The Doum Tree

by reirei1

Trusting the Tree

By Rei Tamori

Narrated by a wise old man, The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid by Tayeb Salih is an inspiring short story that gives hope and meaning to the traditions in life. The man tells the tale of his village and its inhabitants who must endure the hardships and drudgeries of their primitive and limited lifestyle. He reveals the reason why the villagers choose to endure such a life, rejecting help from the government which wished to help them “progress”. The old man unleashes the truth about his village – that it has a divinity of its own which compensates for all the struggles it is constructed of: the Doum Tree of Wad Hamid.

“Were you to come to our village, it is likely that you would not stay long.” In this passage, the dialogue of the old man is a recurring example of his way of expressing his feelings about his village throughout the story. He is offering reassurance to the young visitor whom he is talking to, trying to gain his trust by pointing out that he knows the village is an undesirable place to visit.

The main idea I got from this story is that having trust in the rhythm of nature and in tradition is far more powerful than the actions resulting from so called logical thinking. The government wanted to cut down the doum tree to install a pump for “an agricultural scheme.” As soon as the villagers discovered this, “they all rose up as one man and barred the district commissioner’s way.” The tree was so important to them, that they would even resort to violence by fighting the government “to the last man” to keep their beloved tradition alive.

The theme is that what matters the most to the condition of human kind is often lost in a game of contrasting what is ethical with what is logical. The village people do not need asphalted roads or hospitals. They are protected by what they have always been protected by: nature and its strength – the doum tree. Grand in size, casting a great shadow over much of the land, it can even be seen “from four villages away”. “Don’t you think it is like some mythical eagle spreading its wings over the village and everyone in it?”

This story is a metaphor for all that is wrong with our world, for example globalization and bowing to the authority of powerful individuals or government. The shadow that the doum tree casts is the Mother Nature and protection of the people, the reason why this village is still and always will be run successfully. The tree is rooted into the ground and is solid. As readers, we are reminded of the value of holding onto and trusting the simple traditions which to outsiders might seem meaningless, but are indeed what give substance and meaning to our lives. The doum tree is the one thing that gives this village its identity.

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