The truth is an offense, but not a sin!
Is he who laugh last, is he who win!
-----Bob Marley
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
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).
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
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
elections in April
2003 did nothing to
quell international
concerns about
Nigeria's stability. It
seems this is once
again a make-orbreak 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.
“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,
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
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
Writing in English?
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
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
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
“There is certainly a great
advantage in writing in a world
“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
“In this respect, Amos
Tutuola is a natural. A
good instinct has turned
his apparent linguistic
limitation into a weapon
of great strength…”
Western Influences
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 eighteenthcentury 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.
Bahktin, Rabelais and the Carnivalesque
Bakhtin describes the way that
invoking the carnivalesque
challenges the dominant socialpolitical 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 PalmWine 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
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

AMOS TUTUOLA - David Lavery