Title: Akhir Asalateen, The Last Sultan A Historical Paradox By Nassir Elsayed Elnour*
Author: Nassir Elsayed Elnour
Date: 08-24-2014, 02:59 PM
Akhir Asalateen, The Last Sultan
A Historical Paradox
By Nassir Elsayed Elnour*
Prominent Sudanese novelist and writer Mansour El-Souwaim recently released his fourth novel, Akhir Asalateen (The Last Sultan), in Cairo. Published in Arabic, Mansour’s newest work explores the story of the last Sultan of the Darfur Sultanate in western Sudan. This is the same region where, since 2001, the ongoing brutal conflict between the central government and Darfurian armed movements has escalated to genocide by international human rights standards.
The Last Sultan has attracted interest from a broad range of readers all over Sudan and the Arabic world, including intellectuals, writers and critics. The author combines his potent imagination with historical events to frame the novel’s narrative structure and dialog. The main character is Ali Dinar, the last Sultan of Darfur in the nineteenth century, Ali Dinar ruled as Sultan during a brief era of relative independence from Anglo-Egyptian bilateral control, condominium. Through the use of compelling and well-developed characters, Mansour brings alive the flamboyant history of this now defunct African Sultanate beginning with the British overthrow of the Mahdi's State. This collapse of the state from Darfur marked a new era in Sudanese history and a period of peace and relative independence for Darfur, located along the western periphery of Sudan.
The novel has been constructed using many voices in a way that thrusts the reader into the culture, events and values of the time. While the novel’s narrative is well grounded in methodical research and historical accounts, Mansour transforms these dry facts into an original and thought-provoking story, bringing alive the social fabric of the Darfur community. Mansour’s powerful narration relies on folkloric songs and metaphor. Although the place is central to the theme of the novel, the material elements of the story transcend both place and time.
Sultan Ali Dinar of last Darfurian Sultanate has long played a mythical and historical role in the Darfurian public mind. Mansour’s novel catches us all up in the last days of the Sultanate and their frantic preparations to confront the British, who ultimately annexed the Sultanate of Darfur to and the British Empire. While all of this was happening, the capital city of the Sultanate, Alfashir, is embroiled in human affairs including a love story and conspiracy. The Sultan and his aides struggled to find a strategy for opposing a powerful force armed with all the most modern instruments of war. Throughout the novel, the champion of the imminent confrontation is not exclusively a single person, the Sultan. We also learn about the role of women in Alfashir and how they helped their Sultan teach the conquerors a lesson of courage they wouldn’t forget.
Mansour controls the dialog of the novel through the use of free verse prose flowing over time. The language used reveals hidden meanings behind the language (meta-language). These exceed the ordinary connotations and explicit interpretations of day-to-day language, thus revealing the implied meanings intended by the novel’s characters. Language is but one tool used to combine plot and the story’s main elements in a thrilling representation of one of Darfur’s most iconic heroes.
The Last Sultan sums up chronological events without judging the results. Simply put, it goes beyond just telling the historical story of the rise and fall of the character Sultan Ali Dinar. It is also a contemplative exploration of Darfur’s role in history. The irony is that this region, which began by defending itself against an external threat, paradoxically became a region whose people risked extinction by a threat from within. The novel calls upon readers to rethink history rather than to just resurrect the Sultan. It ends with the Sultan's inevitable defeat in a battle where he was ambushed and killed, resulting in the collapse of the Darfur Sultanate in the land of the Fur people.