Sudan: The Dalaib Tree - a Symbol of Pride, Both in Form and Content


The Dalaib tree (in Latin Borassus flabellife) is part of the general heritage of Sudan, assuming a high position in the culture of Sudan, the mid-western region of Kordofan in particular.

According to heritage researcher Doleeb Abudagal the dalaib tree is adored by Sudanese because for them it resembles knighthood, courage and pride." They say this or that knight had stood up to his enemy, tall and determined like a dalaib tree," researcher Abudagal told Sudanow in an interview.

"People also liken a decent and steady woman to the dalaib tree. They say "she is like a dalaib tree, never brings shame to her family," he added.

The dalaib tree is also commonly known as doub palm, palmyra palm, tala palm, toddy palm, wine palm, or ice apple.

It is a very tall tree and can reach a height of 30 metres (98 ft). The trunk is grey, robust and ringed with leaf scars; old leaves remain attached to the trunk for several years before falling. The leaves are fan-shaped and 3 m (9.8 ft) long, with robust black teeth on the petiole margins. Like all Borassus species, the dalaib tree is dioecious with male and female flowers on separate plants. The male flowers are less than 1 cm long and form semi-circular clusters, which are hidden beneath scale-like bracts within the catkin-like inflorescences. In contrast, the female flowers are golfball-sized and solitary, sitting upon the surface of the inflorescence axis. After pollination, these blooms develop into fleshy fruits 15-25 cm wide, each containing 1-3 seeds. The fruits are black to brown with sweet, fibrous pulp and each seed is enclosed within a woody endocarp. Young dalaib seedlings grow slowly, producing only a few leaves each year (establishment phase), but at an undetermined time, they grow rapidly, producing a substantial stem.

The daliab is evergreen and is characterized with its longevity.

It's big fruit contains a sweet watery juice with a scent similar to that of fig. The fruit's strong outer cover is used by nomads as a water pot in the summer.

The dalaib fruit juice is very useful for the human body thanks to its content of vitamins, sugars and starches.

In Kordofan, the dalaib tree flourishes along valleys and on highlands.

In that region the dalaib tree toots are processed into a popular meal known as alhalook. Here the roots are sliced and boiled in water to produce alhalook meal. This meal is believed to boost body immunity and increase fertility in both sexes. That can explain the Kordofani adage: alhalook akl al milook (alhalook is the food of monarchs.)

Each dalaib fruit contains 500 grams of fibers. It also contains gluten (vegetable albumin). Unripe seeds that contain a pleasant jelly are also consumed raw. Budding dalaib braches are also consumed as a vegetable.

Fresh dalaib tree sap is processed into yeast or citrus.

The fruit cover is solid. Inside, the fruit contains a fibroid pulp with a distinct taste.

The fruits and the leaves are also used as animal fodder and traditional medicine.

Dalaib flowers are used to cure soar throat. The leaves are also used to stop bleeding.

The locals in Kordofan and elsewhere also use dalaib in the treatment of diabetes, low hemoglobin, the mitigation of labor pain at birth, the treatment of wounds and the strengthening and whitening of teeth.

Dalaib stalks are used in the building of rural houses and its timber is carpentered into doors, windows, house furniture, fences and boats. In the latter cases the dalaib timber is known to resist white ants.

The dalaib tree trunk cavity makes excellent hives for wild bees.

But the dalaib fruit sometimes has negative connotations in the Sudanese culture: When a person makes a big lie, they say "he gave us a big dalaib fruit!"

People are also apprehensive of walking below a dalaib tree for fear its massive fruit may fall on their heads.

This heavy thud of the falling dalaib fruit is believed to have inspired the popular dalaib musical rhythm of northern Sudan.

Because of its length, the dalaib shade falls far away from where it stands. This situation has prompted the common wisdom describing a person who helps others while his own family is need, saying: "this person is like a daliab shadow, falls far away."

Dalaib branches are burned to repel mosquitoes and other pests in the rainy season.

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