Sudan: The Date Palm, An Original Sudanese Heritage Bound to Man's Life

1 January 2020
analysis

The date palm had been part of Sudan's cultural heritage for thousands of years. It is a symbol of life, progress and a sign of civilized life in the country. That is because it is a basic element in food, clothing and building construction.

Dr. Asaad Abdelrahman Awad, a researcher in Sudan's cultural heritage, has conducted a research about the date palm heritage in Sudan that qualified it to be registered in the UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list that also includes information about this tree in 14 Arab states. Awad's research is a development of his doctorate thesis.

In this research Dr. Awad has noted that the date palm leaves had become an integral part of the traditional plastic painting designs in the history of Sudan. "The palm leaves are found on ceramics and pottery of the Meroite dynasty of ancient Sudan. Here the leaf is often drawn in the form of a horizontal tape topped by natural images," he wrote.

The most outstanding of these ancient drawings is that monarchs are shown carrying in their hands palm branches from which all (but a few) leaves have been peeled out. The image of the monarch portrayed in this manner makes of him a symbol of the god Osiris the branches being a symbol of immortality.

The Meroites had used this symbol in excess: It is found in coronation images, in royal processions, in burial grounds and we also find it in the ancient stories and myths that celebrated the date palm as 'the sacred, blessed and symbol of good and fertility.'

In those old times date palm leaves were also used a symbol of sacredness and, so, are raised in welcoming congregations and were fixed on triumphal arches in Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions. In Christianity, the date palm had occupied a remarkable position because Jesus was born under this tree, as (also) stated in the Holy Koran: 'And the pains of childbirth drove her (Mary) to the trunk of a palm-tree.'

All these reasons might have prompted the use of the palm branches in all traditional festivities. They are used on birth, circumcision, wedding and mourning occasions:

At births, the placenta and the umbilical cord are buried at the door step of the confined mother's room and on it is planted a date palm branch, irrigated with water.

At weddings the groom often carries a palm branch in his right hand during his traditional procession with his kin and friends to the bride's home. If the bride happens to be in the same village, the procession would give it a trek. And if she lives at a distance they go by cars, all the time singing to the tunes of drums and other traditional musical instruments. On this occasion, the date palms branches are used to decorate the vehicles carrying the groom in the procession and the sitting place of the new weds during the wedding gala. The same happens when the bride is taken to her new home. The newly circumcised boy also carries a date palm branch in his right hand. Both groom and newly circumcised boy are taken in a procession to the River Nile bank; also palm branches in hand.

At burial, a date palm branch is laid inside the grave of the deceased. After burial two branches are laid on the grave.

The date palm has been invoked in many of the different elements of verbal expression: It is often mentioned in folk art of different genres; and in verse, particularly in sung folk lyric where the loved one is likened to a palm tree. Mention of this tree is, equally, recurrent in many of the poetry composed and performed in praise of The Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

The date palm is deeply associated to the different aspects of life in Meroe district of Northern Sudan. The locals plant it, take care of it and harvest its yield. The Meroe community is basically horticultural, depending largely on the growing of date palms. Accordingly, this tree has a big effect on shaping the cultural heritage of individuals therein.

The Meroe district has been rich in cultural heritage in general across centuries. The area has maintained this heritage supposedly due to its little contact with other communities.

The elements of the area's heritage have projected the date palm in that way also supposedly due to the fact that this tree is the major economic source.

Dr. Awad concludes by calling for the maintenance of the date palm heritage and communicate it to the coming generations "because it is an instrument for the cohesion and integrity of communities."

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