This project explores the Amos Tutuola’s Palm – Wine Drinkard in
terms of it’s use of mythological icons. In particular, the project
seeks to explore the novel as an important artifact and a literary
product of social existence. It examines how “authencity” is signified
in The Palm – Wine Drinkard as it is written by a native artist. In
doing so, the project seek to demonstrate that it is an ambivalence over
the value and significance of The Palm – Wine Drinkard. Instability is
also provoked and acute cultural anxiety is shown in the work of a
“natural artist” such as Amos Tutuola in this case.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.1 The Meaning of Mythology
1.2 African Belief System and Myth
1.3 The Yoruba Perception of Myth
1.4 The Purpose and Significance of Study
1.5 Aims and Objectives
1.7 Scope of Study
1.8 Playwrights Autobiography
2.1 Nature of Myth
2.2 The Influence of Mythology on African Creative Writers
2.3 Essence and Function of Mythology in the African Society
ELEMENTS OF MYTH IN AMOS TUTUOLA THE PALM-WINE DRINKARD
TRADITIONAL AFRICAN SOCIETAL OVERVIEWS AND CONCLUSION
1.1 THE MEANING OF MYTHOLOGY
Mythology is a collection of traditional stories that express the
belief of values of a group of people. The stories often focus on human
qualities such as good and evil.
Myths often tell the story of ancestors, supernatural beings, heroes,
gods, or goddesses with special powers sometimes myths try to describe
aspects of customs or explain natural events such as the sun or
lightning. These stories sometimes contain mythical characters such as
mermaids, unicorn, or dragons. All cultures have some type of myths for
example, the classical mythology of the ancient Greeks and Romans is
familiar to most people. The stories of nature American people are also
well known. The same myths can often be found in different part of the
world. For example creation stories related to plants, animals and
people are common among may cultures.
The study of myth is called mythology and myth belongs to the sphere
of will. It does not have a single form or act according to the simple
set of rules, either from epoch or from culture to culture. Most
mythical stories concern divinities (divine beings). These divinities
have supernatural powers – powers far greater than any humans beings
has. But, in spite of their supernatural powers, many gods, goddesses,
and heroes of mythology have human characteristics. A number of mythical
figures even look like human being and in many cases, the human
qualities of the divinities reflect society idea. Good gods and
goddesses have the qualities a society admires and evil ones have the
qualities the society dislikes.
An old theory, and myth that has enjoyed considerable vogue, holds
that myth is oral narratives which explain the essences and sequences of
ritual performances, thereby preserving the memory of these elements
for posterity such that myth is second to rituals, in terms of
evolution. Myth is usually divided into two groups, the creation and
explanatory myths. Creation myths try to explain the origin of the
world, the creation of human beings and the birth of gods and goddesses
and this type of myth is developed by the early societies.
Explanatory myth, in its own case, tries to explain natural processes
or events. Many societies have developed myth to explain the formation
and characteristics of geographical features such as lake, rivers,
ocean, etc. Some myth through the actions or particular gods and heroes,
stress proper behaviour and this has to do with the ancient Greek’s
strong belief in moderation; that is nothing should be done in excess.
Thus, one notes that myth involves living and this clearly indicates
the element of struggle in human nature. For thousands of years,
mythology has provided material for much of the world’s great art. Myth
and mythological characters have inspired masterpieces of architecture,
literature, music etc. Mythical beings fall into several groups, these
include ‘anthropomorphic’ divinities, which are called from Greek
expression meaning ‘in the shape of man’, these divinities were born,
fell in love, fought with one another and generally behaved like their
human worshippers. Another group of myth beings include gods and
goddesses who resemble animals and these characters are called
‘Theriomorphic’ which mean ‘in the shape of animal’ and many of these
occur in Egyptian mythology.
The third group of mythical beings has no specific name; these beings
were neither completely human nor complete animal. An example is the
famous sphinx of Egypt who had a human head and a horse body. Human
beings play an important part in mythology as myth deals with the
relationships between mortals and divinities. There are two ways in
which the presence of myth in any society may be explained; one is by
the way of diffusion and the other is through the independent working of
Myth hides nothing and flaunt nothing: it distorts; it is neither a lie nor a confession; it is an influxion.
1.2 AFRICAN BELIEF SYSTEM AND MYTH
A wide variety of mythologies have developed among many people that
live in Africa; and some of these mythologies are simple and primitive
while others are elaborate and complex.
African mythology is a living chronicle in the minds of people. Myth
expresses the history, culture and the experience of the African man and
it portrays his wishes and the fears as he gropes to understand the
unknown by disserting and remolding it to fit his frame of reference. In
the study of myth, the African’s metaphysics is created and his beliefs
are constructed. African mythology as every other form of African
conceptual pattern, emphasise human interaction in life itself. It,
thus, explains the context of various African cultures and norms though
spiritual communication which often occurs in African myth as a means to
uplift the living from the sorrows of their entanglements in the ‘here
and now’ philosophy. A myth is created to enhance this and this is done
Perhaps the best – known African mythologies are those of the West
African Ashanti, fon, and Yoruba people. Nyame is the Ashanti sky and
fertility god, the rain source for his wife Arase ya, the earth itself.
It is the culture hero trickster Aranse the spider who acts as the god’s
connection to human beings. Essentially, Arranse corrects the mistakes
of Nyame’s creation, convincing the god to send rain to counteract the
extreme heat of the new sun, and river and ocean banks to contain the
water that would otherwise have flooded the world. Aranse also lives up
to his trickster reputation by succeeding in marrying the high god’s
Among the fon the supreme deity is Nana Buluku, his twin children
Mahu and Lisa – female and male, earth and sky, fertility and venality –
establish balance in the world. Their son, Dan, maintain life by
controlling the deities who embody aspect of nature.
The Yoruba sky god is the aloof Olorun, who load children by the
primordial waters, Olokun. These were Obatala of the sky and Odudua of
the earth. Some their union came dry and wet trail, which produced
Orungan, who made live to his mother, producing the later Yoruba
pantheon. The gods of this pantheon represent various phenomena and
The concept of African mythology is to justify the African wisdom and
thus the African scholars find their creature impetus in myth, history
and customs. In the light of this mythical concepts, Africans have been
able to find their world – view and have made intellectual attempt to
understand the phenomenon with which they continually live as Africans.
The imprint of myth in the African worldview cannot be obliterated; it
educate African about the details of African cosmological beliefs, their
meaning and their origins.
1.3 THE YORUBA PERCEPTION OF MYTH
The Yoruba cosmogony revolves essentially around the belief in gods,
ancestors, spirits and taboos. For a typical Yoruba man, most of the
divinities are supposed to have been men and to have been exhausted for
their heroic deeds to the admiration and effection of the people.
Therefore he believes that in order to maintain societal status quo,
there is need to maintain a perfect and cordial relationship between
himself and the gods, it is this realization that brings about
The Yoruba society like any other African society comprises mainly of
farmers and hunters whose means of livelihood depend mostly on proceeds
from the land and forest. And they being aware of both physical and
natural threats like war, farming drought, flood etc, realize the need
to appease and propitiate the spirits and gods of the land at the
appropriate time, for good harvest fruitful hunting, and protection from
In their bid to achieve all these, they developed festivals and
rituals which most of the time involves a symbolic enactment of the life
of some of the gods. The rituals mostly contain sacrifice, which is the
acknowledged means of propitiation and purification. Sacrifices are
made to the gods with things that are peculiar to each of them, ranging
from in-animated to animated things. It is the priest or priestress as
the case may be, that heeds in the ritual act. The people regard the
priests and priestesses as representatives of the gods.
Modern African playwrights in their bid to present what can be
characterized as a true African drama dive into the history and
background of the people which are manifested in their myth, legend,
folktales, taboos, proverbs, songs etc. They attempt to depict the
sociological, religious, political, economic, cultural and ethical
beliefs of the people vis-à-vis their norms and values. One example of
such playwrights is Amos Tutuola, who, making perfect use of his
knowledge about the Yoruba cosmos, wrote “The Palm-wine Drinkard”.
1.4 THE PURPOSE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF STUDY
The importance of studying this text is based on mythology. “The
Palm-wine Drinkard” uses mythology and symbolism to explore various
aspect of death. One definite theme is that death is not an end but a
transition. The drunkard faces death many times and in many ways but
lives through the experiences. In fact, early in the story be pays Death
himself a visit and tricks Death into falling into a net, so that Death
can not go back home again. “So since that day that I had brought Death
out from his house, he has no permanent place to dwell or stay and we
are hearing this name about in the world (Chapter 1, p. 199).
It is usual to hear that these tale express the “traditional
sensibility” of an “African” world view and offer a window into the
inchoate and frightening world of the primitive imagination. So general
statement would be quite misleading. The story and the narrative and
visionary techniques reflect one particular and identifiable aspect of a
complex and sophisticated tradition.
In the oral tradition the folktale – a rural and cautionary story but
clearly recognized as fiction and entertainment – had free range of
this random and arbitrary world. Because they were intended for
entertainment and instruction, these tales could be as horrific,
frightening and bizarre as the inauguration could render them. They
require the willing suspension of belief.
“The Palm-wine Drinkard” tells the story of a young man whose sole
occupation is in drinking palm-wine, and lots of it. His father provides
him with a palm-wine tapper who keeps him supplied when the palm-wine
tapper dies, the palm-wine drinkard decides to undertake a journey to
Through his journey he tricks men, gods, and ghosts, saves many
people, and ends up meeting all kinds of different ghosts and creatures.
The story is fantastic and well worth the read.
The story is told in Nigerian English as it existed when Tutuola
wrote the book. The writing style gives it a very unique and different
feel which really adds to the folktale feel and makes it seem more real.
1.5 AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
The most significant aim of myth is based on the element of
supernatural and mysteries. This is done to create fear in bath the
minds of the reader. In traditional African literature most of things
done are shrouded in mysterious. Thus modern African playwrights rely
heavily on these apparatus to create the desired effects in their text.
African modern literature in its attempt to capture the mystic effects
of the traditional literature, relies on costuming which has to
correspond with the culture and belief of the Africans.
The former aim at the most general statement, focus on myth as one
general factor in human thought, the teller emphasise the variety of
myths. Efforts are made on one hand to father the inner meaning of myth
because of the authoritative, indeed revelatory function they have for
human existence, while on the other hand, there is tendency to deal with
myth in term of general theory of man that may be inspired
biologically, psychologically or any other way.
The original Greek term for myth (mythos) denotes “word” in the sense
of a decisive, final pronouncement. Myth present extraordinary events
without trying to justify them, people have sometimes assumed that myth
are simply unprovable and false stories and thus have made the word a
synonym for fable. However, through indept study of myth was discovered
that there are distinct differences between myth and fable.
All survey of myth scholarship done by inquests, anthropologists,
folklorists and literary critics reveal that a concensus of what the
term ‘myth’ means has never seen achievement within any of these fields
let alone among them. Even a simple rehearsing of the arguments that has
taken place would lead us far away from our topic, so we will need to
accept for the time being the working definition of myth in this work.
The study is purely applied research, it is based on an extensive
library research of published and unpublished materials. There is no
doubt, however, sharing the same socio-cultural background with the
playwright, the present researcher has a good insight into the study.
This, in fact, does not make the study a basic research rather it is an
applied research of critical examinations of Amos Tutuola’s mythic text.
1.7 SCOPE OF STUDY
This study, however, shall focus on Amos Tutuola myth. One of his
text, “The Palm-wine Drinkard” shall be critically and analytically
examined base on the above topic, mythological icons in Amos
Tutuola’s “The Palm-wine Drinkard”. To really do justice to this
pre-occupation, the present researcher shall also adopts a form of
comparative study of the text.
The study shall be divided into four chapters: Chapter one states the
rationale behind the study and it also spells out the scope,
organization and methodology of the study. Chapter two is review of
relevant literature on nature of Amos Tutuola’s text, whilst in chapter
three we shall examine the mythological element in Tutuola’s work.
Chapter four, the last chapter, concludes the study.
1.8 PLAYWRIGHTS AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Amos Tutuola was born 1920, Abeokuta, Nigeria. He was a Nigerian
writer. He had only six years of formal schooling and wrote in English
and outside the mainstream of Nigerian literature. His stories
incorporated Yoruba myths and legends into loosely constructed prose
epics that improvised on traditional themes. His best – known work
is “The Palm-wine Drinkard”(1952), a classic quest tale that was the
first Nigerian book to achieve international fame. His later works
include the tale The Witch – Herbalist of the Remote Town (1981), Yoruba
Folktales (1986), and Village Witch Doctor (1990). Tutuola hoard his
first folk stories at his 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 tages High
School for a year, and worked as a houseboy for a government clerk. 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 stores a number of other vocations, including selling
bread, and messengering for the Nigerian Department of Labour. 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 Victoria Alake.
“The Palm-wine Drinkard” and His Dead Palm in Tapster in the Dead’s
Town by Amos Tutuola is the novel that gained Nigerian writer Amos
Tutuola acclaim in the west and criticism at home. The book was based on
Yoruba folklore, but was largely his own.
Amos Tutuola achieved only sixth grade education due to financial
constraints following his father’s death. He later tried his hand at
farming without success, then pursued the blacksmith trade. He served as
a coppersmith in the West African Air Corps of the British military in
World War II. After the War Tutuola had to take a job as a messenger,
and it gave him time, between errands, to write down stories he had
heard. His first novel, “The Palm-wine Drinkard” and his Dead Palm-wine
Tapster in the Deads’ Town, became the subject of much controversy
because of its frequently ungrammatical, though stylist and vivid,
writing. A landmark work, it was the first novel to be published by a
Nigerian author, and also the first novel by a black African to be
written in English. The work is classified as a novel, but there has
been some debate about whether this designation is accurate, since “The
Palm-wine Drinkard” incorporates so much oral tradition. Indeed, this
novel has provided many with their first glimpse into Yoruba
folklore “The Palm-wine Drinkard” draws heavily on traditional
folktales, which has been another source of controversy, prompting some
claim that the work plagiarizes the intellectual property of the Yoruba