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  • Welcome to ALT Magazine & Press: Hazawi Prize Announces 2023 Shortlist: (Sana'a, Yemen) - The shortlist for the 2023 Hazawi Prize for Yemeni Literature has been revealed, announcing the ten writers who have been selected as finalists for this prestigious award.
  • Now in its second yearly round, the Hazawi Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to fiction in Yemeni literature. Organized by the Hazawi Cultural Foundation, this annual prize aims to promote Yemeni literature and support creative writers.
  • This year's shortlist features both emerging and renowned Yemeni authors. The ten works advancing to the final round of judging are:
  • - Abdullah Faisal shortlisted for his novel, Spirits and Secrets.
  • - Aisha Saleh shortlisted for her novel, Under the Ashes
  • - Farouk Merish shortlisted for his novel, A Dignified Stranger
  • - Ahmed Ashraf shortlisted for his novel, A Painful Belt
  • - Ghassan Khalid shortlisted for his novel, A Sky that Rains Fear
  • - Hosam Adel shortlisted for his novel, The Lord of the Black Dog
  • - Asmaa Abdulrazak shortlisted for her novel, Shrapnels
  • - Abdullah Abdu Muhammad shortlisted for his novel, The Road to Sana'a
  • - Najah Bahkeim shortlisted for her novel, The Final Decision
  • - Samir AbdulFattah shortlisted for her novel, What We Cannot See
  • The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in Sana'a later where they will receive $1,500 USD. Second and third prizes of $1,000 USD each will also be awarded. All shortlisted works are celebrated for chronicling Yemen's rich culture and wartime experiences. This prestigious prize continues highlighting the nation's thriving literary community.

Burdened by Glory: Romanticized Memory as Postcolonial Protest in Al-Baradouni’s Abu Tamam and the Arabism of Today


Hatem Al-Shamea

Assistant Professor of English Literature,

University of Reading, UK



Abdullah Al-Baraddouni (1929–1999), the visually impaired poet of Yemen, rose from humble beginnings to become one of the Arab world’s most celebrated modern poets. Born in 1929 in the rural village of Zirajah, the young Al-Baraddouni was robbed of his sight by the ravages of smallpox. Yet, undeterred by darkness, he devoted himself to the illumination of learning. At the feet of wise men and women, he immersed himself in the recitation of the Holy Quran, the sciences of jurisprudence, the melodies of grammar. His yearning for knowledge led him to the halls of wisdom in Sanaa, where his poetic spirit blossomed among the company of intellectuals, historians and wordsmiths.

Though destiny had blinded his eyes, it had granted him inner vision to channel the agonies and aspirations of his people into verse. He gave voice to the voiceless, articulating the realities of Arab life in all its complexities. Through twelve volumes of poetry and six books, he established himself as a leading light, a modern bard who linked heritage with modernity. He paid the price for speaking truth to power, enduring imprisonments for his critical writings. But his humanist legacy endured, cementing his reputation as one of the greatest Arab poets of the twentieth century. Blind, but not blinded, Al-Baraddouni shone as a beacon for the Arab conscience, reminding all who would listen of the triumphant past and promising dawn that lay within their grasp.

Abdullah Al-Baradouni’s poem “Abu Tamam and the Arabism of Today” delivers a scathing critique of the state of the Arab world through the voice of the legendary 7th-century poet Abu Tamam. Written for a 1970s gathering of Arab poets in Mosul, the poem attacks Arab leaders for allowing the renewed colonization and plunder of Arab nations. Al-Baradouni adopts Abu Tamam as a heroic symbol of authentic Arab identity to condemn the perceived moral failures of contemporary rulers, invoking mythic past greatness as an indictment of present decay.

Through an intricate tapestry of images, symbols, emotive lamentation, and intertextual allusions, Al-Baradouni constructs a dramatic monologue that explores themes of courage and cowardice, cultural inheritance, the corruption of power, and the necessity of resistance. This analysis will interpret “Abu Tamam and the Arabism of Today” through the lens of postcolonial theory, decoding the way the poem critiques colonial complicity and questions constructions of national identity and collective memory. The repetitive symbolic imagery of fire and light will be examined as representations of a mythologized Arab valor in danger of being extinguished by internal and external threats. Ultimately, Al-Baradouni’s poem serves as a poetic call to arms, summoning past legends as inspiration for a new generation of Arab resistance against ongoing forces of imperialism and tyranny. 

Postcolonial Lamentation and the Burden of History

Postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha argues that anti-colonial resistance often adopts the narratives of the oppressor, internalizing colonialist perspectives as the basis for national identity (Bhabha 122). In “Abu Tamam and the Arabism of Today,” Al-Baradouni appears to reproduce this dynamic, invoking romanticized Arab history as a rebuke to contemporary failures to live up to the remembered deeds of ancestors. The poem opens by introducing the 9th century poet Abu Tamam as a hero of Arab greatness and authenticity, contrasted with the present-day rulers who have allowed Arab lands to be “plundered and looted” (8). This sentimentalized vision of a glorified Arab past permeates the poem, from the description of Islamic Caliph, Al-Mu’tasim who preserved the dignity and unity of Arab in Abbasid era. The poet reminds his audience with the victory of Amorium in mid-August 838.

According to anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod, the fixation on ancient honor and nobility common in postcolonial Arab discourse reflects a “burden of honor” rooted in colonial constructs of Arab masculinity as primitive but brave (Abu-Lughod 113). Al-Baradouni appears trapped in this burden of honor that values only mythical displays of courage, neglecting present realities. He names contemporary leaders negatively as “The shining ones who neither rose nor set” (27), disparaging their lack of visible valor. The poem’s constant reproach suggests existing Arab rulers are unworthy heirs to their ancestors, failing to live up to romantically inflated records of past glory.

Fire and Light as Symbols of Lost Arab Honor

The poet uses symbolic imagery of fire and light to contrast past Arab glory with present subjugation. Al-Baradouni depicts the medieval Abbasid conquest of Amorium as a shining of the Arab “stars” and “sun” (lines 35-38), suggesting the Arabs burning brightly in victory. Similarly, he describes modern “clouds of invasion” that “scorch us and obscure us” (line 69), evoking a mythic fire and illumination being extinguished by imperial powers. For the poet, fire and light represent the once fierce pride of the Arabs, now dampened and tainted under imperialism. The radiance of past triumph contrasts with the darkness of contemporary defeat. Through these vivid fire metaphors, Al-Baradouni laments the loss of former Arab supremacy in a language both mythical and melancholic.

This illuminating fire manifests also as an inherited incandescence within the blood of Arabs themselves. The speaker describes having the panting breath of Arabs behind his ribs (54), then later says “while we sense and sip from our blood” (63), conveying a quasimystical internal fire passed down genealogically. Literary scholar Samah Selim reads such metaphors as constructing national identity through blood lineage and shared somatic experience, a common trope in postcolonial Arab discourse (Selim 59). 

Al-Baradouni further laments this fire may be extinguished, asking “did I lie about our people, or forget his golden lineage?” (44-45). The “golden lineage” of Arab nobility seems tarnished, no longer able to fuel resistance. All that remains are fragmented memories and poetic lamentations, encapsulated in the lines: “And a thousand weeping odes still / Tremble to confess, shy and disturbed” (71-72). The poem articulates a sense of generational failure, where contemporary Arabs have lost touch with the passion and pride of ancestors.

Complicity in Colonial Corruption

In addition to attacking Arab rulers for military and political failures, Al-Baradouni condemns their moral corruption as abetting foreign domination. He describes current leaders as “killers of the people’s brilliance” whose understanding serves only the “aggressors” (19-22). They are collaborators who enable the renewed pillaging of Arab lands, metaphorically “paving the way with their eyes for the invading army” (29). This resonates with postcolonial theorist Partha Chatterjee’s concept of colonialism as rule by consent, requiring native elites to uphold structures of imperial power (Chatterjee 30). The poem implies Arab rulers have been coopted into preserving neo-imperial interests over their own populace. 

The poem further indicts the rulers for symbolic betrayals of Arab unity, saying “Their passion inclines toward factionalism” (46). This line critiques leaders who pursue sectarian interests rather than collective Arab welfare (Jayyusi 15). Similarly, the verse “Arabism today is not the same, no name / No color and no title sleeps on its existence” (48-49) laments the loss of a coherent Arab identity. By implicating leaders in this dissolution, Al-Baradouni frames collusion with colonial powers as leading to cultural fragmentation. Only refocusing on shared roots and destiny can rekindle the dimming collective spirit.

Mythologizing Resistance Over Reality 

While effective as poetic lamentation, the poem tends to romanticize armed struggle in ways dissociated from messy political realities. The lines “Ninety thousand burned for Amorium / And when asked about the pyres, they said: we are the meteors” (59-60) glorifies a 7th century war with no consideration for its complex impacts. The poem mythologizes martyrdom as pure transcendent valor, the highest virtue for “lighting the way” for future Arabs. This echoes critiques of some strands of postcolonial thought for promoting essentialized notions of violence, frames of sacrifice, and masculinist nationalism (Lazarus 199).

The poem advocates steadfast resistance but ignores difficulties of method or outcome. The verse “do not wait for the harvest of vines until the grapes ripen, but they ignited before ripeness” (61-62) urges action before conditions are right, dismissing preparation and strategy. While arising from understandable frustration, the poem risks portraying resistance in mere abstract slogans disconnected from sociopolitical reality. This critiques contemporary leaders but provides little concrete guidance beyond indignation. The poem articulates rage toward ongoing imperialism but romanticizes the past rather than engaging present struggles in all their complexity.


            Abdullah Al-Baradouni’s “Abu Tamam and the Arabism of Today” offers a compelling lament for the perceived loss of authentic Arab identity and slide into colonial complicity among contemporary rulers. Through masterful poetic imagery, intertextual symbolism, and emotive invocation of past legends, the poem constructs a mythic vision of past Arab honor, now tarnished and suppressed. This serves to critique current moral and political failures, yet risks oversimplifying the challenges of postcolonial resistance. Nevertheless, Al-Baradouni’s anticolonial message remains relevant amidst ongoing imperialist efforts to control Arab nations. The poem’s call for Arabs to reconnect with their ancestral heritage can inspire cultural pride and unity against both internal corruption and external domination. For contemporary readers, the poem represents the enduring power of literature to arouse the passions of resistance.

Works Cited

Abu-Lughod, Lila. “The Romance of Resistance.” American Ethnologist, vol. 17, no. 1, 1990, pp. 41–55.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. Routledge, 2004.

Chatterjee, Partha. The Nation and Its Fragments. Princeton UP, 1993.

Jayyusi, Salma Khadra. Trends and Movements in Modern Arabic Poetry Vol I. Brill, 1977.

Lazarus, Neil. The Postcolonial Unconscious. Cambridge UP, 2011.

Selim, Samah. The Novel and the Rural Imaginary in Egypt, 1880-1985. Routledge, 2004.

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