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Nostalgia for the Cultural Era of Abdulla Al-Tayeb

By: Mohammed Osman

KHARTOUM, (Sudanow)—A decade has elapsed since the demise of the renowned scholarly Professor Abdulla Al-Tayeb. Has the passing time erased the features? Or is the nostalgia for the cultural era of the encyclopedic scholar is embedded within our chests and peeps through the eye-pupils in search for a comprehensive Sudanese culture?

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This nostalgia may flow in the mind like the moaning of a waterwheel in a happy night watering the plantation and offspring or the tweet of elated sparrows in the tranquility of the renewed spaces that accompanied the march and registered in the memory the features of the connotations and proportions of the vessel of innovation and creation that was steered by the late unique scholar.

The culture of nostalgia is not a mere attempt for listing the glories and accomplishments by the late scholar but also is one that underlines that the cultural era of Professor Abdulla Al-Tayeb is a landmark in the Sudanese cultural life; it is, a quality transition in the concept and vision, using the intelligentsia jargon.

The Sudanese cultural life suffers between the hammer of the kinds of culture transmitted by the institutions of the power and the anvil of the cultural stereotypes the influence of which is impaired by the ideological impediments.

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Nevertheless, the cultural era of Abdulla Al-Tayeb gains legitimacy from the scholar’s penetrating vision saying “the simple Sudanese community is more learned than us”, and “a learned person should contribute with the knowledge he possesses, as much as possible, to the advancement of this community”, and “if we want to perfect our knowledge, we should present it for discussion with the people; the intellectual who is disdainful to the available means of communications, like a splendid portrait, you have to reach to grasp its beauty”.

Attestations to this era are numerous as the late scholar has long shown concern with drawing the attention of the students, sociologists, anthropologists and historians to the need for documentation of the Sudanese customs and traditions before they vanish and are annihilated by the modern ways of life.

The Professor believes that the Sudanese cultural life is not subject to the standards of the natural, political and social timing but to its own standards. It is a cultural life of which the historic heroes are still moving in front of us on its stage and tie us to them with a firm emotional bond. The attestations cited by the late scholar are numerous and are found in his lectures and books which include: From the Window of the Train, The Memories Pouch, In the Memory of Two Friends and The Changing Customs in the River Nile Sudan.

Though the most important aspect in the cultural era of Abdulla Al-Tayeb was an invaluable lecture titled “The Origins of the Sudanese Culture” delivered at the comprehensive national strategy conference that was held in Khartoum in 1991.


This lecture demonstrated the leading role by the late scholar in the synthesis of the Sudanese mentality and up to his last days before his demise, he did not cease repeating: “Examination of the symptoms of civilization without diving deep into its essence is more harmful than useful”. He cited an example saying: “Covering the floor of a Khalwah cement(a holy Koran school) denied the pupils their natural writing board, the sand on which the pupils learn writing and at the same time correct their mistakes.”

The cultural era of Abdulla Al-Tayeb is concerned with the origins of the Sudanese culture which is a vast issue and here there is no ample space for definitions because the terms “culture”, “Sudanese” and “culture origins” require definitions. But it could be said that the novelties of the Sudanese politics introduced “The Civilization Project” term in our life since the late 1980s of the last century. Whatsoever, the late Scholar believes the origin of Sudanese culture is “the civilization conflict” between this region and other regions.

Without engaging in details for which there is little room here, the late scholar, for instance, presents a very distant history of conflict between ancient Merowe and King Gumbaiz of Persia who attempted to enter this country and seeing that this attempt would be a difficult one and would cost him a protracted war in a country of scarce water with roads and passages he was ignorant of, he dropped the idea and contented himself with conquering Egypt.

The scholar views the Sudanese cultural scene as one composed of the place element and its prerequisites, the time distance and the impacts on it by the mobility and its motives and repercussions and the relationship between the changeable and the static in the center and fringes of the scene. He believes that this country began to be marginalized in around the sixth century BC.

Before that date it was an important land and began to be marginalized and so did the people’s colour, the black colour and the people with this colour were regarded to have appeared late. He thinks that the country’s civilization was denied, despite its existence and this notion was shifted to the Muslims as the relationship between this country and the eastern Red Sea coast was very close and lasted long before the advent of Islam.

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Professor Al-Tayeb went on to say that when Ibn Batutah arrived in the Red Sea coast, he found Bene Kahil and Beja tribes inter-married with the people of Mecca and there were close ties between them. Despite its historic importance, the reputation of this country faded. The Portuguese thought of conquering the Red Sea coast from which they would invade Mecca. The Crusade commander, Reynaud de Charlton, prepared a fleet to invade Suakin from where he planned to invade Mecca but couldn’t as he was killed in Hitain battle by Salah Al-Dinn. He was a bitter enemy of Islam in this region which was important but remained marginalized without being accorded an important status.

When the cultural era of Al-Tayeb discusses the issue of Sudan’s Arabism and Africanism, it remands us of what genius late Mohamed Ahmed Mahjoub used to say that he looked north to the Arabs and south to Africa. The Sudanese have always experienced the ethnicity complex of whether they are Africans or Arabs.

The late scholar, for my generation as well as past and coming generations, will remain a compass that guides us when mist shrouds us, ignorance prevails, directions get confused and facts disappear. It is high time to keep as a guide the writings, ideas, visions and analysis of the late scholar about a country that was intended to forget its history to lose its present and future, a country intended to ignore its geography to go astray and miss its goal. This is the cultural era of Abdulla Al-Tayeb which the new generation of Sudanese long for.

Sudan sea shores on the Red Sea are known for their virgin almost uncontaminated waters, a number of international organizations specialized in preservation have shown readiness to help protect some of the rare, if not endangered species.
Sudan sea shores on the Red Sea are known for their virgin almost uncontaminated waters, a number of international organizations specialized in preservation have shown readiness to help protect some of the rare, if not endangered species.



Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...


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