• July 25, 2023

A Writer’s First Africa Breakthrough: Nigerian Primary School Graduate Amos Tutuola

by Amos Tutuola palm wine drinker it has the distinction of being the first African novel to have achieved international recognition. The acclaimed English poet Dylan Thomas was the one who influenced its critical reception through a laudatory early review. The resulting attention gave Tutuola’s book cult status in the West. But at home, Tutuola’s fellow Nigerians were initially embarrassed. Many educated Nigerians were simply horrified by the book. They deplored his crudeness, his lack of inhibition, and the folktale basis of his novels. Because they found this place too ordinary for their sophisticated tastes. [Collins]

Tutuola’s limited social background itself is a sufficient explanation for such rejection of his effort by the people of his country and the picturesque oddity of his work itself. Born in 1920 in Abeokuta, in the western region of Nigeria, into a peasant family, he grew up in the midst of a great heritage of traditional Yoruba culture. In particular, he was subjected to a regular diet of traditional stories. Tutuola heard the first popular stories of him at the knee of his Yoruba-speaking mother. Tutuola along with the Nobel Prize winner, Wole Soyinka, belongs to this Yoruba tribe of more than 4 million people who stand out for their vivacity and creativity. When he was about 7 years old, one of his father’s cousins ​​took him to live with FO Monu, an Ibo man, as his servant. Instead of paying Tutuola money, he sent the boy to the Salvation Army primary school. He then attended Lagos High School for one year and worked as a live-in servant for a government employee to secure his enrollment in the school.

It is said that two years later, after starting school, in 1930, Tutuola’s education and general welfare were entrusted to a tutor under whose watchful care he made rapid progress at school. However, the oppression of his guardian’s wife soon forced him to return to his father, who continues to support his education with the earnings from his cocoa farm. But after his father’s death in December 1938, while Amos was in first grade, the 6-year-old’s education came to a complete halt because no one else could finance it. He tried his hand at farming, but his crop failed and he moved to Lagos in 1940. During World War II he worked for the Royal Air Force as a blacksmith. This he did for a short time from 1942 to 1943 and then, after a failed attempt to open his own blacksmith shop, he tried a number of other vocations, including selling bread, before relapsed into virtual unemployment. s.

It was while working at the Department of Labor that Tutuola wrote his first novel, The Palm Wine Drinker. He was spurred to write it after reading an advertisement placed by a Christian publisher that had printed collections of African Stories. In 1946, Tutuola completed his first full-length book, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, in a few days: “When I was at school I was a storyteller,” he later said… In an interview, Tutuola revealed that in writing that novel he strove to appeal to “our young people, our young sons and daughters” who did not pay much attention to our traditional culture…

The first draft was written in two days, and published eight years later by a British publisher. Tutuola recalled when the editors contacted him (They) wondered if I made it up or got it from someone else because they find it so strange. They wondered why they were surprised to see such a story… They wanted to know if I made it up or got it from someone else. The Palm Wine Drinker it was first published in 1952 in London by a major British publisher, Faber and Faber, and the following year in New York by Grove Press.

Most of her critics and reviewers acknowledge her imaginative prowess.

Mr. Tutuola tells his story as if nothing like it had ever been written before… The very beginning of literature is looming, that moment when sixteen years are finally written and the myths and legends of an illiterate culture come true. [The New Yorker]

The narrative is imaginatively rich, with images drawn from both African legends and modern realities… The Palm Wine Drinker it may not be, in fact, a product of genius, but it certainly is that of unusual talent… [Larrabbee]

… Tutuola is not only an original writer, but also an original; a wayward, fanciful, erratic creative artist… whose fertile imagination works merrily. [Times Literary Supp.]

Tutuola has an imagination… He may not possess the genius of the most imaginative writers at work, but he can hold his own on sheer invention. [Ekwensi]

From the very beginning, the reader is drawn into a magical world in which events occur exactly as the subconscious mind would represent them in a dream. [Balogun]

(The Palm Wine Drinker) is the short, detailed, hair-raising, and captivating story, or series of stories, written in young English by a West African, about the journey of a palm-wine drunken expert and devotee through a nightmare of unspeakable adventures, all simply and carefully described in the spirit-bristling bush…and nothing is too prodigious or too trivial to write in this tall and devilish tale (p. 8). [Dylan Thomas]

In a sense, he is an epic poet who, as a man, belongs nowhere, and this isolation is both his tragedy and his artistic force… (Whatever) his sources, in his best work, Tutuola makes something new out of his material. He writes a lot about himself, and his writing is independent, unrelated to any other Nigerian writing in English. There is tremendous courage in man, for he has been able to go on alone, holding true to an inner vision that perceives both the dazzling multicolored areas of the dream and the hideous forests of the nightmare (Margaret Lawrence 1968).

“Nothing is too prodigious or too trivial to put into this tall and devilish story.” Dylan Thomas in The Observer (July 6, 1952)

The work was praised in England and the United States, but Tutuola’s harshest critics were his own countrymen, who attacked his broken English and attacked him for presenting a derogatory image of Nigeria.

The work survived the storm and became part of the classics of African literature. The stage version of the novel was first performed at the University of Ibadan Theater of Arts, in April 1963, with the Yoruba composer Kola Ogunmola in the title role.

In the 1950s Tutuola wrote My life in a ghost bush (1954), an underworld odyssey, in which an eight-year-old boy, abandoned during a slave raid, flees into the bush, “a place of ghosts and spirits.” One reviewer described it in african presence as the “expression of ghosts and African terror, alive with humanity and humility, and an extraordinary world where the mixture of Western influences come together, but always without the slightest trace of incoherence”. .

In The brave African hunter (1958) Heroic Women continues the theme of the search. Tutuola seems as always to exhibit the gifts of a famous village storyteller, often speaking of dreams, the most basic source of archetypal imagery.

After The Palm Wine Drinker Tutuola never had the same success. He continued to explore Yoruba traditions and folklore sources, publishing works such as The witch-herbalist of the remote city (1981) and The village witch doctor and other stories (1990). In these ghost works, wizards and magic continue their existence in the modern world of watches, televisions and telephones. “Having related his story and said that if he licked the sore it would be cured as the sorcerers said, then I replied: “I want you to go back to your sorcerers and tell them that I refuse to lick the sore.” now, yes or no?” (from ‘Television-handed Ghostess’ in My Life in the Ghost Bush1954)

During many of his most productive years, Tutuola worked as a warehouseman for the Nigerian Broadcasting Company. In 1957 he was transferred to Ibadan, in western Nigeria, where he began to adapt the play for the stage. In 1969 the first comprehensive study of Amos Tutuola, written by Harold Collins, was published. Tutuola also became one of the founders of the Mbari Club, the Ibadan organization of writers and publishers. In 1979 he was a researcher at the University of Ife and then an associate of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. In the late 1980s, Tutuola returned to Ibadan. He died on June 8, 1997.

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