AMOS TUTUOLA The truth is an offense, but not a sin! Is he who laugh last, is he who win! -----Bob Marley
Biography • Amos Tutuola was born in the Nigerian city of Abeokuta in 1920. His parents were Christian cocoa farmers, of the Yoruba race. At the age of twelve he began to attend the Anglican Central School in his home town.
Biography cont. • His formal education lasted only five years, as he had to leave school when his father died in order to learn a profession. He went to Lagos to train as a blacksmith in 1939.
Biography cont. • From 1942 to 1945 he practised his trade for the Royal Air Force in Nigeria. After this he worked as a messenger for the Department of Labour in Lagos, then as a storekeeper for Radio Nigeria in Ibadan. He was married and had six children.
His Works • Though his native language is Yoruba, and his formal education never extended beyond elementary school, Tutuola has written all of his novels in English. Tutuola wrote the first draft of The Palm-Wine Drinkard, a romance built out of elements from Yoruba folklore. It was published by Faber and Faber in London in 1952, and is considered the first of all Anglo-phone African novels. Due to the critical and popular success of this novel, Tutuola became the first Nigerian novelist to win international acclaim. The Palm-Wine Drinkard was followed by My Life in the Bush Ghosts (1954); Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle (1955); The Brave African Huntress (1958); Feather Woman of the Jungle (1962); Ajaiyi and His Inherited Poverty (1967); The Witch Herbalist of the Remote Town (1981); The Wild Hunter in the Bush of Ghosts (written in the late 1940s, but not published until 1982); Pauper, Brawler, Slanderer (1987); and The Village Witch Doctor and Other Stories(1990).
Nigeria • Five hundred years before Christ, there arose in central Nigeria a culture that was among the most advanced and richest of the ancient world.
Nigeria and Yorubaland • In 1861, Nigeria was made a British colony and in 1906, land east of the Niger River was incorporated into the colony.
Nigeria • In 1960 Nigeria declared independence but the British system of colonialism had done nothing to unify Nigeria or prepare it for independence. The country experienced difficulties in the 1960s as the various ethnic groups making up the country battled for control.
Nigeria • Presidential elections in April 2003 did nothing to quell international concerns about Nigeria's stability. It seems this is once again a make-or-break time for Nigerian democracy
Yoruba Religion • In addition to the worship of one God, named Olodumare, the Yoruba worship dozens of deities known as "Orishas" who are personified aspects of nature and spirit. The principal orishas include Eleggua, Oggun, Ochosi, Obatala, Yemaya, Oshun, Shango, Oya, Babalu Aiye, and Orula.
Yoruba and Santeria • Orisha worship was spread to the new world through the slave trade. In order to preserve their religious traditions against Catholic repression, the African slaves syncretized the orishas with Catholic saints. Thus Shango came to be depicted as Sta. Barbara; Obatala as Our Lady of Mercy, etc.
Language • “My quarrel with English language has been that the language reflected none of my experience. But now I begin to see the matter in quite another way… Perhaps the language was not my own because I had never attempted to use it, had only learned to imitate it. If this were so, then it might be made to bear the burden of my experience if I could find the stamina to challenge it, and me, to such a test.” ---James Baldwin
“If it failed to give them a song, it at least gave them a tongue for sighing.” – Chinua Achebe Achebe notes, in an article dated 1965, that colonialism provided a way for a multitude of tribes and dialects to communicate. By extension, the hated colonial tongues have become instruments for Africans to communicate about themselves. Achebe states, “Those of us who have inherited the English Language may not be in a position to appreciate the value of the inheritance…we may go on resenting it…as part of a package…that included atrocities of reacial arrogance and prejudice…but let us not, in rejecting the evil, throw out the good with it.”
Analyzing Tutuola • The balance of this presentation rests on one essay – “Amos Tutuola and the Colonial Carnival” written by Stephen M Tobias and published in Research in African Literatures, Summer, 1999.
Dylan Thomas on Tutuola • “…brief, thronged, grisly and bewitching story, or series of stories, written in young English by a West African, about the journey of an expert and devoted palm-wine drinkard through a nightmare of indescribable adventures.”
More Critical Comment • Anthony West, a critic for the New Yorker, went so far as to say that in reading it, “One catches a glimpse of the very beginning of literature, that moment when writing at last seizes and pins down the myths and legends of an analphabetic culture.” • ---Anthony West “Shadow and Substance” The New Yorker 5 Dec. 1953
In his book Tutuola struggles to mold and shape his hero's world into one that makes sense. Through the manipulation and reformulation of a foreign tongue Tutuola attempts to refamiliarize and reclaim the environment. This linguistic struggle is central for any colonized or formerly colonized culture whose language system has been supplanted by that of its colonizers In developing such a usage, Tutuola invents and employs what can be described as an "interlanguage": a regionally specific version of English. In answer to criticism that Tutuola's English is frequently "wrong," it can be countered that the writer's discourse constitutes a separate and genuine linguistic system (see Ashcroft 67). The development of such a system helps to displace standard English from its privileged place at a colonial or postcolonial country's cultural center. Tutuola's use and manipulation of both language and the fantastic play pivotal and complementary roles in his formulation of a discourse of resistance. Writing in English?
Achebe on Tutuola • “I have indicated somewhat offhandedly that the national literature of Nigeria and of many other countries in Africa is, or will be, written in English.” • “There is certainly a great advantage in writing in a world language.” • “I have said enough to give an indication of my thinking on the importance of the world language that history has forced down our throats.”
Achebe on Tutuola • The African writer…should aim at fashioning an English that is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience.” • “In this respect, Amos Tutuola is a natural. A good instinct has turned his apparent linguistic limitation into a weapon of great strength…”
the book borrows heavily from traditional Yoruba orature. Antithetically, its plot's structural basis, that of an extended quest on which a hero must do battle with various allegorically conceived monsters, was probably derived from Western sources--possibly from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Conjecture that Tutuola was influenced by Bunyan is supported by his admission to having read the poet while a student at the British school where he was educated Tutuola's use of capitalized chapter headings such as …. also hints at a Western influence. Tutuola probably derived this practice either from reading boy's adventure books or eighteenth-century novels, or quite possibly from reading English-style newspapers. The headings, as well as much of his phrasing throughout the book, without question possess both the appearance and tone of tabloid headlines. "THE INVESTIGATOR'S WONDERFUL WORK IN THE SKULL'S FAMILY'S HOUSE," "OUR LIFE WITH THE FAITHFUL MOTHER IN THE WHITE TREE,“ "TO SEE THE MOUNTAIN-CREATURES WAS NOT DANGEROUS BUT TO DANCE WITH THEM WAS THE MOST DANGEROUS" Western Influences
Bahktin, Rabelais and the Carnivalesque • Bakhtin describes the way that invoking the carnivalesque challenges the dominant social-political paradigm, the normal way of living: • “As opposed to the official feast, one might say that the carnival celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and form of the established order; it marked the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms, and prohibitions. Carnival was the true feast of time, the feast of becoming, change, and renewal. It was hostile to all that was immortalized and completed.”
Rebellion and Parody • In The Dialogical Imagination, Bakhtin offers an explanation of the social function of parody, which hints at why Tutuola may have been attracted both to this genre and to discourse blending in general. Moreover, Bakhtin's theories may help account for the reason Tutuola chooses to adopt a comical anti-heroic character-narrator. Bakhtin suggests that in the parodic discourse of the public sphere, that of the street or marketplace, or in this particular case, quite possibly, the school yard or soccer field, • “the heteroglossia of the clown sounded forth, ridiculing all "languages" and dialects; there developed ... street songs, folksayings, anecdotes, where there was no language-center at all, where there was to be found a lively play with the "languages" of poets, scholars, monks, knights and others, where all "languages" were masks and where no language could claim to be an authentic, incontestable face. “ -- Bahktin
Rebellion and Parody • Therefore, it may be argued that it is The Palm-Wine Drinkard's monstrous anti-realism that makes it such a powerful vehicle for sociopolitical critique. • Unquestionably, the book is fantastical, but ultimately its carnivalesque qualities provide a useful and effective kind of "fantasy space" from which to critique the colonial world.
“The Complete Gentleman” • “I could not blame the lady for following the Skull as a complete gentleman to his house at all. Because if I were a lady, no doubt I would follow him to wherever he would go, and still as I was a man I would jealous him more than that…” • If Tutuola's version of this story is read allegorically, in a manner informed by the circumstances that surrounded it composition, then it can be interpreted as a warning about some of the dangers and temptations offered by colonial/transitional life in Nigeria. Through his retelling of this tale Tutuola suggests that although Western ideas and projects might at first seem tempting and attractive, these things ultimately prove little more than a deceptive facade