Re-Reading “The Sheikh”: The Colonial Crystal Metaphor

I’m rereading a Thai novel, “The Sheikh”, originally published in 1987. The story follows the life of Dawid ibn Sharbaz, the only son of a murdered sheikh, through the changing times in the fictional North Africa country of Byderhabad from 1941-1970. Things to note is that while it’s international in scope, this novel was written through the lens of a Thai novelist. Also, there is a lot of political commentary and observation in the novel which is the author’s forte but I choose to focus on the drama side of it. Because, well, that’s why I’ve been rereading this book since 1992!

Where we left off: The problematic arranged marriage of Dawid and Hazar.

Part II: 1945. British-Occupied Byderhabad

Chapter 29

Out on the trails, Dawid hears the faint sound of camel whistles–and not just one. Sensing danger they cannot yet see, Dawid tells Captain Rogers that they should double back.

“We’re out of your village now and I am your commander and we are going to continue onward,” snarled Rogers. Famous last word, dude.

Just as they come over the dune, Dawid catches a glint of something and instinctively ducks. Rogers gasps and collapses on to his camel before they hear the gunshot. Dawid races up to Rogers, grabs the rein and they run back the way they came.

Quite a safe distance away, Rogers’ dying words are for Dawid to take the reports and documents about his performance for Lt. Colonel Clifford, and to keep the golden rifle.

Two camels come bolting down the dune into the valley. Guns go off from all over the valley, spooking the camels and they run off in different directions. Mustafa hollers, “Whoever brings me back Sheikh Sharbaz’s son will be rewarded!” The bandits chase after the two camels, leaving behind Mustafa and one minion.

BLAM! Brains everywhere! The minion went down. BLAM! A bullet whizzes by Mustafa’s head. Mustafa screams for Dawid to come out and face him. BLAM! A bullet in the shoulder knocks Mustafa off the camel. He frantically searches for the direction of the shots. Alas! The bandits are returning! Mustafa barks out orders for them to fan out and find Dawid. BLAM! One bandit down. BLAM! Another. BLAM! One more. Mustafa gets back on his camel and runs, a couple of survivors right behind him.

Over the dunes, two smoking rifles lying side by side next to Dawid, so hot they almost glow. Dawid calls for his camel and rides back to bury Rogers.

Chapter 30

The desert patrol unit found the unconscious Dawid just outside Farwah and brought him to the hospital. Once his wound was attended to, Father Bernard has him moved to the rectory for a more peaceful environment to rest and recover.

Dawid says he’s over this whole British military thing. Then Father Bernard says this line, and it’s the line they use as the promotion for the book:

You’re the desert sand that is being forged into a beautiful crystal glass. When people see the glass, they will appreciate all the sand in the desert.

Dawid thinks about it and says, okay then I’ll continue on to be the representation of my people. *I have a big epiphany about this part. Read about it at the end.*

A while later, King Farhad presides over the graduation ceremony of the first class of British-trained Byderhabad army sergeants. Instead of saluting like the other soldiers, Dawid greets the king by kissing his hand and raises it to his forehead–an Islam greeting people you honor. (This checks out per the internet. Old tradition that some still follow.)

“What your name, son?” the King asked, beaming.

“Dawid, son of Sheikh Sharbaz, your majesty.”

“Graduating top of his class, your majesty,” chimes in Clifford.

“Where is he posted?”

“Not yet assigned, your majesty, but we are thinking of sending him back to his tribe…”

“I want him in my personal guard.”

“But your majesty…”

“If Dawid truly is a success story as you said, then I want to show him off everywhere I go. Is that alright with you, Lt. Colonel?”

“Of course, your majesty.”

“Have him report to the royal guard’s first thing tomorrow.”

Dawid takes a stroll through the military camp where he was first trained, remembering all the good times and thinking about what awaits him in the years to come.

Image by PixaBay

End of Part 2. Well done, you guys!

Note: Up until THIS VERY MINUTE I didn’t see how colonialist the desert glass statement is! The desert sand is beautiful as it is and people can still appreciate it. You don’t have to westernize aka being forged into something else for others to appreciate. Father Bernard is trying to civilize his noble savage with this quote!

For 30 years, this is the quote I live by as someone who has been living her life like a self-appointed Thai cultural ambassador since she was 12. Whatever I’m learning in my life and my studies is to better myself and therefore I can represent my country and my culture. I mean, this quote still means that to me, but DAMN the true intention of it from the colonizer’s point of view is fucked up.

Seriously you guys. I’m discovering so many layers of this novel reading it now. ???? Thank you for sticking with me.

Part 3 coming soon!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.