- Criticism is now in decline
- This is the era of narration and not poetry
BY: MOHAMED NAGEEB MOHAMED ALI
The critic, director and professor Shul Deng is one of the most prominent southern intellectuals who voiced not only the culture of the people of South Sudan, but also bridged and consolidated the concept of Southern culture within the Arab-Islamic one. He graduated from the Institute of Music and Theater and specialized in criticism and drama studies. He headed the text editing department for the Sudanese radio, and wrote for many newspapers and magazines. "Jusoor" was among his most famous programs. He prepared and presented it on radio and television. He graduated with a master's degree in Arabic Language for Non-Arabic Speakers from the Khartoum International Institute, and published a book on the influence of Arabic on Dinka, and another one entitled “The Reth of Shilluk between Image and Reality”. He wrote many studies on drama and its functions. He is an activist and participant in many cultural forums in Sudan. Currently, he is a professor of Arabic at the Upper Nile University in the Republic of Southern Sudan.
- How do you see the influence of Arabic on the local languages in southern Sudan, especially the language of the Dinka?
There is a great influence because Arabic was the official language of Sudan before the separation, therefore, it spread among the southern communities, especially in the cities. Soldiers and traders also contributed to this spread of Arabic. The languages of the south borrowed many Arabic words. Languages are like humans and all living beings; they borrow from each other as a result of the daily friction between them, between Arabs and the Dinka. For instance, the word “Kitar” [ṭ] (train) is pronounced in the Dinka with [t] and both of [ṭ] and [t]are consonant sounds. In parallel, Arabic also borrowed some words from the Dinka, the Dinka word “Tuj” which means the swamp in which cows graze, is used in Arabic in the plural form, thus we find the word “tijan”.
- Arabic was part of the curriculum before separation, how about the situation after separation?
There has been a change in the educational curriculum after separation. English has become the official language of the Republic of Southern Sudan, the language of study, offices and administration. Arabic has become a second language and is taught at the basic stage of the fifth year until the eighth year. Arabic is then still there.
- What about bilingual South Sudan writers, those who write in Arabic and English?
Bilingualism is not an issue if there is democracy, the question is whether democracy is practiced and understood? Now in the south, there are newspapers published in Arabic, and there are writers who write stories and novels also in Arabic, such as Estella, Boy John and Simon and others. Meanwhile, some others write in English. This dualism, I think, will remain well balanced and this can push for honest creative competition, and they can also write in both languages even if it is not an easy task.
Don’t you think that African cultures have been imprisoned in European languages at the expense of local languages?
Attention has been paid to this. In southern Sudan, there are those who write in local languages, but have not yet reached the stage of creative writing. He who studies the African literary scene can remark that there is a renaissance of writing in the local African language, although writers are divided between Francophone ones, those who write in French, and Anglophone ones, those who write in English, especially in creative writing. There are also those who write in Swahili.
- Was Francis Deng's novel “The Bird of doom” a reflection of the Dinka culture and the North-South relationship?
The novel is originally entitled “Cry of the Owl”, but the translation came in very beautiful and symbolic dimensions. In Dinka culture, the owl is a symbol of ill omen, and Francis Deng used the Dinka culture to express his point of view on Sudan's cultural issues. He sees that this culture is a link between Sudan’s hybrid components, and that the culture of the Dinka is based on the belief that the ancestors who moved to the other world have a strong influence on the living persons. Francis built his novel on events and features and people that combine the South and the North to explain the issue of Sudanese culture and its various paths.
- The poor cultural communication between the North and the South was one of the causes of separation, how to access to a common reading of the various identities in the Sudanese environment be it in the North or in the South?
Effectively, the poor cultural communication was one of the reasons that contributed to the separation, but through arts we can build common identities, because the cultural product addresses the human feelings, and human feelings in South Sudan or in North Sudan are one. Now in the Republic of Southern Sudan, national television offers programs in Arabic alongside English, and Sudanese songs are the most widespread there. Before the outbreak of the last wars, the band of “Iqd Aljilad” visited Juba and presented its concerts there, and the artist Shurhabil Ahmed was honored. There are also bands from the South, such as Steven’s “Urbab”, that come to Khartoum and participate in cultural events. I think that communication can continue as it is now, as long as political tensions are absent.
Wars in Africa are people’s dilemma in the era of progress and modernity. How do you see things?
Wars will remain an enemy of the human being and of development in the third world. Although there are many countries that gained independence half a century ago, ethnical ideology still prevails. In the Third World there are multiple tribes, ethnicities and ideologies. If the latter are unable to recognize that conflicts lead to underdevelopment and that peace leads to development, growth and stability these wars will not come to an end. So we do have to put arms away, to cooperate, tolerate each other, and be united in solidarity. The other needs me and I need the other to avoid misery. In South Africa, the leader Nelson Mandela was able to influence people. Thus, reconciliation occurred after severe racial discrimination and people were able to overcome tribal barriers, color, and distinction to the level of understanding and dialog. The same thing can be said about Rwanda. After the battles of Hutu and Tutsi and the widespread slaughter, reconciliation and stability took place.
Through your vision of the cultural scene, how do you evaluate the current critic writings?
Nowadays, criticism is not relevant. Criticism must precede the artistic work, be parallel to the creative text. Theories written in the newspapers are just subjective and superficial and this is a problem. Besides, critics are interested in writing articles more than analyzing and studying. Those who graduate in Criticism become either film and programs directors or reporters. There are no jobs for critics even in newspapers. In the 1970s and 1980s, things were different. There were serious studies and critical reviews. There were excellent critics in “Doha” magazine and in culture files here. Now the creative production has increased in terms of poetry, story or novel, but criticism declined. Creativity needs specialized critics.
- There are those who see that we witness the era of novels and no more the era of poetry. What do you think about this?
The novel imposed itself for reasons tied to the era. It spread amazingly. Both of them depend on talent first, but the novel is feasible because it is based on thought while poetry depends on feelings, but both of them are based on imagination. Fiction writing is an escape from poetry rules, and poetry is governed by rules. There are differences that cannot be ignored, but talent cannot be separated from the creative process. This is the era of narration and not poetry.
Shul Deng, you came from the South and gained a privileged position in the North in spite of conflicts. How was this possible?
I think our professors played an important role by teaching us not to be afraid to tell the truth and to make cultural concerns our first interest. My teacher Kamaluddin Ajeeb from Halafaya was the first to draw my attention to Tayeb Salih’s novel “Season of Migration to the North”. The literary evenings and my presence nearby the cultural platforms were also important, in addition to my studies at the Institute of Music and Theater. There are also Professor Salaheddin al-Fadil and my work in the radio station, Professor Majzoub Eidros who stimulated me to culture files, my work in newspapers and magazines and my work in Sudanow, all these factors opened horizons to me.
- Professor Shul Deng, do you love Arabic?
Absolutely! My professors and the regime were behind this love. Thanks to them I adore this language and continue to learn it. It is a vast, beautiful, and expressive language. It has its own existence, musicality, systems and rules. I love grammar and eloquence and although I teach it at the university to non-native speakers, I still need to develop and promote my knowledge for it is an inexhaustible sea and I am a pupil of anyone who teaches me more.