Al-Tayyib M. Al-Tayyib: An Encyclopedia of Sudanese Culture & Folklore

Al-Tayyib M. Al-Tayyib: An Encyclopedia of Sudanese Culture & Folklore

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - With very little formal education, al-Tayyib Mohammad al-Tayyib diligently educated himself on Sudanese folk art and culture until he became an undisputed authority on these disciplines.

T.V viewers, radio listeners and newspaper readers had for decades found in al-Tayyib an inexhaustible treasury of these aspects of Sudanese life, coupled with a unique ability to educate and entertain.

Al-Tayyib had said of himself that he first started as a petty trader and a peddler in his home area of Eddamar (in present day Nahr al-Neel State) and, then Khartoum, before he made a sharp turn towards researching Sudanese culture in all its aspects.

“Al-Tayyib suddenly descended upon us at the Sudan Research Department, University of Khartoum, as a mature researcher on the Sudanese Bedouin (desert)  culture, ‘’ wrote Dr. Abdallah Ali Ibrahim in an introduction of Tayyib’s collection of books, published by the government-run Khartoum Authority on the Press and Publication.

“We were a group of researchers assigned by the University of Khartoum to collect, classify and study Sudanese folklore. None of us had had experience with that discipline other than a desire for experimentation and a love for this exciting area,’’ said Dr. Ibrahim.

“Al-Tayyib’s knowledge did not give us even the chance to question his academic background. We were stunned by his knowledge of the Sudanese cultural heritage and by his performance when he recited from the bedouin verse, in a voice that entertained all of us fellow researchers,’’ added Dr. Ibrahim.

‘’Beside my humble person, the  Department had (then) comprised Sayyid Hamid Heraiz, Ahmad Abdelrahim Nasr, Mustafa Ibrahim Taha and  Chief researcher  Dr. Yousif Fadl Hassan.’’

“Immediately Dr. Yousif Fadl Hassan approached the high authorities of the University for a job for this genius. The outcome was a post no bureaucrat would think of: a ‘folklore collector’ with a fixed salary of 50 Sudanese pounds, while the salary of any of us could not exceed 60 pounds,’’ mused Dr. Ibrahim.

Born in 1940 and died in 2007, al-Tayyib had furnished the Sudanese heritage and folklore library with an immense set of titles tackling a variety of topics on history, music, folk tales, bedouin poetry, tribal traditions.

Tayyib’s works were widely published by newspapers and magazines, compiled into books or broadcast on the National T.V within his very popular programme Sowar Shabiyya (popular images) or aired on the national radio.

Al-Tayyib will go down into the memory of Sudanese knowledge as the first to recognize the importance of the Sudanese popular heritage, devoting his entire life to collect, classify and propagate it.

 He did not sit behind an academic desk to do so. He had trodden the countryside in search of data, meeting dignitaries and laymen. He would travel for months after a topic of interest; writing, discussing and recording.

The public greeted him with esteem and hospitality wherever he travelled. Homes everywhere were open for him to stay as much as he wished until he collected the information he was after.


Al-Tayyib’s Books:   

* The Endaya:  Endaya is the local name for the native Sudanese liquor brewery and bar combined together, otherwise known as the bait al-mareesa (wine home), where wine and jinn are brewed and sold.

The Endaya is a unique world with its specific traditions, culture, laws, etiquette and, of course, secrets!

The Endaya is a book that really entertains and informs.

* Al-Maseed: the Maseed is another way of pronouncing the Arabic word masjid (mosque). But the word maseed in Sudan has wider connotations. Here the maseed is a mosque, a Koran school (khalwa) , a place where the faithful gather to listen to or take part in congregations singing praise of The Prophet Mohammad.

 It is also a place where people seek wise solutions for village problems and is, further, a place where passing travelers can rest and receive food for free. The sheikhs (clerics) in the massed are sought to cure mental or physical ailments.

The maseed is a microcosm of Sudanese religious and social life.   

 * Bait al-Bika: This book is a thorough account of what happens when a family is mourning one of its loved ones: What the men do, what the women and what the family acquaintance and friends do when they come through to offer their condolences.

The book also depicts the types of foods and drinks served to the mourners and gives a close look at the different types of behavior one can come across in the bait al-Bika (house of mourning).

* al-Ibil Fi al-Sudan (camels in Sudan). This book describes the bedouin life and gives an amazing description of the types and nature of Sudanese camels.

*Tareekh al-Madeeh al-Nabawi fi al-Sudan. This is a history book on the verse composed by Sudanese poets in praise of The Prophet Mohammad.

* Zakirat Qarya (memory of a village): A research on the ethnic and cultural roots of a central Sudanese village.

* Farah Wad Taktouk ... Hallal al-Mashbok.  This is the story of a legendary holy man from Sinnar District (Central Sudan), who spoke wisdom and whose wise revelations continue to be told and retold, centuries after his death.

 Sheikh Farah is known to have preached truthfulness, piety, straightforwardness and hard work. Hallal al-Mashbouk literally means problem solver. That was also another noble trait of Sheikh Farah

* Tareekh al-Manaseer Min Adabihim: This is a history book of the Manaseer tribe of Northern Sudan, compiled from the literature and folk poetry of that group. The book was co-authored by Ali Sa’ad and the late Abdulsalam Suleiman Sa’ad.

* Tareekh al Bataheen: This is a history book of the Bataheen Tribe of Khartoum State.

* Hayat Gabeelat al-Humran Min Shi’rihim: This is a history book of the Humran Tribe (Central Sudan) as al-Tayyib had perceived it from the Tribe’s poetry.

* Al-Murshid Fi al-Folklore (a guide to folklore).This is a book al-Tayyib had co-authored with Mustafa Mun’bar and Mohammad Omar Bushara.

* Al-Dobai: This book explains the meter of the dobai (a characteristic poetry of the Sudanese desert). The dobai portrays all aspects of desert life. The dobai contains an inexhaustible treasure of romantic verse.

* Al-Sa’aleek End al-Arab. This book accounts for the life and poetry of outstanding lawless personalities in the history of the Arabian peninsula.


Articles and Research Papers:

These are virtually uncountable. They portray images of the Sudanese badia (desert) poetry that depicts issues ranging from love, bravery, description of nature (including, of course, farming and camel herding).

The articles also detail the different folk arts and music (and its different instruments), dances and dancers, anecdotes, folk tales, songs .. etc.


TV Programs:

The most outstanding of these was his Sowar Sha’abiyya (popular images) TV program that gripped the hearts of Sudanese viewers for 27 years. Broadcast on weekly basis, the program was a real entertainer and educator for people of all ages. The program has helped wide sectors of the Sudanese society to come to know about the diversity of Sudan’s natural environment and culture.


Radio Programs:

Al-Tayyib had kept presenting radio programs on miscellaneous topics for 15 years.

Al-Tayyib’s media programs and writings gave the public unprecedented knowledge about the history of Sudan and blew the dust off a host of  forgotten personalities in the history of Sudan. Here people received in-depth information about Sudanese poets and heroes.

The audiences also came to learn very much about Sudan’s poetesses and heroines and their roles both in war and peace.

So fond was al-Tayyib of those poetesses and heroines that he named at least four of his daughters after them. So, in his family we could hear such female names as Mihaira  and Banoana (both historical warriors and poetesses).

As a loving family man al-Tayyib did things unheard of before towards his daughters.

In a TV interview, his widow disclosed that al-Tayyib was so much in love with his daughters that when he was about to leave on one of his many long tours of the countryside in search of data, he was keen to take a dress from  each of his daughters with him. He had wanted always to keep the smell of his daughters with him wherever he went, said his widow.


Lectures and Speeches:

Al-Tayyib was always ready with lectures and speeches whenever and wherever he was invited. He presented lectures in social, literary and sporting clubs wherever he travelled around the country. He always had something to offer to the public and he was always ready to learn from the public.


Other Activities:

Al- Tayyib was a

- member of the Sudanese literary society

- member of the Sudanese Historians Union

- member of the Sudanese Writers Union

Al-Tayyib had participated in scores of literary and folklore conferences and seminars in Europe, Egypt, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Somalia and elsewhere.


Awards and Prizes:

- The science silver order from the Sudanese Ministry of Education

- The Coptic Library order

- Order of the National Council for Research

- Order of peace from the Government of Sudan

-  The golden order of science in popular studies from the University of Khartoum.

- Order of the Afro-Asian Studies Institute (University of Khartoum)

-  Honorary Master of Arts from the University of Khartoum.




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