SUDAN… a Continent that Lives in a Country

SUDAN… a Continent that Lives in a Country

Photos by Hussein Lary

A person is bound to be surprised to find himself in a continent a far-flung continent with one language which links him with its inhabitants, to find that there are four languages divided into more than 400 local dialects in common use, and when he imagines that the people s roots were close to each other and have fused together since successive migrations he finds in front of him more than 500 tribes. It is a strange society of magic, customs and legends, varied features and carved faces which hold firmly to their membership to their tribes. Criss-crossed and parallel lines are carved on the features of the face, causing protrusions from inside the skin, which remain with people from birth and throughout their lifetimes.

Languages are scattered around here and there, intersecting in markets, streets,

schools and open squares, intermingling, separating, and ending up finally in one dialect that everybody understands. But they always refer to the tribe: language, features, a tattoo that will not disappear, rituals, customs and traditions which govern them and their behavior inside Sudan's borders and perhaps beyond.

Khartoum, when we landed there at dawn, was not far from these features. It also is a continent in which people of other African nationalities live, Arabs and Africans coexist and the adherents of the revealed religions and worshippers of tribal idols and the Nile religions are not differentiated.

Several nationalisms intersect, make inroads on each other and mix together in their daily conduct, in the markets, streets and extended squares of the capital, and their many concepts. But the protrusions and lines extending across the faces, and the dark, light and even white features and all shades in between, pull them back to their tribal origins and preserve their roots which it was feared would be lost with the passing of the years and the seepage of the water of modernization into a soil that splits sometimes, but holds together most of the time.

It is a strange world that a person sees when he comes to Khartoum for the first time, as if it were magic or the atmosphere of legends which continue to surround a being, envelop him and pursue him with astonishment.

Scattered Lights

We arrived in Khartoum in the later half of the night, and saw nothing in the heap of darkness except scattered spots of light, without being able to see the main mosque from the window of the aircraft in the arrangements of widely-spaced beads of light in a single necklace.

When we left it was also night time, and the beads of light returned and were scattered. The darkness was intense but the lights of Khartoum dispersed it, just as our concerns, the questions we had inside us, and our fears also, dispersed the whiteness of the smiles which beamed on the faces of the Sudanese.

Dear friends are companionship : this sentence continued to sum up Sudanese friendliness which is difficult to describe, as if these people had been created from flesh, blood, friendliness, simplicity and endurance, as if all that they have gone through and suffered for years, maybe throughout the length of their history, has fashioned their behavior towards others. Welcoming predominates, geniality knows no bounds, and even the needy give to others in preference to themselves.

We came to Sudan burdened with political concern , after many years during which we saw, heard and were pursued by images on satellite channels only of famines, war, political instability, negotiations which were always failing, initiatives following each other in succession from the north, south and east, the disagreements and conflicts of political parties which succeed each other in power, the blockade, Al-Shifa factory, and the other things that continue to pursue viewers and listeners in the Arab world and even in remote islands.

This was the horrifying scene, just as it is mysterious and bewildering, it is also complicated and tragic because it seemed to have no end.

Nobody said openly that there is wonderful coexistence between the Arab and African cultures, and nobody said that a country like Sudan contains its regions a rare sight of civilization, a dialogue which is seldom found anywhere else. Nobody said that its land by all standards is an open book for anybody who wants to read in its pages about Arab and African civilizations., and that from this Arab African gateway, Islamic conquests spread and Islam was propagated throughout the black continent.

People spoke in whispers about Sudan as a civilization. Modesty prevails over the Sudanese, the people of this country, when they speak about themselves and their country, just like their poets and writers, of whom there are hundreds, maybe thousands, without exaggeration. But they write, and most of them keep what they write to themselves, out of modesty and hesitation.

An Astonishing Mixture

Sudan is a mixture of races. Since ancient times this country has remained a region which has attracted many human elements. Some official statistics indicate that it is divided into 65 ethnic groups which form more than 597 ethnic sub-groups. The group of Arab origin accounts for about 40% of the total of inhabitants, while the Dinka, the main group in southern Sudan, make up about 12%, the Beja 7%, and the non-Arab groups in western Sudan come to about 6% of the population.

The Nubian groups arrived in the areas of northern Sudan since the fourth century AD, and spread in the provinces of Kordofan and Darfur. The Beja, whose areas lie in eastern Sudan on the Red Sea, have intermingled with Arab elements for about a thousand years. In addition, there are in Sudan large groups of inhabitants who came from West Africa and belong to the Hausa, Fulani and Yoruba tribes, as well as groups from Chad. The Nilotic groups in southern Sudan have divided into different sections, the Dinka, Nuwair, Shalak, Anwak, Tibusa, and Bari. At the same time, other groups which live in the Equatorial Province and the Bahr Al-Ghazal region belong culturally to the large groups which live in countries adjoining Sudan, like the Zandy group.

However, the migration of Arab elements to Sudan in the Islamic period represents the most important migrations in its history. These waves of migration entered from the north through Egypt, from the western route across the Sahara, and also across the Red Sea. The area across which most of these ethnic groups spread went beyond the borders of Sudan and mingled with neighboring groups in the adjacent countries. This included the intermingling that occurred between the Nubians who inhabit the Northern Province with the Nubians in Egypt, the Bani Amer in Sudan s Kassala Province with the Bani Amer in Eritrea, the Masalit in Darfur with those in Chad, the Zandy in the Equatorial Province with others in the Congo and Central Africa, as well as the Nuwair and Shalak in the Upper Nile Province with the same two groups in Ethiopia.

Among the effects of the Arab migration to Sudan are the diverse tribes which we find now. In northern and central Sudan there are Adnani tribes like the Jaaliyin, Mirfab, Manasir,Shaiqiya, Jawabira, Battahin and Kawahla, and Qahtani tribes like the Qawasma, Abdulab, Arakiyin, Lahwiyin, Halawiyin, Awamra, Khawalda and Shukriya.

The Arabs entered also across the Sudanese-Arab borders after the spread of Islam in North Africa. Berbers entered, as did Umayyad fugitives after the fall of their state in Andalusia and the establishment of the Idrisi state in Morocco. Immigrants from Libya settled around the area of Jabal Mudda and in the north in Darfur and Kordofan Provinces, and mixed with the inhabitants there.

This diversity of ethnic groups has led to linguistic diversity. There are 115 languages, including Arabic which is the official language in government dealings, except for the Southern Province where English is used as well as Arabic. There is also a slang form of Arabic called Juba Arabic , which is the language of conversation among non-Arab groups in southern Sudan.

Individuality and Distinctiveness

In Sudan one s mouth can be agape at any moment, at the beginning, but after that one discovers that this is a very normal thing in a country of such a huge area, a million square miles or more than 2.5 square kilometres. On this basis, and by virtue of its awareness that it is the largest country in both the Arab world and Africa, it knows that everything in it must be different. Arab culture and African culture, common borders with nine countries, two of them Arab (Egypt and Libya) to the north, and seven African countries to the south (Kenya, Uganda and the Congo), to the west (Chad and Central Africa), and to the east (Ethiopia and Eritrea). And the Red Sea separates Sudan from Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps these neighbors made Sudan s population a mixture of different elements which immigrated to it from neighboring countries. All the southern countries lie within Black Africa, while in the north of Sudan Arab ancestry prevails. While the east of the country was affected by Hamitic immigration, in the west, where the Libyan Desert lies, there are groups with Berber characteristics, and Sudan has its own ethnic groups like the Beja and the Nilotic groups.

This diversity, through which Sudan has become a country made up of a huge racial, ethnic, cultural and religious mixture, which has come to form the structure of the country. This is described within two main frameworks, the north and the south. The north represents two thirds of the land and population, and is inhabited by original local tribal groups which intermarried with Arab merchants who came to Sudan centuries ago, and their links increased with the advent of Islam in the seventh century AD.


The morning sun in March was strong and harsh, when we set out towards the area of the ruins in Bajrawiya, three and a half hours from Khartoum.

The Nile on our left widened and narrowed, before we passed by Khartoum University, and then descended from the bridge over the Nile to the city of Khartoum Bahri, the third city of which Sudan s triple capital is made up, after Omdurman and Khartoum Province.

The small three-wheeled rickshaws with open doors annoyed our driver and terrified us as they proceeded slowly along the streets, but they were able to slip through between the old cars with which the roads are crowded.

In the Bahri area we went past an industrial zone where there is a factory for fine weaving, another that manufactures cardboard and a third that manufactures baskets. We passed railway lines, flour mills, flight training college, until we entered Al-Inqadh Street, to a long road on both sides of which is a market which sells livestock and green fodder. The road, which is known as the Challenge , led us to the town of Qadrou which is part of Bahri Governorate, where there are rows of shops on both sides without customers, and people sitting in front of them: butchers shops, groceries, communications shops, paint shops and working-class restaurants.

We pass through Fekki Hashim district where on both sides of the road there are cultivated areas interspersed with barren ones.

Before the Challenge Road brought us to the town of Shendi, the desert mirage made us thirsty. The desert was vast, with small mud houses scattered at its edges and vegetation spread over some spots, and a number of herds of livestock wandering freely.

When the sun was above our heads on that scorching day, we arrived at the Bajrawiya area, after passing. The villages of Hamadat and Bir Al-Arabi. From a distance the view of the pyramids was splendid . They were not large like the Egyptian pyramids at Giza, nor were their stones so large, but the sight was magnificent. Dark-colored pyramidal triangles, which at present number 36, after neglect destroyed about 21 other pyramids. They were distributed between three locations in ancient Marwa.

But in Bajrawiya, whose ruins were left to resist the oppressing worlds of time, the graveyards were divided between the eastern area, the place where the kings and queens were buried, the western area, the burial grounds of the ministers and princes, and the royal city where the burial places for the ordinary people were.

We went into the temple room and found drawings of Isis, Horus and Osiris, carvings inside, scales, boats, animals and birds rising up, and hieroglyphic writings in the temple of Queen Amani Shakhti.

These ruins stretch over an area of six square kilometres. The pyramids there were damaged at the apex, but their beauty was still there nevertheless.

The pyramids in the Marwa area are burial places for kings and queens. Their total number was more than 140. The Bajrawiya pyramids used to be complete with golden summits, but the Italian doctor Ferlini, who was searching for gold in the nineteenth century, destroyed them.

In most of these pyramids there were funeral temples, in which were mural paintings and carvings about religious life in Marwa. The differences between these pyramids and their equivalents in Egypt lies in the fact that in Sudanese pyramids the burial chamber is under the pyramid, whereas in the Egyptian ones it is inside the structure of the pyramid, and there are funeral temples in the Sudanese pyramids which do not exist in the Egyptian ones. And all the Sudanese pyramids lie to the east of the Nile (except for Nuri), while the Egyptian pyramids are west of the Nile.

The city of Marwa is one of the oldest in the world. It continued to prosper during the period from 592 BC until 350 AD. Expansion of its iron industry was one of the sources of its wealth, and its fame reached as far as Greece and Rome. Because of the close and long-term contact between Egypt and the Kingdom of Kush, it was greatly influenced by Egyptian civilization. At the beginning, temples were built in Pharaonic style, the same Egyptian gods were worshipped in them and the carvings were done in the Egyptian way. Texts were written in the Egyptian language and Marwi and Egyptian gods were worshipped side by side. Then the Marwi gods took their place in the official religion.

After a while the people of Marwa developed their artistic and architectural methods. After the invention of the Marwi script they used their own language for writing. The crafts prospered, and pottery from Marwa become one of the most beautiful products of the Nile Valley, and most highly valued from the Artistic point of view. The goldsmith s art also attained a high standard. The iron industry advanced and gained status in Africa. The Kingdom of Marwa collapsed around 350 AD when Ayzana the King of Axum in Ethiopia advanced on Marwa and destroyed the city.

Latent Radiance

We have been accustomed in our journeys of investigation to read a country through the lines of its culture. But the outstretched Sudanese palm contains so many intersecting lines that one is confused about where to begin and where to end. Arab and Islamic and Christian zigzags and other African ones, distributed between many different religions and ethnic roots. So how could one read a palm with so many lines, and how could one extract one line without it being mixed up with characteristics of this great intermingling which the very broad Sudanese melting-pot has fused together. This melting-pot is capable of making a small difference fuse into the fabric of the country, so that it subsequently becomes a combination which distinguishes this country in the faces of its people with their varying shades of brown.

Since our arrival at Khartoum International Airport, we had been trying to read the cultural situation in Sudan. No sooner had we begun arranging our questions than we were surprised by a cultural occasion, a book exhibition which was the first of its kind held by Kuwait in the Sudanese capital. This exhibition was an opportunity in which cultural potentials of the two countries came together, each seeking in a way to explore where the other s radiance was concealed. At the same time, this celebration represented an opportunity for us to research, ask questions and meet effective elements in the Sudanese cultural situation.

An Oral Culture

When we met Sudanese Minister of Culture and Tourism Abdulbasit Abdulmajed in his office, he told us that although the outward appearance of culture in his country is pluralistic, this places it at the heart of Arab culture, in its poetry, its short stories, its songs, plastic arts and folk music. This is reflected in Sudan s participation, what its information media present, and in the presence of Sudanese writers and intellectuals in the societies in the area surrounding Sudan. In spite of that, he added, Sudanese cultural and creative activity is not well known beyond the country s borders. Minister Abdulmajed attributes this to a shortcoming by the critics who are unable to make Arab readers aware of Sudanese creative works. There is also another reason, according to the Minister, that in Sudan we have a culture that is oral more than written. And perhaps the modesty and spontaneity which the Sudanese character enjoys is also behind this.

However, Minister Abdulbasit Abdulmajed added that Sudanese write very little, on the whole, and held that responsible for the fact that Sudanese creativity does not occupy the place it deserves and is appropriate in the Arab cultural map.

The Beginnings of the Theater of Realism

From the Ministry building we set off in search of ways of access to cultural activity in a country in which hardly a day passes without several pleasant activities. We started off with the theater, and our questions took us to the Faculty of Music and Drama in the Sudanese University for Science and Technology. There we met the Dean, Dr. Ahmad Abdulaal, who mentioned that the Faculty was founded at the end of 1973, to become the only one of its kind up to now. It contains two sections: the first, for music, is divided into branches for stringed instruments, the voice, oriental music and instruments, and musical appreciation. The second section, for drama, contains branches for directing, acting, technical aspects of the theater, radio and television, criticism and dramatic studies.

This faculty graduates between 400 and 600 students a year, who work in media establishments, radio, television and also schools.

In the faculty we visit the sections and see a blaze of activity. We go to the Associate Professor in the Drama Section Al-Tayyib Al-Mahdi Muhammad Al-Khair who is a playwright, director and professor of acting and directing. He told us that theatrical activity in Sudan began around 1905, and relied on the foreign communities resident there at that time, At that time there were a number of simplified productions. After that school activity came to the fore, before moving on to Khartoum University which established its own theater. This was the spark leading to the formation of theatrical groups, which moved from there to the Graduates Club, which in the early 1930s presented the play The Luck of Satisfaction.

Here he affirmed that the development of the theater in Sudan was simply periods which followed each other and overlapped without being connected. They were in fact episodes. In the 1930s there was a climax of that phase, and there was another more distinct phase which began in the 1960s, after the establishment of the National Theater and the emergence of several theatrical troupes and associations. The graduation of successive batches from the Institute of Music and Theater (which was later transformed into a faculty) had its effect in infusing new blood into theatrical activity, so that there were many productions in which Sudanese theatrical scripts were combined with Arab and African scripts.

Private and National

In Khartoum there are dozens of theatrical troupes at present. These include very well-established ones like Al-Fadl Said Troupe, and very active ones like Al-Asdiqa Troupe. At the same time there are national theaters in some areas, the most famous of which are in Atbara and Wad Madani. At this stage there is an attempt to extend such theaters to the various provinces of Sudan.

Sudanese theater relies mostly on amateurs. There are a number of professionals who work in it, but the prevailing norm is not to be full-time, since theatrical activity is not organized.

In Sudan there is a National Troupe which was founded four years ago, but it has not yet presented any production. At the same time, taxation is a heavy burden on theatrical enterprise, and forces it to reduce its activity.

Nevertheless there are a number of troupes with their own public. And there are locations like the National Theater and the Baqaa Theater which have seen substantial activity in recent years, particularly in theater festivals which they hold. This is in addition to what is being done by the Umm Badda, Qaat Al-Sadaqa and Al-Funun Al-Shaabiya Theaters where there is activity in children s theater.

In spite of that, Sudanese theater has still had only one play which ran for more than a month, which was presented by Al-Asdiqa Troupe. The issues raised do not go beyond social and political ones by insinuation, and are usually centered on tribal differences, economic problems, and aspects of cultural conflicts that are going on there. However comedy is the prevailing feature of Sudanese theater, even though there are works which sometimes tend towards tragedy.

Rituals and Dhikr Ceremonies

When we asked the Secretary-General of the Arab Artists Federation, the well-known Sudanese man of the theater Ali Mahdi, about the effect of ethnic and cultural intermingling in Sudan on theatrical activity there, he answered that when the Arabs came to Sudan they brought their dhikr ceremonies (in which the name of God is chanted), their drums and their banners. This atmosphere was reflected in many theatrical works. In this respect, I presented a play, which was also put on in Paris, called Sulaiman Al-Zaghrad. It leaves an impression on Sudanese thought. In it African rituals also were recalled, in a combination which contained a lot of Sufi atmosphere, dhikr and even incense.

The Melting-Pot of Music

The nature of music in Sudan in the view of the Head of Musical Composition Theory in the Faculty of Music and Drama Professor Muhammad Saifuddin Ali has been influenced by several elements from ancient times. The entry of the Arabs was through several access routes from the east, west and north, bringing their culture and heritage with them, had the greatest effect on what the inhabitants of Sudan then had.

At the same time, Sudan s location in that region, where it is surrounded by several Arab and African countries, was the reason for the mingling of these cultures and musical practices in the Sudanese melting-pot.

Professor Ali added that Sudan is divided into four large main provinces (north, south, west and east), each of which has its own character in terms of musical instruments, types of singing and content. This reflects how each province was influenced by its geographical neighborhood. Music in the north of Sudan is greatly influenced by Upper Egypt, and music in the west has great influence from Chad, in the south from Kenya and Uganda and in the east from Ethiopia.

Rhythm and Character

In the time of the Mahdi many tribes came from different areas to support him in his war against British colonialism. Each tribe brought its customs, traditions and musical practices with it, and all these fused together and influenced each other. From the north came the songs and dances of the inhabitants of Wadi Halfa, who use tambourines and have a particular rhythm and a distinctive type of singing.

Also from the north, the Jaaliyin, Rabbatat and Shaiqiya tribes, which are Sudanese tribes of Arab origin, use an instrument called the dallouka and have a particular style and rhythm accompanied by dances.

From the west came the Ruzayqat, Hamazma and Hamar tribes and some instruments like the umm kiki and other instruments. They have rhythms like the mardoum and songs like the hasis and jarari. In the east we find the Beja tribes, among whom are the Hadendwa and Banu Amer. These use the tanboura and drums, and also have a distinctive character.

In the south we find the Dinka, Nuwair and Shalak tribes which have drum rhythms and some other instruments.

At the same time there is an area which is rich in drum rhythms, namely the Blue Nile area (north-east) where we find the Barti, Qamaz and other tribes. They use instruments called waza, belongro and balushuru. These are wind instruments which are accompanied by drums and rhythms on wooden xylophones.

But all this quantity cross-pollinated and fused together in the area of central Sudan. Since around 1916 a new type of singing appeared which became known as haqiba singing. Then after that musical cultural activity developed. Instruments were introduced like the violin, lute, tambourine and accordion, and the Sudanese began to play them and adopted them in conformity with that phase.

With regard to the nature of music today, it takes on a unique form or character which combines Arab and African. The Arab aspect is represented in the tunes of the songs, the vocalization, and the high quality singing. The African aspect is found in the use of rhythms and their application, so that these rhythms are rapid and numerous.

Here aspects of harmony were derived from the English communities, at a time when the Syrian communities influenced music in Sudan.

Today, after the emergence and spread of satellite television channels, computers and means of communication, another type of music has emerged in which the organ is used with all its distinctive characteristics. Young people have gone for this and are influenced by it.

The Fertility of Story Writing

While poetry receives the most attention, there is no lack of attention for short story and novel writing in Sudan. For many years the names of writers of these were passed on from one generation to another. However, following up the course of this literary art indicates that two influences helped to form the vision for the writers. The first of these is the huge legacy inherited from folklore, legends and rituals of Sudanese society, and the second is the political, economic and social changes which occurred in Sudan. Muawiya Muhammad Nur was the first to write a short story according to the well-known definition, in the early 1930s. After that works and studies appeared on the art of story writing by several writers. But most of these stories were about marriage, love, migration and travel. Legends received a fair share of attention. However, the 1940s were one of the most fertile periods of story writing, and the most influenced by international trends of literature and criticism. During that time this art became widespread, the names of Khalil Ali, Othman Nur, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Shoush and Ali Al-Lak emerged, and that coincided with the revival of poetic activity during the same period.

While stories in the 1940s were influenced by socialist realism, in the 1950s and 1960s they were influenced by existentialist philosophy. However some writers like Al-Tayyib Salih concerned themselves with writing about village society in all its aspects in a new narrative style.

Other names included Mukhtar Ajuba, Othman Al-Houri and Isa Al-Helou.

Some tended to combine poetry, short story writing and science fiction.

The 1967 defeat had its repercussions on Sudanese short stories. Several literary forums emerged, as well as the associations. The works of writers of that phase were characterized by the use of several sources to enrich the stories, like mythology and history, as well as fantasy and irony.

Among those whose names became famous in that period were Othman Al-Fekki, Muhammad Al-Mahdi Bishri, and Mubarak Al-Sadiq. In the 1980s a new change occurred, when Sudanese women short story writers appeared. Prominent names included Salma Al-Shaikh Salama, Fatima Al-Sundus and Awaida Yusuf. Men writers included Adil Al-Qassas, Salah Al-Zain and Ahmad Al-Tayyib.

The Five-Note Scale

The artist Abdulkarim Al-Kabuli is a poet and composer as well as one of the oldest and most important Sudanese singers together with Muhammad Wardi and the late Sayyid Khalifa. We met him in his home.

On the subject of Sudanese songs, he told us, We have a particular characteristic, since we deal with a five-note scale. This scale is Hijaz, but it is different from other types of music, just as happens in China and also in ancient Japanese and Korean music. They deal with the five-note scale. This scale is humanity s instinctive style. The Sudanese inherited it from the ancient Nubian civilization and Pharaonic civilization.

Sudanese singing with its five-note scale has an infinite number of rhythms, particularly in southern Sudan, Al-Kabuli added, because rhythm there is very important in people s lives there. In the north of Sudan it may seem to one that rhythm is dancing. But in the south they deal with rhythm as an inseparable part of the meanings of life, in the sense that they deal with it like the sunrise and sunset, the birth of a child, the death of an old person, and hunting.

Plastic Sensitivity

Plastic art in Sudan is flourishing greatly. The beauty of nature and the abundance of rituals, and variety of shapes, faces, cultures and arts are enough to produce large numbers of artists of particular sensitivity.

Plastic art has been deeply rooted in Sudanese soil for thousands of years in the churches of the archaeological area of Al-Musawwirat and also in the Sudanese National Museum which contains a hundred large murals drawn in a combination of colors. The most noticeable thing in them is the transformation of the Christian perspective in the Renaissance period, when the colors of the angels and priests were brown and black. The trend was towards dark colors, and the nature of the scene in general revealed that it was done in a specific area. Even portraying angels while they were flying was something that only Sudanese artists did.

The artist Rashed Diab, who has a doctorate in the philosophy of Sudanese arts and who was the winner in designing a book for the Expo exhibition which was presented to world leaders, has had many canvases exhibited in the greatest museums of New York and London. He said: The plastic arts in Sudan began in 1920, with instinctive arts that expressed the situation and environment of Sudan which go deeply into married life, weddings, public life and occasions, as well as painting Sudanese historical characters. Also there were paintings derived from stories and legends. These works would be exhibited in cafes and fashion houses.

Sudan passed through all the civilizations, Dr. Diab added. We fought the Hyksos and protected Egypt from them. We have a common history with it, and if we go back to the Shahinab civilization in Khartoum, where there is pottery, we find that people had implements with which they manufactured their objects. The pottery industry was also very prosperous in Marwa, that archaeological area.

In the period following the entry of Islam to Sudan an important transformation occurred, as the intellectual concept became much stronger than the material.

Islam came from Yemen and from Egypt, and the Sufi mystic orders came from Morocco. Islam entered unopposed.

The intermingling of civilizations occurred smoothly between the peoples. There were some political interventions, but the plastic arts existed in southern Sudan in the form of sculpture among those who live in the equatorial environment. Artists there became famous for their masks. They continued to take their forms from nature and transform them into paintings and shapes.

The integration between nature and artists in southern Sudan resulted in the production of beautiful works. The search is still going on at the present time to discover those of them that the land conceals.

This is exactly what happened in the area of the Nubian Mountains, which is the area with the least rainfall. There were very fine arts and animal and material forms there, through which the body was decorated with local materials.

Dr. Rashed Diab emphasizes that all modern artistic schools and phenomena in Europe had existed in Sudan, where a new art emerged which resulted from the intermingling of Islamic and African civilizations.

At the same time he considers Sudanese plastic art one of the most important plastic art movements not only in the Arab countries but also in the world. He pointed out that Sudanese artists had paintings in the most important museums in the world, and that the sudanese artist Ibrahim Al-Salihi is by all criteria one of the ten best artists in the world. There are also three artists from this country who have won the most important prizes in the world in festivals held in Japan, Spain and the United States.

Dr. Diab stressed that influence by European schools was local, temporary and limited. Artistically we are at the core of history, he added. They have been influenced by us more than we have been influenced by them. He also stressed that all the European schools, and the Western ones in general, are derived originally from Arab or African roots. If the West has not been able to make a single pyramid like our pyramids, he asked, how can we compare Arab artists and their civilization with the West? Mahmoud Mukhtar, for example, is one of the best sculptors in the world. History was in his blood, and it is still in our blood. We must never be defeated from the cultural point of view.

The Fragrance of Poetry

The great Sudanese poet Al-Hadi Adam told us, Poetic output here is plentiful. I m not exaggerating if I say that it would cover the world, but who will sit and listen to it? And who will convey it to others? We have suffered from a harsh life and lack of means, and we have emerged from colonialism which controlled our country for a long time. Consequently we do not have many means of communication to establish bridges with others.

Regarding schools in Sudanese poetry, he said, The romantic trend appeared after the very successful classical trends. Romanticism is a trend which has good points like freeing poetry from the restriction of rhyming and scansion. It also changed the purposes of poetry, and released them towards everything which concerns life.

The deficiency in romanticism is surrealism, obscurity and the insistence on demanding change. Since most people are not qualified linguistically, some defects resulted from this. But there are Sudanese poets who have written romantic poetry with brilliant success.

Women and Poetry

We met the poetess and broadcaster Rawda Al-Haj, who stated that women have an ancient connection with poetry in Sudan, and folk poetry in Sudan is very rich. It was never in any way able to bypass women. Until recent times women were the main inciters of the tribe to war, peace and social values, when the tribal system was prevalent. In this way Sudan was similar to tribal societies in ancient times.

We find in folksongs, which were based on singing and melody, that most of the heritage is words which were said by women in all Arabic-speaking areas of Sudan, she explained. And Sudanese women in the Bedouin environment are noted for their very high degree of eloquence.

As far as modern writing is concerned there are distinguished names. I can mention for example Hajar Sulaiman Taha, Suad Abdulrahman, Saadia Abdulsalam (who writes in dialect) and Dr. Samira Al-Ghali. They and many others have published more than one anthology.

Cinema and Drama

Cinema and Television director Dr. Wajdi Kamil, who is an information expert and university professor, told us that there is no Sudanese cinema in the accepted commercial and industrial sense, but there have been long dramatic films produced on an irregular basis by the private sector since 1970. Until the present these have not received any official financial support worth mentioning.

Dr. Wajdi Kamil has published three books about The Aesthetic Phenomenon in African Cinema, Photography and Cinema in the Contemporary Cultural System and Sambin as an African Novelist and Director. He said that with regard to documentary cinema, successive governments in Sudan have supported its productions. In spite of that, Sudan possesses one of the oldest cinema production units in Africa. It was established to make documentaries in 1946 by the British, and then converted to cinema production. Between the two periods dozens of short documentary films were produced, and names of Sudanese pioneers in this field became known, like Kamal Muhammad Ibrahim and Jadullah Jabara.

Sudanese cinema throughout its history has produced only five films, he added. The length of these films ranges from an hour to an hour and a half: Hopes and Dreams directed by Milas in 1970, Tajuj directed by Jadullah Jabara in the late 1970s, A Journey of Eyes directed by Anwar Hashim in the early 1980s, and then The Shaikh s Blessing also by Jadullah Jabara.

With regard to drama, Sudanese Television is one of the oldest Arab televisions. Since it began it has been concerned with the question of dramatic production. But with its modest means, we hardly saw any real dramatic production begin to appear until the last ten years, when television directors explored the field of drama production for serials, with varying degrees of proficiency in accomplishing such work.

In this framework we find that the entry of private companies has enriched the process of producing serials. The Television has become 70% dependent on the serials and films produced by these companies. The latter for their part have helped to change the shape of television drama, as there are now a large number of directors, actors, technicians and executives competing fiercely with each other these days to prove their superiority and establish their capabilities in the manner of drama directors in Sudan and the other Arab countries.

In every part of Sudan s broad territory there was evidence of this people s friendliness. 

At all times the welcome was overwhelming and there was an outpouring of emotions. It was the cohesion of the Arabs which always remains, no matter how great the distances may be and no matter how things may be mixed up, an Arab unity of blood, language and destiny, in Sudan, and also in every Arab country.


Zakaria Abduljawad 

The entrance to the Sudan National Museum, where there are dozens of statues

A fresh bread vendor on his bicycle still tours the streets, markets and homes

A Nubian dance, one of dozens of dances widespread among the  tribes

Three means of transport: a cart pulled by a donkey, a  three-wheeled rickshaw, and modern Japanese cars, in a Sudanese village

Theater artist Ali Mahdi, the Chairman of the Arab Artists’ Federation

The poet Al-Hadi Adam, author of the poem Tomorrow I Will Meet You,which was sung by Umm Kalthoum.

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