The doum tree of Wad Hamid

by billyev

Bill Everitt

The expression of reluctance


            The doum tree of Wad Hamid, written by Tayeb Salih is a short story which tells a very visceral account of the struggle between time honoured customs and a new way of life in a small Sudanese village.  The story is related in the first person by an anonymous old man who believes very strongly in the doum tree and its mystical healing and spiritual capabilities.  The old man represents the feelings of many ageing villagers who grew up with the doum tree and are reluctant to change it for new technology they do not feel is necessary.  As the story progresses, it becomes clear that it is actually being told by a younger man, who like many before him, has heard the legend of Wad Hamid and is now struggling with the issue of how to modernize an ancient settlement so deeply rooted in traditional belief.

            The old man’s lack of enthusiasm for change within their village is representative of the older generation that traditionally lived in these smaller settlements.  All previous envoys to their village had been from colonial or post-colonial governments who’s intent did not even try to encapsulate the needs and wants of the people within this village and others like it.  The changes proposed by these people would always cut through the heart of the belief structure of the local inhabitants, microcosmic of the way these nations were ruled by colonial powers. 

            Even if the focal point of the story is the significance of the doum tree, it also symbolizes the transition from colonial government to domestic government.  At the end of the story, we learn it is being told by a young man who is from the village or one like it.  The old man’s words resonate in the visitor’s ears when he asks him when the water pump and the stopping place for the steamer will finally be put into place, and the old man responds “when my son’s son passes out of school and the number of young men with souls foreign to our own increases, then perhaps the water pump will be set up and the agricultural scheme set into being – maybe then the steamer will stop at our village – under the doum tree of Wad Hamid”.  This quote enunciates the need for change from within as opposed to forced change brought about by outside influence; only the sons of this Sudanese village will have the right and the ability to revolutionize the village in a manner fitting with traditional beliefs and customs.

            The literary techniques utilized by Salih make the story into a thought provoking account of a marginalized people attempting to maintain their self-determination.  By showing the perspectives of both colonial governments versus the educated nationals and the form of government they attempt to install, Salih gives a strong description of the struggles that these townspeople would have experienced, which is a story not often heard within our western circle of influence.



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