Amos Tutuola

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My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
D E C E M B E R  1 6

The Jezebel Spirit

'Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha...
Do you hear voices? You do. So you are possessed.
You are a believer born again and yet you hear voices in your body.
Okay, now are you ready to deliver them?.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha...
Put your hat over there.
Okay sister, you have a Jezebel Spirit within you. You have a Spirit of Grief, and you have a Spirit of Destruction.
Jezebel! Spirit of Destruction! Spirit of Grief! I bind you with chains of iron! I bind you out of that bounded heaven! Lessen your hold and come out of her now!

Start blowing out, sister... Out... Out, Jezebel! Come out now! Go ahead... Out in the name of Jesus! Come on Destruction! Come on Grief! Jezebel, you're gonna listen to me! Jezebel! Go ahead sister, keep blowing... Jezebel, I'm binding you! She was intended by God to be a virtuous woman! You have no right to her, her husband is the head of the house! Out, Jezebel! Out! Out! And Jesus said: ... That's right, Break your power Jezebel! Loosen your hold. Go ahead, sister... Go ahead, sister...Use your head. That was easy. You can sit down now.'

- Brian Eno/David Byrne from the the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)

This was how I came to know of the Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola (1920-97). This seminal album which combined found voices with the pioneering music of Eno and Byrne was a revelation to me as it was to so many others. Worldly and other-worldely at the same time. And The Jezebel Spirit, with its crazed voice of the exorcist somewhere around New Orleans was the jewel in the crown.

The album title, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, was exotically evocative and in the sleeve notes was the name Amos Tutuola. It was his 1954 book the title came from and so with the hypnotic beats of Bush of Ghosts ringing in my ears I went and bought my copy of the book, the Faber & Faber issue with the rather boring cover. And boy, I soon realised that other than the title the book and the music bore no relation to each other whatsoever. Where the music was deadly serious the book was lighter, with warmth and humour. It came as no surprise therefore when I heard Bryne admit that at the time of the making of the album they hadn't actually read the book, but felt the title 'seemed to encapsulate what this record was about' (click here for Byrne's notes on the making of the album).

My initial reaction to the book was one of disappointment primarily because it was so unlike the music. I found its primitive style a little hard to take, the broken-English hard to take in (Tutuola wrote all his novels in English). But on reading it again and putting aside my sniffy preconceptions and pretensions, I came to love the book. The tale, the writing, the drama ... all is exhausting, disjointed, disfigured, dis-everything!! That is its charm - it is clever at not being clever unlike the album. A journey through the unknown is written with childlike innocence very few authors have matched. When the mortal ventures into the 'bush of ghosts' he does so at his own peril and the way Tutuola writes it is the only way we could appreciate fully the fear and terror of the small boy's journey. Drama seems to slap you in the face in every sentence.

The bewitched and bewitching My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was Tutuola's 2nd novel after the more widely read The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952).

Amos Tutuola's biog. is below.

© - Paul Page (2016)

Amos Tutuola
Amos Tutuola

A M O S  T U T U O L A

Nigerian writer, who gained world fame with his story Palm-Wine Drinkard. "I was a palm-wine drinkard since I was a boy of ten years of age," Tutuola started the novel. "I had no other work more than to drink palm-wine in my life." The book was based on Yoruba folktales, but in his own country Tutuola was accused of falsifications and uncivilized language. The novel is a transcription in pidgin English prose of an oral tale of his own intervention. It recounted the mythological tale of a drunken man, who follows his dead tapster into "Deads' Town", a world of magic, ghosts, demons, and supernatural beings. According to the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, Tutuola's works can also be read as moral tales commenting on Western consumerism: "What happens when a man immerses himself in pleasure to the exclusion of all work?"

    "But of course, there are two kinds of people on earth.
    One - The people of the towns are more sensible than tortoises.
    Two - The wild people of the jungles are as senseless as donkeys."

    --(from The Witch-Herbalist of the Reemmmmote Town, 1981)

Amos Tutuola was born in Abeokuta, a large town in Western Nigeria. His father, Charles Tutuola, was was a farmer. Tutuola heard his first folk stories at his Yoruba-speaking mother's knee. When he was about 7 years old, one of his father's cousins took him to live with F.O. Monu, an Ibe man, as a servant. Instead of paying Tutuola money, he sent the young boy to the Salvation Army primary school. He attended Lagos High School for a year, and worked as a live-in houseboy for a government clerk in order to ensure his tuition at the school. When his father died in December 1938, Tutuola had to end his studies. He tried his luck as a farmer, but his crop failed and he moved to Lagos in 1940. During World War II he worked for the Royal Air Forces as a blacksmith, and tried a number of other vocations, including selling bread, and messengering for the Nigerian Department of Labor. In 1946 Tutuola completed his first full-length book, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, within a few days - "I was a story-teller when I was in the school," he later said. Next year he married married Victoria Alake.

    "All of Tutuola's books present an oddly timeless world where ancient Yoruba folkloric and religious realities simultaneously exist with Western Christian and scientific realities... While no explicit references are given by the author to major events in Africa's colonial and postcolonial history, it is easy to be struck by how the persistently repeated motif of "trial by fire," a passage heroically won by demonstrations of courage, ingenuity, faith, and intensively focused and lengthy labor, speaks to the present political, social and economic realities of postcolonial Africa." (Norman Weinstein in Post-Colonial African Writers, ed. by Pushipa Naidu Parekh and Siga Fatima Jagne, 1998)

The Palm-Wine Drinkard was published in 1952 in London by a major British publisher, Faber and Faber, and next year in New York by Grove Press. Dylan Thomas wrote in The Observer (6 July, 1952) in his review "nothing is too prodigious or too trivial to put down in this tall, devilish story." The work was praised in England and the United States, but Tutuola's most severe critics were his own countrymen, who attacked his imperfect English and presenting a disparaging image of Nigeria. After the storm had calmed, the stage version of the novel was first performed in the Arts Theatre of the University of Ibadan, in April 1963, with the Yoruba composer Kola Ogunmola in the leading role.

In the 1950s Tutuola wrote My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (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". Oumar Doduo Thiam saw in PresÚnce Africaine that the work is the "expression of ghosts and of African terror, alive with humanity and humility, and extraordinary world where the mixture of Western influences are united, but one always without the least trace of incoherence." Brian Eno and David Byrne took the title of the book for their 1981 album.

In The Brave African Huntress (1958) heroic women continue the theme of the quest. It has been said, that if Tutuola had never written a line, he would have been a famous village storyteller. He often told of dreams, the most basic source of archetypal images. Tutuola's language is uncorrupted by Western literary gimmicks, words are short and simple, but the impact is fresh and poetic. "It was not yet eight o'clock in the night before everybody slept in this town and again when it was ten o'clock a heavy rain came and beat me till the morning, and also the mosquitoes which were as big as flies did not let me rest once till the morning, but I had no hands to be driving them away from my body, although it is only in this "Bush of Ghosts" such big mosquitoes could be found, and I was in the rain throughout the night I was feeling the cold so that I was shaking together with my voice, but he had no fire to warm my body."

After The Palm-Wine Drinkard Tutuola never had quite the same success. He continued to explore Yoruba traditions and its folkloric sources, and published such works as The Witch-Herbalist of the Remote Town (1981) and The Village Witch Doctor and Other Stories (1990). In these works ghosts, sorcerers, and magic continue their existence in the modern world of clocks, televisions, and telephones. "Having related her story and said that if I am licking the sore it would be healed as the sorcerers said, so I replied - "I want you to go back to your sorcerers and tell them I refuse to lick the sore." After I told her like this she said again - "It is not a matter of going back to the sorcerers, but if you can do it look at my palm or hand." But when she told me to look at her palm and opened it nearly to touch my face, it was exactly as a television, I saw my town, mother, brother and all my playmates, then she was asking me frequently - "do you agree to be licking the sore with your tongue, tell me, now, yes or no?" (from 'Television-handed Ghostess' in My life in the Bush of Ghosts, 1954) Throughout many of his most productive years Tutuola worked as a storekeeper for the Nigerian Broadcasting Company. In 1957 he was transferred to Ibadan, Western Nigeria, where he started to adapt the work onto the stage. In 1969 appeared the first full-length study of Amos Tutuola, written by Harold Collins. Tutuola became also one of the founders of Mbari Club, the writers' and publishers' organization in Ibadan. In 1979 he was a research fellow at the University of Ife and then an associate of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. In the late 1980s Tutola moved back to Ibadan.

He died on June 8, 1997.


Selected Bibliography
A M O S  T U T U O L A

  • The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1946, published 1952)
  • My Life in the Bush of 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 the Ghosts (1982)
  • Yoruba Folktales (1986)
  • Pauper, Brawler and Slanderer (1987)
  • The Village Witch Doctor and Other Stories (1990)

    Recommended Reading
    A M O S  T U T U O L A

    Amos Tutuola books available: |

    My Life in the Bush of Ghosts: Remastered CD

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