27-November-2020

Folklore Scholar Heraiz: Listen To The Voices Of The People

Folklore Scholar Heraiz: Listen To The Voices Of The People

By: Yahya Hassan

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) – Folklore Professor Sayyid Hamid Heraiz is described by his fellow university professors and researchers as hardworking, composed and always not much of a talk.
The outcome was a distinct and productive scholarly career in a rare specialization, by Sudanese standards: folktales and folk verse.
Heraiz’s guiding principle in his productive research effort was to “listen carefully to what people (the research subjects) would say.”
So, his major research guiding principle was to listen and listen to the population of each of his studies: Let the subjects talk and talk, record what they say, then examine it and pick what you want from what the subjects had given.
He must have lived up to this advice to the letter otherwise he might not have brought about this record knowledge of Sudanese folklore and heritage.
His major concern was always to study Sudanese culture from its dual Arab and African perspectives, without any bias towards either.
And his research approach, as he had solidly put it, takes three axes: To study man, the people around him and the things around him.

The concern of Prof. Heraiz with the harmony between Arab and African cultures in the Sudanese setting, his concern with the study of man and his surroundings, human and natural, and his call for attentive listening to the voices of the people (the study subjects) had helped him to compile a wealth of popular heritage, collected directly from the field in the West, South, East of the country and from the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile districts.

Receiving "Person of the Year" award within Tayeb Salih International Award, 2018 



His studies had revealed his established belief in the principle of Sudan’s cultural diversity, wrote Hassan Saroar, a folklore specialist in the daily newspaper Alwatan (The Homeland).

The studies have also reveale how rich is Sudan’s cultural diversity, maintained Saroar.

Heraiz had graduated from the English Department, Faculty of Arts, the University of Khartoum. He then obtained an MA in folklore from Leeds University in England and a PhD in folklore also from the American University of Indiana.

His PhD thesis was about birth, circumcision and wedding ceremonies in Sudan, what he called ‘transit rituals’; is described by specialists as one of the most distinct studies in folk traditions and customs.

Those specialists have seen this study as ‘an inlet into the study of man through culture.’

Heraiz had in October 1988 published a study on “The Classification of Folk Traditions and Customs” in the magazine “Reported Folklore”. This study had presented a proposal to classify folk traditions and customs across three axes: man, the people and the things around him.

Looking into what Heraiz had achieved and what he could give, Dr. Yousif Fadl Hasan in 1963 tipped him to become part of a team of researchers at the then fledgling Sudan Research Unit of the University’s Faculty of Arts. The Unit was assigned by the University to research into the national folklore.

The Unit had managed to achieve much of its goals with respect to the collection and recording of folklore and traditional knowledge during 1965-1972, recording 1711 audio tapes containing the different elements of Sudanese folklore. It also published the Sudanese Heritage series of publications, held several symposia and conferences on folklore and traditional knowledge and published ‘The Sudanese Studies’ biannual periodical on research about humanities studies.

His book "Zayid and Heritage"



In 1977, the Sudan Research Unit developed into the University’s now known as “The Afro-Asian Studies Institute” with its three sections: folklore, Afro-Asian studies and languages. The name Afro–Asian is simply a reference to Sudan’s multicultural orientations that draw from Africa and Asia.

With the establishment of the folklore section, pioneered by Dr. Heraiz, the Institute launched a program to qualify folklore researchers at the levels of graduate, MA and PhD certificates.

The folklore section at the moment has 400,000 tape recordings kept into the Institute’s archives.

The Sudanese heritage series has reached 40 editions so far.

In 1984 the folklore section adopted a project to collect traditional Sudanese music, with funding from the American Ford Foundation. The outcome of this project was 478 audio tapes, 378 video tapes and 1175 photographs. In 1994 a special archive was set for Sudanese traditional music in the folklore section. The archive has produced five audio tapes carrying samples of Sudanese folksongs, in addition to samples of other nations music.

Prof. Heraiz lends texts and materials collected from the field utmost attention.

In this he gives the musdar art utmost importance, naming one of his books “Almusdar Art.”

The musdar is a type of Bedouin verse where a poem speaks (in narrative form) about a certain topic, largely wisdom, pride or love.

In another book, The Arab Approaches of Heritage Collection, Prof Heraiz tackles the issue of verbal history and its importance as one of the important sources of history writing. The book traces verbal history writing in the works of Arab writers and popular verbal heritage. In the book, Prof. Heraiz also gives a review of the working field research approaches of the ancient Arab writers in comparison with those of the modern European researchers.

During a discussion of his book “Identity and Sudan’s National Unity” 


Prof Heraiz was also preoccupied with how different cultures affect (and are affected) by each other and the role of this in building cultural identities. He studied and accounted for this in his two books “The Folktale Among the Ja’aliyyeen Tribes-people: The Overlapping Afro-Arab and Islamic Factors”; and “The Arab Influences in East Africa’s Swahili Culture.”

Prof. Heraiz had occasionally written about the issue of education and heritage. One of his most important works in this was his study “Towards New Strategies For Teaching Heritage,” published within the book on the findings of a symposium entitled “Heritage and Education: A future Perspective”.

Another of Prof. Heraiz’s outstanding books is entitled “Identity and Sudan’s National Unity.”

Folklore Professor in the University of Khartoum, Mohammad Almahdi Buhsra, says that in this book Prof. Heraiz follows a scientific approach in tackling the issues of national identity and culture and the common perceptions about them, including the notion that ethnic differences were to blame for the problems that led to the separation of Southern Sudan and the Darfur war.

Heraiz uses a simple, smooth language and gives interesting illustrations. He got help in writing this book from a number of humanities, with concentration on anthropology and linguistics.

Prof. Bushra suggests the book to be included in the universities curricula.

In the book, Dr. Heraiz indicates the failure of the Sudanese elite to administer the country’s cultural diversity.

However, according to Prof. Bushra, the writer had ignored the economic and the climatic factors in the problems of Sudan. Bushra is also against the notion that the elite had failed to manage the country’s diversity as unfair, blaming the Sudan’s problems on the weak economy in the first place.

But, all in all, Prof. Bushra considers the book a good achievement.

About the UNESCO Convention For The Protection Intangible Cultural Heritage, 2003, Dr. Heraiz says the Convention seeks to revive heritage, bridge the past and present and redirect folklore towards the resolution of social issues. This idea was contained in his research entitled “Popular Knowledge, Skills and Traditional Industries in the Light of the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage.”

In his book “Studies in African Applied Folklore”, Heraiz tackles the application problem in humanities sciences. The book is a collection of studies that indicate culture’s and the society’s need for specifying the objectives and directions of the folklore studies. The study is based on Prof. Heraiz’s vast academic experiment, the studies conducted in the folklore section of the Afro-Asian Studies Institute and the materials scientifically collected and documented from verbal informants which are kept in the Institute’s archives.

During his stay in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Prof. Heraiz had also published a book entitled “Zayid and Heritage”. This book gives an account of the life history of the President of that country, Sheikh Zayid Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and his concern with the UAE heritage as a kid, a young man and as a ruler. It also contains glimpses of the history of the ruling Al Nahyan family.

The writings of Dr. Heraiz indicate that folklore is present in all aspects of our life: it tells us about the past, helps explain the present and constitutes, with other factors, the foundations of the future.

The writings also show that the researchers who saw folklore as an important applied science had, in general, become social activists, reformers or statesmen, not just folklorists.

Prof. Heraiz was born in 1942 in Burri Almahas neighborhood of Khartoum.

In addition to his long academic service in the University of Khartoum, he served in the universities of the United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman and China. He currently works in the University of Khartoum and as Dean Graduate College, Professor at the African Studies Center of the International African University here. Both universities had awarded him professorship degrees.

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