The doum tree of Wad Hamid

by valdesjoha

Johannes Valdes

Born in the Northern Province of the Sudan in 1929 and coming from a background of small farmers and religious teachers, Tayeb Salih is a writer well known for incorporating themes such as colonization in his literature. “The doum tree of Wad Hamid” is a short story that stresses on the theme of progress and loss of tradition due to external colonial influences. Using the doum tree as a symbol and means to uncovering a message, Salih shines light on the unification and way of life in Wad Hamid preceding an anticipated modern future.

Salih starts his narrative from an elderly man who clearly bears paternal experience and comprehension of the society he is a part of. With a polite tone, the story teller recalls his collective memory through a series of twelve narrations. With historical importance in each story, the beliefs and attitudes of the villagers are revealed. From the start, the old man remembers an old friend of his sons who after one night “swore that he wouldn’t spend another night” in the village. As the narratives continue, the progression of colonization can be seen. At this point, the readers may understand what Salih intended in this story, as external pressures begin to take effect. Still keeping a grasp on tradition, the elderly man acquaints the outsider with the doum tree where “when in serious trouble” villagers would proceed to for healing. Representing cultural traditions passed down from previous generations, the doum tree is a symbol of hope to maintain ones culture and prevent division. Further it tells describes what it means to be from Wad Hamid.

Much like the Statue of Liberty symbolizes freedom and democracy for the citizens of America, the Doum Tree serves as a totem with a spiritual significance to the society presented in this short story. Adopted as an emblem, this natural object symbolizes unity among the inhabitants of Wad Hamid. Salih leaves the reader to reflect on his or her own cultural values and the pressures of western culture which influence our identity.

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