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Sunday, January 3, 2016

*****The Palm-Wine Drinker by Amos Tutuola

  • Note: SPOILERS throughout my narrative. 

  •      Amos Tutuola,  1920-1997
    • A native of Abeokuta, a town in Western Nigeria, Tutuola is a member of the Yoruba tribe.
    • During his childhood, Tutuola was formerly educated for only six years.
    • Tutuola was educated in a village 23.75 miles from his father's village. When Tutuola needed money for school, fees and living expenses he had to make the long trek, on foot, to his father's village. Before that, he lived with an old woman hired by Tutuola's financial sponsor far away from home. She worked him like a slave, kept him from some of his schooling and barely fed him, saving the sponsor's money for herself. These experiences, along with the dark native tales that filled his boyhood, color Tutuola's work. His characters roam for hundreds of miles serving as slaves, starving, with garish metamorphic creatures challenging and abusing the protagonist at every turn. This is particularly seen in, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts where the narrator is on an unexpected journey that begins when he is a seven year old boy and continues into his adulthood.
    • Tutuola combines native Nigerian folklore, symbols and themes with contemporary culture. Together, they form the unique and surrealist imagery found in both stories. 
  • I enjoyed My Life in the Bush of Ghosts more than The Palm-Wine Drinkard, yet both are intensely memorable. The journey seems more complete, the story is deeper and more developed, as are the characters, especially the protagonist.
 My Life in the Bush of Ghosts - A Vignette
  • Themes: metamorphoses, hunger, the journey, animal sacrifice, good and evil (love/hate, hunger/satiated, confinement [ especially against ones will, etc.] /freedom )
Notes and Quotes
  • The bush is a where ghosts live. In some areas of Africa the bush is still forbidden territory. "This Bush of Ghosts was so dreadful that no superior earthly person ever entered it." (p. 22)
  • The Bush of Ghosts is located on the second side of the world between heaven and earth. Humans are strictly banned from the bush.
  • The narrator looses his youthful innocence during his nightmarish journey and learns the meaning of bad and good, which is what hatred did.
    •  p. 17 & p. 174  I was seven years old before I understood the meaning of 'bad' and 'good'...This is what hatred did. These are the first and last sentences of the story. The Bush comes in between. The narrator/boy was forced into the Bush to hide from war. The war is hatred learned.
  • Tutuola's imagery is deeply archetypal and highly visual. A few examples can be found in the following scenes: 
    • Once in the Bush of Ghosts, the narrator-boy comes upon a golden door leading to three rooms - one of gold, one of silver and one of copper. Each door is fronted by a naked ghost who is the same color as his door. The boy is told to pick which door he would like to enter.  Each ghost entices the narrator to choose his door by pointing a long and ugly beseeching finger at him. As he moves across and in front of each door/ghost, the narrator's body is flooded with light the color of each ghost's body.
    •  The boy's choice was also influenced by the smell of different foods pouring out of each colored door. The boy had not eaten in a while and was ravished. The smell of the enticing foods began to influence his decision as to which door to choose. The ghosts aware of this, told the boy he was not to make his choice with his mouth; yet he chooses the copper door because it smelled like African food, the food he is used to and loves. Upon entering, all havoc breaks loose. The three ghosts start fighting, pulling on the boy, terrifying and hurting him. When he screams, other ghosts in the area appear in order to help settle the matter. Some of the ghosts do not have hands, others no feet or heads, some are without eyes or ears. Order is temporarily restored when the fearful Smelling-Ghost arrives.
    • The Smelling-Ghost - living on his body were "all kinds of snakes, centipedes and flies...bees, wasps and uncountable mosquitoes...he wore many scorpions on his fingers as rings...and many poisonous snakes were on his neck as beads and he belted his leather trousers with a very big and long boa constrictor which was still alive. His smell...his body was full of excreta, urine and was also wet with the rotten blood of all the animals that he was killing for his food." The fighting does not stop so the Smelling-Ghost throws the boy into a bag filled with centipedes, small snakes and mosquitoes and takes off. The boy has no idea what is going to happen to him. This is where the punishments in the Bush of Ghosts begins for the boy and continues throughout the story until he is finally brought out of the Bush and magically returns home. Although being home is not an easy conclusion. You must read the book to find out why. 
  • The above description is a spoiler, albiet a relatively small one. There are many, many more ghosts and harrowing adventures to come. The imagery is as incredible and creative as it is grotesque. Tutuola's language, summoned from hundreds and thousands of years of oral tradition, are translated through his contemporary voice. He conjures up many of the fears experienced and shared by mankind. His literary voice is important both aesthetically and historically as it chronicles a rich and vanishing culture - especially as influenced by the West.

  • p. 162  ...every earthly person gets eyes but cannot see. 

The Palm-Wine Drinkard - A Vignette
  • Themes: the impermanence of death, fighting death, fertility of life: of soil and cycle of human life, the failure of nature, which leads to ritual sacrifices of food and people in order to restore balance.
  •  This story has a similar narrative in that the protagonist meets up with strange creatures culled from native symbols and mythology. Yet this journey is about death. Death is not permanent, it is not the end, but a passage. The narrator begins his quest as an adult. As such, he does not start out innocent as the boy in Bush of Ghosts. The protagonist starts out as a wealthy man who goes in search of his expert palm-wine tapster. 
  • Africa is being influenced by the Western world and becomes overpowered through colonization.
  • Following that thought, the loss of the palm-wine tapster is symbolic of the loss of the native African culture to modern European lifestyle, and as a result of colonization. The narrator journeys into the unknown world, in essence, to find his culture and bring it back home - the African bush. It is a sobering journey.
  • Tutuola illustrates how captives can wind up identifying with their captures and wind up working along side them.
  • The character, The Skull as the Complete Gentlemen, symbolizes the European modern gentlemen inciting his influence, causing temptation. The girl is warned not to be fooled by this man, but he proves irresistible.
  • The fear of death is universal due to the ephemeral nature of life. In this tale individuals can buy and sell certain aspects of their lives. For example, they can sell their deaths and live forever. But, they cannot sell fear. In order to avoid death, the narrator & his wife sell their deaths. However, they perpetually experience fear (of death) because fear is an innate part of death. So, while they will never die, they will always live with the imminent fear of death. 
  • p. 181    The missionaries - courageous and mostly doomed - frequently brought, or possibly had to bring, to their civilizing mission that narrow self-righteousness that is so often the sword and shield of the religious idealist.
  • p. 199    The old man had thought that Death would kill me if I went to his house, because nobody could reach Death's house and return, but I had known the old man's trick already.
  • p. 253    This is only fear for the heart but no dangerous to the heart.

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