Title: A Concise Review of Curse of the Raven By Dr Gandul I Gandul*
Author: د.قندول إبراهيم قندول
Date: 05-24-2021, 06:36 PM
07:36 PM May, 24 2021
د.قندول إبراهيم قندول-الخرطوم-السودان
Written by Omer M Shurkian, Curse of the Raven is a brilliantly and skillfully engraved piece of an historical novel. Horrifically, it depicts systematic and sustained raids on the Nuba villages and dwellings during the Turco-Egyptian rule in Sudan (1821-1885). These unleashed raids triggered and caused enormous pain to fellow human beings through en masse capture of population and driving them into slavery. What are remarkable about this fiction are its three unblemished subjects: firstly, it reports the gruesome injustices inflicted on the Nuba people. The second subject is that it shows how the Nuba have endured to ward off the heinous attacks on their villages in defense of their pride and dignity. Thirdly, it uncovers the Nuba unwillingness, individually or as a social group, to submit to subjugation.
The novel takes the reader to Sudan through the rough edges of Kordofan Province, the Nuba Mountains and back to Egypt through the tumultuous commotion of events. The book is organized in impressively coherent eleven chapters of 257 pages, making reading them unstoppable. The first three chapters set the grounds for the events that ensued, describing the epicenter of slave trade – that is, al-Obeid, in Kordofan Province which is a vast stretch of desert that extends northerly into Egypt. The Nuba Mountains, then the source of slaves, is a magnificent region with valleys and plains blanketed with green grass, especially during the rainy season.
The novel in its entirety is seamlessly easy to read and follow due to the simple and clear language used by the author. The number of characters involved is limited and their names are familiar, rendering recalling them easy when transition from one chapter to the next or even after going through many chapters. The names include Ignatz Pankratz, a German narrator, an Egyptian magnate and aristocrat, Abbas Hilmi, who owns several female slaves from Sudan and Abyssinia. A Turkish officer Ibrahim Agha who oversees al-Obeid slave market, and Kassa Teferi who is hailed from Ethiopia and his two friends, Satti and Nugud Allah, are both peddlers from the city of Sennar. Other characters include the enslaved Chama and her sister Chainy; their mother Koje and her sister Kama. Among the other Sudanese are Allah Jabo whose Nuba name is Chaloo and Kheir Allah whose original Nuba name is Kuku, to name but a few.
Chapter four narrates how Kassa has met the native girl of Tegali, Koje, marries her and they have begotten Chama and her sister Chainy, indispensably making Tegali and Koje’s family his newfound homeland. ‘The Return of the Native’ is the title of chapter five which tells about Allah Jabo (Chaloo), his seizure as a very young boy, his trip and life in captivity; his escape from Khartoum, his return to Tegali and his union with Kassa’s family.
Chapter six, ‘the Consequence of being Naïve’, the longest with almost 37 pages, describes Tegali’s communal intertwined life, the Nuba’s beliefs and unique customs and traditions. Bedtime stories of magicians, jinn and owl embedded therein are messages refraining people from being naïve, for that may inherit serious consequences of déjà vu. The belief goes that ‘if a person shares food and drink with another, then she or he will contract an unpleasant disease which maybe fatal if she/he betrays that person’, a consequence of which the two sisters had been abducted when their parents returned home late that night from visiting the daughters’ sick maternal aunt, Kama. The chapter covers Kassa’s setting off from Tegali all the way to al-Obeid in search of his two missing daughters, but the ensued quest has ended in vain. It turns out later in the chapter that Allah Jabo, with other culprits, has planned the abduction of the two girls; he is captured and jailed in al-Obeid for his dreadful act.
Kassa, as a heart-broken man, decides to return to Tegali to his wailing and moaning wife, Koje. The Turkish Official in al-Obeid, Ibrahim Agha, who has ties with the Tegali royal family and becoming aware of this saga, promises to look after the two girls and return them to their parents in Tegali. Here a Turkish handler of the girls takes the opposite direction trying to sneak them into Egypt. Fortunately, he is to be returned from Aswan outpost for failing to show the proper ownership documents of the two girls to the customs’ authorities. He is then forced to take the girls back to Sudan and, unfortunately, the girls are recaptured by a slave trader who takes them into slavery via Red Sea route to Cairo where Abbas Hilmi buys them.
Trek into Kordofan, especially al-Obeid, is the subject of chapter seven with 33 pages. The champion of this chapter is Kheir Allah (Kuku) Ignatz’s servant, who happens to be a free Nuba slave in Cairo, for he was captured at age of 10 years, owned by three masters: an Egyptian in Kordofan, a Sha’igiya tribal chief in Atbara and Jaleyein tribesmen in a tribal warfare with Sha’igiya. What is remarkable about Kuku is his insistence on maintaining his Nuba name, strength, perseverance, and honesty, all of which are Nuba intrinsic characteristics. A vivid account of al-Obeid’s houses and marketplace where booths are erected for selling various merchandize is elaborately depicted. Rickety rakobas are set up where tea or coffee is served, and under the shade of these rakobas Ignatz would meet Kassa and convey to him his encounter with his lost daughter Chama in Cairo. It is a quite heart-moving and soul-taking tale, not only for Kassa, but for whoever indulges himself into reading this fantastic novel.
Chapter eight constructs the evil entry of the Turco-Egyptian troops into Jebel al-Dai’r, the launching of debilitating attacks on Nuba villages whence many innocent Nuba are indiscriminately captured and dragged into slavery or even killed. A devastating episode in this chapter is the case of an old woman whose ‘only son was killed when he attempted to resist capture, her best two bullocks slaughtered, and her cattle driven away.’ ‘This scene was too hard for the old woman to handle and she immediately died,’ Ignatz narrated.
Like the previous chapters, chapter nine is even more exciting with events for it covers a hunting expedition into the Nuba Mountains, the scuffle between Kuku and a village boy whom the former seized the heap of firewood collected by the latter. Undoubtedly, Kuku has infringed on the villagers’ pride, who instantly gather all the villagers in a war-like stance to defend their pride, forcing Ignatz and his companion, Kuku, to ‘survive by ruse’ and overcoming anger of a furious young man who is fuming with rage to take revenge for the boy. It is quite a stimulating episode to read and watch it if it is turned into a movie.
Chapter ten, ‘The Curse of the Raven’ describes Ignatz’s own accounts regarding previously populated Nuba villages and new fresh attacks on some as he is given permission to accompany government’s forces and Arab tribesmen during their raids on the Nuba people. In one scene, of many series of raids, he is to witness all youths being ‘shackled and a two-forked wood was placed around their necks for what would be their associate for the whole journey to al-Obeid to be sold’, and ‘their herds were driven away, helplessly.’ In an event that signifies immorality and sinfulness of some men is when a government soldier smites to death an exhausted old woman, who has failed to walk, with a gun-butt. Seeing his mother being smitten to death, Bakuba frees himself from the two-forked shaiba wood, using it as a weapon and strikes the soldier to his fateful demise.
The powerful blow by Bakuba takes a proverbial anecdote in Kordofan, especially among soldiers, as ‘Bakuba’s Blow’ for any extraordinary blow or act of strength, Ignatz documented. Meanwhile, Ignatz gets fed up with a heinous act by a Turkish soldier who mistreats another old woman, forcing him to draw and point his pistol at the culprit’s head and threatening to blow it off if he doesn’t stop his wrongdoings. The man’s soul is saved by Kuku who hurriedly disarms Ignatz and gives him his weapon back only when he senses that he has calmed down and his anger has subsided.
The final chapter, ‘Farewell to Kordofan’ tells how Ignatz has left Kordofan to Khartoum en-route to Cairo without Kuku, who has secretly returned to his homeland, Jebel al-Dai’r. As a free man, Kuku could not be reported by Ignatz to the authorities in Khartoum as a runaway young man. On the trek to Cairo, Ignatz couldn’t forget about the Nuba people, their suffering and he is filled with wild dreams of how they are struggling against nature and humanity. He ends this powerful story vowing that he will relate it for us and posterity.
The book can be found at:
* The writer is the author of two books in Arabic: An Introductory Study of Rufeek (Dameek) Tribe: Social, Cultural and Religious life in the Nuba Mountains – Sudan, London, 2015, An Introductory Study of Rufeek (Dameek) Tribe: Social, Cultural and Religious life in the Nuba Mountains, – Sudan, 2nd Edition, , Khartoum, 2021, and al-Faki Ali al-Mirawi: Features of Heroism in the Nuba Mountains, Khartoum, 2021. He can be reached at: mailto:[email protected]@msn.com