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Remembering Amos Tutuola, he died in June 1997

By Alexander Opicho

Amos Tutuola, a Yoruba writer was known for his book The Palm Wine Drinkard, it was the first novel from West Africa, and it was critically acclaimed for its unconventional writing style. This book is a narration about the life of an unnamed man who is addicted to palm wine. The book is written in Pidgin English. According to an opinion written by Nduta Waweru in Face2Face Africa, the traditional Western critics have over the years termed the books as ‘primitive’, ‘barbaric or written in ‘young English’.

The German literature scholar, Ullier Bier writes in the Political Spider, an anthology of short stories, that Amos Tutuola first went to school aged 14 years old. He, however, had to drop out after his father died in 1939. Then he chose to how to be a blacksmith, this skill took him to the Royal Air Force.

Tutuola wrote his first book in 1947 after he had worked a number of menial and low paying jobs, including selling bread and working as a messenger. This is one of the reasons why he published The Palm Wine Drinkard after he had kept the script in the house for a very long time. He was a man of low social network and connections, hence did not know where to send manuscript for publishing.

Amos Tutuola also once worked as a storekeeper at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation since 1956. He worked as a civil servant until retirement and went ahead to write 11 books and very many short stories and poems in different anthologies. His last book The Village Witch Doctor and other stories were published in 1990.

A decade ago Amos Tutuola had been awarded an honorary citizenship in New Orleans that was in 1983. He was also named the honorary fellow of Modern Language Association in 1989 and then three years later, the Pan African Writers Association awarded him a Diploma of Native Patrons in 1992. Tutuola had also worked in his home country, Nigeria as the research fellow to the University of Ife in 1979 and also as an associate to the international writing program at the University of Iowa in 1983.

Even though Amos Tutuola had the most illustrious writing career he was not fortunate when it came to owning properties, he died in neglect and poverty in 1997 at the age of 77 years old. He died of hypertension and diabetes. The highest amount of money that Tutuola received received from his writing work was only $50 as royalties for the Palm-Wine Drinkard. Nigerian politics and society did not recognize Tutuola with any art and literature prize despite his contribution to Nigerian and African literature. It was only Taban Lo Liyong who recognized Tutuola by writing a humorous poem about him, the poem title was Amos Tutuola the sin of Zinjathropus. Maybe Tutuola will be remembered one time in the future the way Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote was only remembered in 2017 by the government of Spain, this was four centuries since Cervantes died.

By-Alexander Opicho writes (From Lodwar, Kenya) [email protected]