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The African mix of which the poet, Muhammad al-Fayturi, was formed was like a prophecy; a prophecy foretelling that this poet, born in the desert at the borders of Chad from a village in western Sudan, will not only convey the pain, songs and freedom of Africa, but will go further to become an Arab amalgamation: Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq, and will later become a comprehensive human composition, a loud call for human freedom wherever.
The poet’s father, of Libyan origin, emigrated from Sudan to Alexandria in Egypt, and the poet’s mother was Egyptian. In Alexandria, there was a strange variety of people back then: the Muslim Arab, the Coptic Christian, the Levantine immigrant or the Nubian from Upper Egypt, the Italians, Greeks, Belgians, Swiss, Turks and Circassians. The threads of life at that time were in the hands of the foreign invader who owned schools, hotels and luxurious buildings.
Al-Fayturi joined that community as a stranger. He was not well accepted, neither he nor his colour kin of the Nubians working only as servants in homes and hotels. At school, his alienation grew, and a complex of guilt and a sense of inferiority developed within him.
The short brown Fayturi, “the black” by the standards of that era, felt sad and lonely in the society in which he grew up and did not feel any belonging to it. That will mark his existential state, as he was groaning under the weight of alienation. Moreover, there was an exaggeration in his sense of “negritude” and “monstrosity” to the point of torment.
His skin colour disturbed him and filled him with despair. He felt as if a cosmic eye was mocking him, his colour and shortness, so he began to sing that alienation:
“Yes; He is poor,
Deformed and ugly,
Coloured like the rain, coloured like clouds
He walks, and faces mock him
He carries his pain in solidity
And embraces his sorrow in silence
He is poor
A face like clouds that condense within and then merged
In him, there are two eyes like two swings,
Heavy with the winds of pain,
And a nose sloped down then flung
Resembles a sleepless grave
Below it, a huge lip
primitive that rarely smiles.”
He stands before the mirror, a mirror reflecting his appearance, to describe the bitterness of what he sees deep within.
These perceptions embedded in his conscience, vision and empathy for the suffering of the black man made him a sad romantic character, stemming from the dreams of his existence. He sensed many troubles when he looked in the mirror and saw nothing but a black, poor, ugly face, as he describes it.
His belief was firm that the tragedy of the African lies in his face. That guilt complex overwhelmed his life at first, blinding him from seeing many issues and drawing him into isolation from reality, which the people and intellectuals blamed him for, but he soon got rid of it.
“Say it, do not cower
Do not cower away
Say it to the face of humanity
I am negro, my father is negro and my mother is negro
I am black
Black, but free, I own my freedom
My homeland is Africa
Long live my homeland
Long live Africa.”
We can hear the jingling of Africans beating their drums for deliverance from slavery.
Al-Fayturi’s life developed in Alexandria. He moved to the reality stage, where hatred was consecrated against the domination of the white man and his humiliation of others. From this enslavement, al-Fayturi travelled in his poems to all of Africa. For him, Africa was the land of the forefathers who gathered with him in the tragedy of sorrow and humiliation.
Al-Fayturi transitioned from his guilt complex to confronting the issues of human and social conflicts, the realities of art, death, struggle and life, and raising the issues of the African man, his torment, and falling prey to colonial pillaging, discrimination, racism, and slavery. In this case, the past of the poet or how he began does not matter, “It is not important for the writer or poet to have a past to sit on, but rather to have a future to live up to,” says Michel Jeha.
Al-Fayturi became a pioneer of realism in Sudan in the 1940s. As for his past, he has a problem with the colour that tormented him as many Africans. This issue is called by some the “African vision”. The African continent became his cause and his liberation vision. For him, it was equivalent to his suffering, a mask he could hide behind to scream and revolt, and even hate and defy.
He became a poet of struggle who does not care about colour and thinks only of the crowds. He became one of those who believe that “the black worker and the white worker are both languishing under one historical and social yoke, the yoke of the white capitalist and the black capitalist, the yoke of colonialism and exploitation. The issue, then, is not black and white. It is the exploited and exploiter issue. The issue of the labourer and the capitalist”.
In all his poems, we see the deprivation of the dark-skinned man, his suffering, torment. We also notice his aspire towards rising and standing with dignity in the face of the white tyranny that enslaved the people of Africa, tampered with its history, stole its freedom and exploited its wealth.
Africa is the beloved land. He represented it as a woman whom he loves, unites with and melts away in her, just as the Sufi perishes in the godly self. He sang for it:
While I was holding the banner from an exile to another
That they killed me once
But in your eyes, I am reborn a thousand times”
He also says:
“The forehead of the slave, the shoe of the master
And the black oppressed wails
The tragedy of the bygone centuries
I no longer accept it, no longer
How dare a white man enslave my land?
How dare he enslave my past and future?
How my life perishes in his prison,
Walls of which were made by my hands?
I am a negro
Africa is for me, not for the foreign invader
I am a farmer, I have land whose soil drank from my body
I am a human and I have my freedom
It is far more precious than my son
I am free, I am the future of the country
And I will remain the future of the country.”
Through the colour of his skin and his deep sense of bitterness and hatred, he could create a faraway homeland for himself; Africa.
Al-Fayturi felt not only the issues of Africa but also those of the Arabs. His sense of Arabism purely stemmed from his patriotism. At this stage, freedom became the first and ultimate objective of his poems. He crossed the borders of Africa. His cause was no longer confined to it but instead embraced the Arab nation. Arabism is one of the main topics of his poems. We can see that clearly in his collections of The Hero, The Revolution and the Gallows, which he gifted to Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Smile Until the Horses Pass. He also wrote the theatrical play “Omar Al-Mukhtar“, the Libyan hero.
He wrote about the partition of Lebanon after it turned into a toy in the rulers’ hands:
“There, Lebanon and the land enraged
By the footsteps of those who betrayed you, oh Mount
I screamed, and blood is in the palms of those who drank
And Lebanon’s flesh is in the mouths of those who ate
Lebanon is not the Lebanon they made
Yesterday, or divided it today and celebrated”
Al-Fayturi devoted a large part of his poems to the Palestinian cause. One of these poems was “Palestinian Passages”. With one immortal sentence, Al-Fayturi summarizes his stance towards the Palestinian cause. He wrote: “Words cannot heal the wound of Palestine”.
He wrote the following about Iraq:
“Hands washed the orient’s forehead with blood until Iraq woke up
They fragmented it, and the soil that once held the precious was defiled.
O, my country that held me to its wedding, O, Iraq!”
Al-Fayturi says about his nationalism: “I got my head out of that cocoon. When I glimpsed, I found another face of the world around me. That face was the Arab reality of which I am a part. My Arab society is trying to free itself from its historical shackles. It tries to stop the tripartite aggression on Egypt. You see successive revolutions, uprisings, the voice of life resounded around me that a new thought was being born inside me, and I was trying to express it.”
Al-Fayturi was living on the borders of the Arab and African map, the borders of Arabism and Negroism, as well as the borders of singing, commitment, classicism, romanticism and modernity. The Lebanese writer Abdo Wazen said about him: “Al-Faytouri, as a poet, should be the goodwill ambassador to all Arab countries.”
A Global Citizen
Al-Fayturi’s poetry is an identical copy of the problems of the oppressed man and his suffering wherever he is. He does not belong to an ultimate homeland but every place in the world. He utilized his poetry as a means to defend the humanity of man and preserve his dignity, as he calls:
“Oh my brother, In the world,
in every nation,
I am asking you,
Do you know me?
Oh, brother that I know despite the adversities
Hear me out,
Hear me out.”
Humanism is apparent in his poems, he is a friend of children, the unfortunate and the deprived, a supporter of the revolutionaries and the righteous. He takes the role of a wise hermit who speaks to the soul and internalizes the mind. In general, it can be said that his poetry was in the service of all humanity. He says:
“Oh, creator! made man from clay and made the artist from another
You tortured me with art
You tortured me with this heavenly fire
I pray for you, do not torture any creature with it after me
This fire is my destiny
I am content to perish in its heat
So that art will live in my heart”
Michel Jeha says: “al-Fayturi is a poet with a distinctive personality, a special character, and a unique style. He has his political vision, rejecting voice, and advocacy for the causes of the Arab masses. He does not rely on ambiguity and does not claim false modernity. Rather, he sees that the purpose of poetry is not to depict things or convey nature, but rather to be an instrument of exposure, incitement, revolution and challenge”.
Al-Fayturi’s poetry is a comprehensive, general human condition that addresses any person, anywhere, and at any time. This raw, pure human love is one of the most important pillars of his poetry.
- Al-Sheikh, G., Days with Muhammad Al-Fayturi, Dar Al-Nukhba, Beirut, 2012, (Arabic version).
- Al-Buka’I, I., The Lost Al-Fayturi Who Found Himself, Dar Al-Kutub Al-Ilmiya, Beirut, 1994. (Arabic version
- Jiha, M., Arab Modern Poetry. Dar Al-Awda, Beirut, 1999. (Arabic version).
- Al-Fayturi, M., The Complete Works of the Poet Muhammad Al-Fayturi, The General Egyptian Book Organization, 1998. (Arabic version)
- Salimi, A., Amraiye, M., Muhammad Al-Fayturi: From Despair and Isolation to Self-awareness and the Call to Liberation. Journal of Arabic Language and Literature, Volume II, 2015.