Thursday, December 18, 2014

AMOS TUTUOLA – Quintessential African Writer


By Ishmael Mzwandile Soqaga

Ideally African literature is quite superlative for a number of reasons.  It is infelicitous that many libraries in Africa are not productively resourced to unfold this mammoth achievement.  Certainly it is hardly knotty to see some of the profoundly contribution of African authors in libraries; either in the urban or bucolic setting.  However it’s excitingly prodigious to appreciate the power of technology, in particular the internet which is fashionably indispensible to provide exquisite details about African literature.

Since its world recognition – African literature is burgeoning in a breathtaking way.  So many prolific writers in Africa are essentially committed in advancing fine creative literary work.  Countless books by superb writers can be found in many different parts of the world and others are also translated in a range of languages of the world.

Of course there are unsung literary catalysts and pioneers of African literature whose works are significantly transcendent.  Recently it becomes habitual that every time when African literature is mentioned readers would ignorantly think only about big names that are merely popular in African literary context.  Specifically; Africa has colossal number of authors – famous and infamous.  Another vexation about readers is when they ignominiously assume that for a book to be published it must necessarily be written in English or other European languages.

Sublime writers such as KP Maphalla who originally wrote his books in Sesotho, have influenced many fine writers in Africa.  Thomas Mofolo also contributed significantly in the world of letters.  His book Chaka which he wrote many decades ago still attracts the attention of many pundits and it also constitutes part of discussion and studies by scholars.  In fact Maphalla has been central to many writers like Pule Lechesa!  In Nigeria the charismatic Daniel O. Fagunwa played a very pivotal role in African literature, especially in promoting African indigenous literature.  In fact Daniel O. Fagunwa is one of the catalysts and pioneer of African indigenous literature in Africa.  His literary prowess which he illustrated with great zeal, definitely has hypnotized great number of African writers in Nigeria and in Africa too. 

Primarily, Amos Tutuola one of early hard-working,  prolific African writers was inspired by Fagunwa.  The sedulous Tutuola in his writings demonstrated a vivid understanding of the creative art of writing.  However, contrary to that in the academic point of view Amos Tutuola can be viewed in a different way.  Tentatively, the stereotypical academics inevitably wreaked havoc to literature.  Colonial stereotype among African intellectuals and academics convinced them to probably assume that literature is only the product of the academics - that those academics can produce fine creative work.  Unfortunately, although colonialism is defeated in Africa albeit, its legacy impacted abysmally among the academics.

I have been fascinated with O Bolaji one of Africa’s sons who continues to do excellently in literature.  He is an alumnus of the University of Obafemi Awolowo and a grassroots literary guru.  To give a succinct explanation – his books have formed a principal study among the scholars and the pundit.  Exhilarating books have been written about him too. But the point here is; Bolaji began to be fond of the world of letters when he was very young (toddler) before he could attend school.   Specifically, his Father the late Chief Eselby Bolaji who was a prolific writer too contributed immensely in his journey of literature.  Simply, the vigour and the passion that his Father had for books was very delectable and he was able to influence the children in the house.

Therefore, I believe it is absolutely unbecoming to suggest that authors need to receive certain training from school in order to become relevant authentic writers.  For instance, Amos Tutuola celebrated his first novel (Palm-wine Drinkard) which was actually published overseas many years before Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.  Tutuola was almost illiterate, yet he produced great literary works – one need not be highly educated before penning fine creative works/ books.  Job Mzamo the fantastic Free State (South Africa) based bard remains a veritable, pragmatic and exquisite writer who produced very superb poems in creative writing.  Like Tutuola, he only attended primary school but is a highly polished poet, with excellent diction and imagery.

Furthermore, Tutuola’s work has been highly acclaimed by both whites and African critics, including professors like Wole Soyinka.  He was a genuine African writer with inspiration from local folklore, traditions, superstitions etc.  Tutuola was a born story teller; hence he published about ten books in his lifetime, novels and short stories.

It is quite important for young African writers to start to read with enthusiasm about early writers like Tutuola.  Imperatively by reading and studying about such writers this will definitely add more understanding about early African writers.  The new writers will have an idea of pre – colonial situation, beliefs and ambience.  In fact the tragic reality is that only few young African writers now take inspiration from rural setting, villages, forests etc.

Unfortunately, the young generation today generally lacks stimulation, spirituality and introspection; and they are strongly inclined towards inane comments on social media.  One needs to be wary of such pernicious situation because if the situation continues it will eventually obliterate and cause great despair to African literature.   What price for new Amos Tutuolas to emerge in our modern era?         

Works by Amos Tutuola

The Palm-Wine Drinkard (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)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

PETER ABRAHAMS - What an inspiration!

By O Bolaji

Not far from becoming a centenarian now, the South African writer, Peter Abrahams in his pomp brilliantly inspired a generation of disparate African writers. 

On his own part, world class Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o would exhilaratingly point out that Abrahams' works fired his imagination as a young student, and made him feel that he could write too. It was the same for many other Africans all over the continent, including yours truly. 

I count myself very lucky to have been introduced to Peter Abrahams' early novel, Mine Boy, when I was still a kid at school in west Africa. The simplicity of the work was haunting, complemented by the very fine writing skills of the author.

It was only natural that as an impressionable youngster one would be prodded to try and get as many books of this particular author as possible - Tell Freedom, which was autobiographical, was easily available then, and another good read.

In respect of Mine Boy, the story of the metamorphosis of Xuma, the pertinent mine boy, from "strong simpleton" to a thinking gentleman and possible catalyst of change during apartheid is an unforgettable one.

One was forced to ponder dolefully: why couldn't all men be free and equal in this society? Why so many unfair crackdowns on the blacks by the powers that-be? Even Xuma's love affairs were frustrated and truncated by the state. His lovely "Eliza was gone..." - what pain for poor Xuma!

The impression one kept on getting from his works was that here was (Abrahams) a very decent man who just wanted to be treated as a human being and intermingle with others with facility.

Certainly in Tell Freedom, even in those days many decades ago in SA he was able to forge some friendships with some decent people across the colour bar; yet because of apartheid these people (say whites) could not even greet him in broad daylight in public! 

This broke the author's – and even such friends' - hearts - and further convinced Abrahams that he just had to get out of the country; which he managed to do...he wanted to be free!

Incidentally, this reminds one of Sindiwe Magona, the distinguished SA female black writer whose early life was made a misery too because of apartheid. As her works show, she wished she could be free too and mix with other is with choked glee that she happily recalls hosting white friends and acquaintances when she later lived in America... "This is what apartheid denied us..."

Unlike Magona who began writing creatively around her 40s, Peter Abrahams started to do so as a youngster. He always wanted to write and he did so competently and convincingly. He drew the attention of countless people around the world to the despicable situation in South Africa, even as he has retired in Jamaica for decades now. But what an inspiration!!   

Works published by Peter Abrahams

Dark Testament (1942)
Song of the City (1945)
Mine Boy (1946)
The Path of Thunder (1948)
Wild Conquest (1950)
Return to Goli (1953)
Tell Freedom (1954)
A Wreath for Udomo (1956)
A Night of Their Own (1965)
This Island Now (1966)
The View from Coyaba (1985)
The Black Experience in the 20th Century: An Autobiography and Meditation (2000)