Fun_People Archive
17 Jun
A sad day

Content-Type: text/plain
Mime-Version: 1.0 (NeXT Mail 3.3 v118.2)
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 17 Jun 97 15:43:58 -0700
To: Fun_People
Subject: A sad day

Forwarded-by: "Dan 'Dante' Tenenbaum" <>

Amos Tutola is dead....

             AMOS TUTUOLA

   Amos Tutuola, Nigerian novelist, died in Ibadan on
   June 8 aged 77. He was born in 1920.

   Although it delighted, engrossed and astonished so many
   readers in the English speaking world outside Africa, The
   Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), the undoubted masterpiece
   of the Yoruba folklorist and storyteller Amos Tutuola, was
   not at first much liked in his native Nigeria. This had
   something to do with the "quaintness" of his English which,
   while charming and funny, appeared to present a view of
   Africans to which Europeans could condescend if they

   Since it was the first book by an anglophone African author
   to be published commercially in a large edition this was
   perhaps unfortunate. But the perception that Tutuola had "let
   the side down" did less than justice to him and his work.
   Though intellectually simple minded, he had a powerful
   imagination and an autonomous mind. Although he was badly
   educated and his English was poor, there was nothing bogus
   about his perceptions.

   He was probably the exemplar of a naive (in the sense the
   word "primitive" is used of painters) writer of this century.
   His work fell off in quality, and his real stature was
   questioned by some of his fellow Nigerians; but he will
   certainly be remembered for his story of Nigerian village life,
   The Palm-Wine Drinkard, which is a prose epic on a
   legendary scale.

   Amos Tutuola was born in June 1920 (he did not know the
   exact date), in Abeokuta, a large Yoruba town in Western
   Nigeria 60 miles from Lagos. His father was a cocoa farmer.

   He did very well in such schools as Nigeria then had to offer.
   At the age of 12 he attended the Anglican Central School in
   Abeokuta and was always proud of the scholastic progress
   he made there. But when his father suddenly died in 1938 he
   had to forgo further education because, as he wrote, "the
   rest of my parents were so poor that they could not assist

   The following year he went to Lagos to learn smithery and
   joined the Royal Air Force as a blacksmith in 1942. He
   served in the RAF for the remainder of the war and on his
   discharge in 1945 he became a junior civil servant in the
   Department of Labour. After he had written his first three
   books and become internationally famous, he joined, in
   1956, the Nigerian Broadcasting Company as a storekeeper
   in Ibadan.

   Tutuola was brought up a Christian and was always a
   member of the African Church. It was the United Society for
   Christian Literature which was responsible for sending the
   manuscript of his first book, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, to
   London to the publishing house of Faber & Faber. Dylan
   Thomas, who read it, called it "brief, thronged, grisly and

   That this story, in an oral tradition but made distinctly odd by
   Tutuola's unsophisticated English, is a remarkable
   achievement is beyond question. But its appeal to English
   language readers consists, in part, in the naive language:
   "When my father noticed that I could not do any work more
   than to drink, he engaged an expert palm-wine tapster for
   me, he had no other work more than to tap palm-wine every

   This prose, as well as the lifestyle to which it apparently
   assented, offended more sophisticated West African writers,
   who were quick to point out the extent of Tutuola's debt to
   the superior Yoruba writer D. O. .Fagunawa (one of whose
   books was later translated from Yoruba into English by
   Wole Soyinka). However, Tutuola's writing is not merely
   quaint: he had a grasp - all the more secure for being so
   thoroughgoingly naive - of Yoruba myth and legend, and he
   had a brilliant and original imagination, unsullied, so to speak,
   by the pale cast of thought or education or by critical

   The notion, seriously considered by certain critics, that he
   had made a careful study of the works of Jung was absurd:
   he would have been quite incapable of this. But the
   comparison with Bunyan, who was also ill-educated, was
   more apt. Tutuola was certainly a visionary writer rather than
   a realistic novelist in the conventional mode.

   Tutuola was a member of the Mbari Club, the publishers and
   writers' club in Ibadan, but he played no part in the
   intellectual life of Nigeria: he was neither influenced by nor
   did he influence such leading Nigerians as Chinua Achebe or
   Wole Soyinka. By universal consent, his work fell off.

   He tended towards archness, having caught on to the fact
   that his use of English amused some of his foreign readers
   (however unfortunate that was). But there are fine moments
   in My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1954), his second book,
   and even in some later ones such as Feather Woman of the
   Jungle (1962). The great first book was turned into an
   opera by the Yoruba composer Kola Ogunmola; it was
   translated into a dozen other languages.

   Tutuola married Victoria Alake in 1947; they had four sons
   and four daughters.

prev [=] prev © 1997 Peter Langston []