The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid

by hannalijoyce

 Hannali Joyce Popoca Fehr

English 213

A Story of Resistance to Western Development


Tayeb Salih, a Sudanese novelist, is the author of several complex stories that deal with the cultural contrast of the civilizations from the West and the East. His literary work “The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid” published on 1985 is a short story narrated by a young traveler that describes an Islamic village in process of colonization from the point of view of one of its old habitants.

            In this provocative work, Salih tells a short story in which unbearable fat flies bite people and cause them disease and pain, old remedies are the hope of the sick, hard work is the routine of the poor, donkeys are the means of transport, and evening prayers are the offerings to the doum tree of Wad Hamid. This doum tree is the most substantial and ancient figure of the Muslim village. It symbolizes the devotion of a slave called Wad Hamid who lived to praise God during the old times. An old villager, the narrator of the story, asserts that the doum tree of Wad Hamid is a holy tree, and he recounts what is said about its ability to cure the ailing and help the needed. Furthermore, more than a holy monument, the tree represents the culture, beliefs and traditions of the people who live in the village.

            Moreover, this powerful religious symbol also represents the people’s unity and resistance to colonization. In the moments in which foreigners arrived to infiltrate the small Muslim community with ideas of progress and development aimed to replace the doum tree of Wad Hamid, the old villager tells that “all [the habitants] rose up as one man and barred the district commissioner’s way”, and sand and horse-flies chased the men until they were seen out of the village. It is at this point in the story that the author introduces his major theme which is the preservation of cultural identity. However, at the end of the story, the old man acknowledges that despite the efforts of the powerful, the doum tree will not be cut down but domination is imminent.

Although Salih does not provide the names of the characters or the village, nor specifically mentions the location where the events occur, the narrative of his old character talks to the reader with a simple language that describes his personality and displays the way he perceives the world and the distress he suffers due to the occupation of his village. Also, the tone that he uses and the images that are offered in the book help the reader to imagine detailed scenes of the story. Overall, “The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid” is a great piece of literature filled with culture and insights.


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