Man and beast: Tuareg’s tale of desert survival

Man and beast: Tuareg’s tale of desert survival
The novel was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 12 August 2020

Man and beast: Tuareg’s tale of desert survival

Man and beast: Tuareg’s tale of desert survival

CHICAGO: Shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize, literary giant Ibrahim Al-Koni’s novel “Gold Dust” tells the moving tale of Ukhayyad and his thoroughbred camel as the pair struggle to survive in the Tuareg deserts of the Sahara.

The novel, first printed 30 years ago in Arabic, has been brilliantly translated into English by Elliot Colla and reprinted by Hoopoe.

This classic tale of friendship takes place between famine in the south, Italian invaders in the north, and the tragedies of life that both Ukhayyad and his camel learn to navigate, but not without sacrifice.

Ukhayyad, a member of the Amanghasatin tribe, is gifted a rare Mahri piebald camel, “a stock of thoroughbred camels dating back to a fabled Omani race of noble steeds.”

Boy and camel grow up in an ever-changing and evolving North African world. Ukhayyad spares no expense when it comes to his companion, and the bond between the two is almost spiritual. Sheikh Musa, a scholar from Fez, tells him that animals are superior to humans and make the best friends.

Both Ukhayyad and the camel’s lives are shaped by the other. A tribesman tells Ukhayyad: “The Mahri is the mirror of his rider. If you want to stare into the rider and see what lies hidden within, look to his mount, his thoroughbred.”

Al-Koni’s brilliance lies in his knowledge of the desert and its tribes as well as its abundant and sometimes barren valleys.

He writes of the ancient Phoenician structures, the pagan gods and goddesses whose legends haunt the sand, and the ancient cave paintings in Libya’s Tadrart Acacus.

In more than 80 published works, Al-Koni has also written of the Sahara where he spent his youth.

Ukhayyad is young and thoughtful, though impulsive. He has faith in God and the ancient lessons of the desert, as well as the wisdom of Sheikh Musa who tells him that “perfection belongs to God alone. Carelessness blossoms with youth, but wisdom and knowledge do not take its place until the onslaught of old age and infirmity.”

With these lessons, the young Tuareg fights to survive in the harsh desert environment, where life constantly hangs in the balance.


Post revolution, Sudanese cinema struggles to find recognition at home

Post revolution, Sudanese cinema struggles to find recognition at home
Talal Afifi, director of the Khartoum-based Sudan Film Factory program. (Supplied)
Updated 24 January 2021

Post revolution, Sudanese cinema struggles to find recognition at home

Post revolution, Sudanese cinema struggles to find recognition at home
  • Bashir’s government aborted all cultural and artistic initiatives and fought ... diversity and freedom of opinion, says Talal Afifi, director of the Khartoum-based Sudan Film Factory program

CAIRO: Sudanese filmmakers who celebrated the end of stifling restrictions following the ouster of autocrat Omar Bashir have won multiple international awards but are yet to enjoy the same recognition at home.
Cinema languished in the North African country through three decades of authoritarian rule by Bashir.
But Sudanese took to the streets to demand freedom, peace and social justice, and Bashir’s ironfisted rule came to an end in a palace coup by the army in April 2019.
“We started realizing how much our society needs our dreams,” said director Amjad Abou Alala.
His 2019 film “You Will Die at Twenty” was both Sudan’s first Oscar entry and the first Sudanese film broadcast on Netflix, winning prizes at international film festivals including Italy’s Venice and Egypt’s El Gouna.
The film tells the story of a young man a mystic predicts will die at age 20. As Sudan undergoes a precarious political transition, the country’s filmmakers have found more space to operate, Alala said.
Young filmmakers act “without the complexes, the lack of self-confidence or the frustration that we suffered in previous generations,” he added.
Talal Afifi, director of the Khartoum-based Sudan Film Factory program, has trained hundreds of young people in filmmaking.
Bashir’s government “aborted all cultural and artistic initiatives and fought ... diversity and freedom of opinion, through policies of alleged Islamization and Arabization,” he said.
Afifi began work long before the 2019 revolution, with advances in digital camera technology making filmmaking far more accessible.
The filmmaker attended a 2008 short film festival in Munich, where the winning film — an Iraqi documentary shot on a handy-cam — inspired him to return home and set up a training center and production house.
In the past decades, the Film Factory has organized some 30 screenwriting, directing and editing workshops — and produced more than 60 short films, honored in international festivals from Brazil to Japan.
Afifi says the roots of Sudan’s innovative cinema was born from the “hard work dating from before” Bashir’s overthrow, when many cinemas were closed.
Today, cinemas are allowed — big-budget Hollywood films, as well as Indian and Egyptian movies are popular — but moves to reopen them have been frustrated by restrictions to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Sudanese National Museum organized screenings of films, including “You Will Die at Twenty,” but they were not screened in large theaters.
Filmmakers still face challenges. Hajjooj Kuka, director of the acclaimed 2014 “Beats of the Antonov” was jailed for two months last year for causing a “public nuisance” — for what he said was an acting workshop.
Other Sudanese films have also garnered international attention, including the 2019 documentary “Talking About Trees” by Suhaib Gasmelbari, which tells the story of four elderly Sudanese filmmakers with a passion for movies.
The quartet and their “Sudanese Film Club” work to reopen an open-air cinema in Omdurman, the city across the Nile from the capital Khartoum.