous, has come to the village for an unknown reason. The old man, whose name is also anonymous, is telling the young man about a sacred tree that is located in the center of village. The villagers consider the “doum tree” to be spiritual and very sacred, as its origin is a mystery and because it heals in times of bad health. Because the young guest is an outsider, he has a lot of questions for the old man about the doum tree, such as who planted it and how long it has been there. The old man speaks to him with grace and experience, explaining that these questions cannot be answered, simply because people do not know the answers, but most importantly because they do not need to know the answers.

The doum tree is the central character and puts forward an element of mystery in the story. The reader is introduced to the doum tree fairly quickly, and immediately gets a feeling that this is a tree unlike any other. It is somehow very special and respected, in the way that the old man speaks in a slow rhythm and description. This gives the reader a feeling of curiosity, wanting to know what could possibly be so interesting about a tree. The reader may ask themselves, ‘what is the deeper meaning and significance of the tree? Why is it there?’ When the old man says, “No one planted it, my son…most probably it grew up by itself, though no one remembers having known it other than as you now find it” (pg. 6), the reader may feel as though they are chasing information about the doum tree throughout the rest of the man’s narrative.

There is a religious connection that Salih presents in comparison to the doum tree. The old man recounts a story of a woman to the young guest, where the woman says “Placing his hand on my brow he said: ‘Be not afraid,’ and I was calmed…he then struck me gently on the shoulder with the string of beads, picked up a doum fruit from the ground and put it in my hand. When I turned around he was no longer there” (Pg. 8). These acts present parallels with many religions, where a sinner confesses and asks the Lord for forgiveness, and they will be saved. And similarly to God, it is entirely based on faith and tradition as no one knows who Wad Hamid is or when the tree began to grow.

Readers can relate to the young guest, as he comes from a different type of life than the old man. He asks a lot of questions and is hurried to hear more, although he cannot make sense of something that is a mystery and does not have a straightforward answer. In our society today, readers may agree with him and feel the same way. The interactions between the two narrators gives a good insight into how people of different generations converse, live, and believe.

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