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Ibrahim El-Salahi Pain Relief at The Saatchi Gallery, London

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Sudanese folktales “used to be told to children by their grandmothers, aunts and big sisters. This was their amusement during the dark and long evenings. Riddles and folktales were also part of their rural and traditional system of education. The narrator would start by riddles to be followed by the narrative of the folktales. Both were meant to frighten their intelligence and stimulate their imagination. An example of the riddles: “Flop, flop, flop – at the bank they will stop.” Answer: “A pair of shoes”, ….or……“Very tall with green mustaches”, Answer: “The irrigation ditch.” The narrator then narrates the folktale, and when she comes to the end of it, she says: “It has faded and disappeared in the little hole of littlest among us.”

Folk Tales of Northern Sudan by Abdullah El-Tayib, 2016.

Below, one of the many tales El-Tayib recorded from memory for this collection so that these tales would not be lost for ever as oral traditions fade. This tale is taken from Folk Tales of Northern Sudan, 2016, pp 39-41.

The Son of the Sultan

It is told and related that once upon a time there was a Sultan in the land (Save that the real and only Sultan is Almightly God). This Sultan had a son whose face was as distinguished and glorious as the full moon. The Sultan fell ill and God decreed his passing away. Abd Al Salam thus became a fatherless orphan. But his mother was intelligent and wise. She said to him, “Your father was the Sultan, and a Sultan you must be. So be careful about the companions and friends you choose. Most of those who seek your company do so because of your wealth and power. Very few will seek your friendship because they love you.” “But what shall I do?” Said Abd Al Salma to his mother.

She said to him, “Order three hard-boiled eggs and whoever you wish to choose for a friend, invite him to take breakfast with you and serve the three eggs. If the new companion takes only one and leaves the other two for you to eat, do not befriend him any more, for he is an obsequious and sly one who wishes to show that he prefers you to himself, which is false. But if he eats up two eggs, and leaves only one for you, likewise shun him, for he is selfish and greedy. Only befriend him who seeks a fair division of the eggs.”

Firstly Abd Al Salam chose the son of the wazir (vizier) for his friend, and he was very pleased with him. He invited him and placed the three boiled eggs ready for breakfast according to the advice of his mother. Then he shelled one for himself. The son of the wazir did likewise. Then the son of the Sultan said, “please eat this one.” The son of the wazir swore he would not eat it. So the son of the Sultan ate it, but he stopped his relationship with the wazir.

Then he befriended the son of the judge and invited him for the prescribed breakfast. The son of the judge did not hesitate to eat all the three hard-boiled eggs leaving nothing for Abd Al Salam. And that was the end of their friendship.

Then he befriended the son of the chief merchant and invited him for breakfast. The son of the merchant looked with derision at the three eggs and said, “What sort of breakfast is this?” and refused to partake of what appeared to him as a mean meal. So Abd Al Salam did not befriend him any more.

Then he asked the son of the wood-cutter to be his companion and friend. The son of the wood- cutter said, “ I am but the issue of of a wood-cutter and I am not fit for the company of the great, o son of the Sultan.” And Abd Al Salam said to him, “ You will be my companion and friend. “ And insisted on his choice.

The son of the wood-cutter went to hunt with him. He taught Abd Al Salam how to use the stick for killing dangerous snakes and how to fight with it. Every day Abd Al Salam returned to his mother with his clothes dirty. Abd Al Salam loved the son of the wood-cutter and learned so many useful skills from him. The son of the wood-cutter invited the son of the Sultan several times to breakfast and offered him ordinary “kisrah” with salt and chillies and water and cobs of corn toasted on charcoal.

One day Abd Al Salam invited the son of the wood-cutter for his examination breakfast. Seeing there were only three boiled eggs, the son of the wood-cutter shelled the three eggs and then with his knife he cut the third egg into two equal halves. And so there was one egg and a half for each of them. He said to the son of the Sultan, “Here are two equal portions, one for you and one for me.”

Abd Al Salam was pleased. He told his mother about what the son of the wood-cutter had done. HIs mother said, “ This is a true friend. Let him be always with you.”

And ever since that time, the son of the wood-cutter became the trusted friend of Abd Al Salam. And when the latter became his wazir (vizier) and between them they ruled the land in true harmony ever after.

Below, making the fermented sorghum, wafer-thin flat bread, kisra. More on Sudanese dishes in coming posts.

Below, an exquisite illustration by Amel Bashir for this tale as it appears in French in Contes du Soudan by Viviane Amina Yagi. Learn more about folktales and their role in literacy in The Power of Folktales and Kambala. See more about the remarkable work of Amel Bashir in Amel Bashir Taha Delicate Defiance.


One comment on “The Son of the Sultan

  1. simon boyd says:

    Wonderful folk tale.

    On Thu, 18 Feb 2021, 17:44 Women’s literacy in Sudan, wrote:

    > womensliteracysudan posted: ” Sudanese folktales “used to be told to > children by their grandmothers, aunts and big sisters. This was their > amusement during the dark and long evenings. Riddles and folktales were > also part of their rural and traditional system of education. The nar” >


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