Season of Migration to the North Response on Subjective Knowledge

Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih is an Arab novel portraying the subjectivity of the Orient and of the struggle of European knowledge on Africans and Arabs in a postcolonial era.  The narrator of this novel is from a town on the Nile in Africa but has traveled back and forth from London, England for the purpose of education.  Mustafa is another character who is also from Africa, but spent much time in London, where he gained much knowledge of European societies.  The text reveals the extreme difference between cultures and the subjectivity of knowledge on foreign countries.

There is a clear distinction between the society of Arabs and of Europeans.  The inequality of women is a major indicator.  The homes in the village on the Nile have rooms that keep men and women separate, “Like the other houses it was divided into two parts: one for the women and the other containing the diwan or reception-room, for the men” (Salih 11).  There is also a lack of education among the Arabs.  Mustafa speaks of his first encounter with education saying,

“That was the time when we first had schools.  I remember now that people were not keen about them and so the government would send its officials to scour the villages and tribal communities, while the people would hide their sons – they thought of schools as being a great evil that had come to them with the armies of occupation” (Salih 19).

The novel shows that it is very difficult for knowledge about foreign lands to be accurately depicted to those who have not traveled there, and because of this difficulty there is a limit on knowledge creating a subjective and sometimes inaccurate view of societies, especially of the “Oriental” lands.   When Mustafa traveled to Europe, he completely submerged himself into the culture, and when he returned to his homeland, he created a library with all books written in English, none in Arabic.  The people of the village looked up to him and considered him a very intelligent man, but could never actually understand the way that Europeans live.  As for Europeans, their view of Africa is very subjective.  Mustafa even told tales of his homeland based on the subjective thoughts of Europeans, “I related to her fabricated stories about deserts of golden sands and jungles where non-existent animals called out to one another.  I told her that the streets of my country teemed with elephants and lions and that during siesta time crocodiles crawled through it…” (Silah 33).  Mustafa made a clichéd character for himself while he was in London so that people would be entranced by him and by his foreign homeland.  He spoke many lies and even gave “educational” speeches about Arabs that included more fabricated stories that were much further from the truth than people believed.

Because of Mustafas many lies, he left a “fake” perception of the East upon many European women.  They fell in love with the idea of something and the only was they would ever know the truth would be if they traveled to these places.  The same goes for those in the East.  The only was they could truly understand the western way of life would be to travel there.  Even then, if one traveled to a foreign country, they would not fully understand the immense differences of education, religion and the treatment of women etc.

Salih, Tayeb.  Season of Migration to the North. New York: The New York Review of

Books, 1969.


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