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Complete summary of Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard. eNotes plot summaries cover all the significant action of The Palm-Wine Drinkard. When Amos Tutuola’s first novel, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, appeared in , it aroused exceptional worldwide interest. Drawing on the West African Yoruba. The Palm-Wine Drinkard, in full The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm- Wine Tapster in the Dead’s Town, novel by Amos Tutuola, published in and .

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On the way he meets with a series of adventures, in the process gaining a wife and wisdom. He later tried his hand at farming, without success, then pursued the blacksmith trade. After the war Tutuola had to take a job as palmwine messenger, and it gave him time, between errands, to write down stories he had heard. 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 tge has been some debate about whether this designation is accurate, since The Palm-Wine Drinkard incorporates so much oral tradition.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads’ Town

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 to claim that the work plagiarizes the intellectual property of the Yoruba people.

In fact, Tutuola, who was Yoruba himself, acknowledged his debt, in particular to an old man who told him tales on Dinkard over tumblers of palm wine. Although The Palm-Wine Drinkard brought him international acclaim, Tutuola afterward remained a literary outsider, preferring to spend his time with blacksmiths and other working-class men rather than with writers and intellectuals.

He continued his literary career, completing five more novels before his death inbut none of them received the international notoriety gained by his first published work. This entry therefore focuses on the elements pslm-wine traditional Yoruba thd that have persisted through time, as well as on the history of change in Yorubaland that led to the writing of The Palm-Wine Drinkard in the English language.

In Yoruba lore, the god Obatala descended on a golden chain from the heavens—ruled by Olodumare, the supreme deity—to an earth that was tuthola with water.

Obatala scattered grains of sand on the water that formed solid earth, and he named this first place Ife, which became the original Yoruba city. In the new ground he planted a palm nut that brought forth palm trees, the first vegetation. Orunmila then formed human beings out of clay. While working, he drank palm wine—an alcoholic beverage fermented from the sap of palm trees—so a few of these beings came out misshapen, with crooked backs, crippled limbs, and other deformities.

The new humans were the Yoruba people, and Ife became their cultural center. Yorubaland extends from the Atlantic coast, where navigable rivers crisscross swamps and marshy forests, to more temperate forests of the inland regions that gradually give way to savanna grasslands speckled with trees.

The Yoruba have always been an urban people. These roads stretched past the farms, into the bush, until they merged with roads leading into the centers of other towns.

In the middle of a town, where all the roads converged, sat the palace of the ruler, or oba. Each of the towns was ruled by an oba, who might owe allegiance to the oba of a mightier town or command the allegiance of subordinate obas.

All obas ultimately deferred to the Oni of Ife, who was considered the paramount oba. Olodumare, the supreme Yoruba deity, is served by many lesser deities known collectively and singularly as orisa. The orisa are numerous; estimations of their number range from to 1, Some orisa, like Faithful-Mother in The Palm-Wine Drinkardare connected to specific sites—certain rivers, trees, or hills—and are worshipped only by the inhabitants of a single town.

Others are more widely worshipped, like Ogun, the orisa of iron and war, or Sango, the orisa of thunder and rain. The orisa both punish and reward human beings and are amenable to sacrifice.

Like the gods of Greece and Rome, the orisa are flawed and sometimes fail, the way the drunken crafter of some of the Yoruba people did, to perform their duty. It is up to anos Yoruba, therefore, to persuade the orisa through sacrifice to do what amis best for human beings. The Yoruba universe is divided into two major realms: Orun heavenand Aiye earth. Olodumare and the orisa reside in Orun, which is also home to the ancestors—the spirits of the Yoruba dead—while Drinjard is the world of living human beings.


The ancestors are actively concerned with the welfare and behavior of their descendants, pal,-wine they may protect or punish, and from whom they require sacrifice in order to be admitted into the yhe of Orun. The divination system called Ifa allows communication through priests between the living and the ancestors, and also between the living and the orisa. The ancestors and the orisa proffer their advice and predict future events through their influence on the throwing of palm nuts by an Ifa priest; the patterns into which the palm nuts fall are related to certain prophetic verses that the Ifa priest will recite.

Yoruba consult Ifa regularly once pxlm-wine year and on any important occasion, such as birth, death, illness, marriage, or the undertaking of a business venture. Thus the relationship between Orun and Aiye—between gods and mortals, and between the living and the dead—is very important in the Yoruba worldview.

The responsibility for maintaining balance and harmony between heaven and earth belongs to living Yoruba who, through sacrifice, both appease the inhabitants of Orun and replenish their power.

The two domains engage in a constant exchange of energy as the living Yoruba of Aiye offer sacrifices to Orun and receive in return all the good things in life via the ancestors and the orisa. Human beings travel back and forth between Orun and Aiye through reincarnation. The only way for a spirit to reincarnate is through its own progeny; thus the bearing and raising of children is extremely important to the Yoruba, and one is not considered a full-fledged adult in Drinkadr society until one has married and become a parent.

Because of their belief in reincarnation and the exalted status of ancestors, the Yoruba celebrate the deaths of old people, for through death the individual moves on to the next stage of existence. Sudden deaths of young people, however, are considered tragedies, especially if the deceased did not have a chance to marry and procreate before he or she died.

In the fourteenth century c. In the late eighteenth century, the powerful kingdom of Oyo began to decline. Subject kingdoms revolted against Oyo domination, and in the city of Oyo fell to Fulani srinkard from the north. dribkard

A series of wars fought between the various Yoruba city-states followed hard upon the dissolution of centralized power at Oyo. The victors in these conflicts sold captured prisoners of war to European merchants who were by this time conducting a profitable trade in African slaves.

Yoruba captives filled the cargo holds of slave ships headed across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World, carrying Yoruba culture to such far-flung places as Cuba and Brazil. Combined with the internecine warfare, the sale of the defeated into slavery decimated the Yoruba population, and this decline set the stage for the ascendancy of the British in Yorubaland. In the mid-nineteenth century, Yorubaland became the focus of British interest.

At this time British missionaries arrived to convert the Yoruba to Christianity, and British merchants noticed that Yorubaland was rich in trees yielding palm oilan important product for European industry.

In the British military conquered the city of Lagos with the twin goals of dominating the palm-oil trade in the area and putting an end to the slave trade.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola

In Lagos and the surrounding area were officially designated a colony of the British Crown. Some of the Yoruba kingdoms offered their ddinkard to the British in hopes of ending the long years of internecine warfare and the depredations of slavery. By the turn of the century the British had expanded their colony to include all of Yorubaland. The city of Lagos became the administrative capital of the new British colony of Nigeria. Of course, there were some changes in the selection of these obas to insure the presence of ones friendly to the colonial authorities.

British missionaries opened schools, and the colonial government, through taxation of the Nigerian populace, partially funded primary and secondary education for Nigerian children, in English. In the s, however, when author Amos Tutuola attended primary palm-iwne, students still had to pay a cash tuition, which was often hard to come by, forcing many to drop out of school early or go without an palm–wine altogether.

The Palm-wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-wine Tapster in the Dead’s Town Summary & Study Guide

Those Yoruba who did manage to get an education often sought positions within the civil servicewhich would allow them to earn a salary and escape the backbreaking labor of agriculture. A few even obtained a higher education. Finding no place for themselves in the upper echelons of the colonial government, where the British blocked African participation, these universityeducated Nigerians began to foment a nationalist movement that would eventually lead to Nigerian independence.

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Because the war drained British resources, the British government wished to scale back its expenditures overseas, and the notion of self-rule for British colonies gained popularity.

The Palm-wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm-wine Tapster in the Dead’s Town Summary & Study Guide

The development of a new constitution and government for an independent Nigeria progressed slowly, however. The colonial government, uncertain how drinkarr balance the rights and privileges of the diverse ethnic groups that comprised Nigeria, made a series of constitutional changes that gradually moved the colony toward self-rule. As a result of these constitutional changes, educational and economic opportunities increased for Nigerians, and nationalist fervor, born of outrage and desperation, waned, further slowing the movement toward drinkarc.

Thus, Nigeria would wait until for independence. Ironically, one group that did not benefit in postwar Nigeria was that of the ex-servicemen.

Many of these men had seen the world and returned to Nigeria ever more aware of the disparity between colonized and colonizer in their own land. A great number of them spent years searching for adequate work after their return.

Government promises to secure employment for these men, or to loan them money for starting new businesses, did not materialize. Amos Tutuola joined the ranks of the unemployed ex-soldiers for a year before landing a messenger job, the only position he could get.

As a messenger Tutuola had to spend a great deal of time waiting for errands. Rather than sit idly, he began writing down the stories palm-wien had heard throughout his life, stories that would merge in his first novel, The Palm-Wine Drinkard. Pre-colonial Yoruba culture had a written counting system devised for use in the Ifa divination ritual, but the primary means of communication was oral.

Despite the spread of literacy through missionary-run programs, by the mid-twentieth century Yoruba culture was still highly oral, and in an oral culture, storytelling is an important art form. When Amos Tutuola wrote The Palm-Wine Drinkardhe worked from a firm grounding in Yoruba oral tradition, revising tales he had heard from others to create something new.

In so doing he followed the tradition of the storyteller who recycles, revises, and renews traditional stories to adapt papm-wine to the present. The most common type of tale in Yoruba culture, told by almost everyone, is the alo story or song-story—so-called because a song, or alo, integrated into the plot of the tale is an essential part of its performance. Although alo stories usually have happy endings, the body of the tale deals tue the negative consequences of antisocial or simply socially unacceptable behavior for example, vicious jealousy between rdinkard co-wives.

Although alo stories are the most common form of Yoruba tale, they are a guilty pleasure. The Palm-Wine Drinkard can be likened to an alo tale in several respects: The ending of The Palm-Wine Drinkard is, however, happy. Drinkard at first presents an example of how not to live, then advises the people how to rectify their plight by acknowledging the superiority of heaven. His final advice results in a boon to society—the end of drought and famine.

Another type of tale to which The Palm-Wine Drinkard can be compared is the long tale or romance. Like alo tales, romances are told in the evening, but unlike alo tales, romances are told only by accomplished male storytellers and deal with a series of heroic adventures undergone by a single character in the bush.

The protagonist, while suffering an inhuman condition, must also suffer an inhuman world the wilderness ; his return to society coincides with a return of his own humanity. This theme is certainly evident in The Palm-Wine Drinkardwhich also follows the romance pattern of a quest leading from society into the bush and back again.

Drinkard, upon returning to his village, returns to social acceptability. He has gained a wife, wealth, and an appreciation for things other than palm wine. The Palm-Wine Drinkard opens with the narrator, Drinkard, explaining his name: No other tapster is skilled enough to replace the dead one. Without palm wine, Drinkard loses his happiness and his friends, but then realizes that he has a chance to get his tapster back:. Old people were saying that the whole people who had died in this world, did not go to heaven directly, but they were living in one place somewhere in this world.

So that I said I would find out where my palm-wine tapster who had died was. Drinkard embarks on a journey fraught with danger and adventure, ghe journey into the bush in search of his dead tapster.