The Palm-Wine Drinkard

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This article is about the work of African literature. For the Kool A.D. mixtape of the same name, see The Palm Wine Drinkard (album).
The Palm-Wine Drinkard
Author Amos Tutuola
Language English
Publisher Faber and Faber
Publication date
Pages 125
ISBN 0-571-04996-6
Followed by My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

The Palm-Wine Drinkard (subtitled "and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Dead's Town") is a novel by Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola. The book was based on Yoruba folktales, but was largely his own invention using non-standard English prose. It is often considered a seminal work of modern African literature, receiving acclaim in the West, although it was criticised at home.[citation needed]

While distinctly African, the novel bears some resemblance to the magic realism works of South American writers such as Juan Rulfo and Gabriel García Márquez, but nowadays it is insert on the African Traditional Religion realism concept.[1][2][3] In all of these works the tone is mystical and pre-modern, but told in the form of a narrative novel, which is in essence a modern form. This contrast is a manifestation of the transition between traditional cultures and the global trend towards modernity.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard tells the mythological story of a man who follows a palm-wine tapster into the land of the dead or "Deads' Town". There he finds a world of magic, ghosts, demons and supernatural beings. The book was published in 1952 and received accolades from Dylan Thomas as well as other Western intellectual figures of the time. However, among many African intellectuals it caused controversy and received harsh criticism. In Nigeria, in particular, some feared the story showed their people in a negative light, specifically, that it depicted a drunk, used Pidgin English, and promoted the idea that Africans were superstitious. However, the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe defended Tutuola's work, stating that the stories in it can also be read as moral tales commenting on Western consumerism.


An unnamed narrator is the son of a rich man, who affords his son a personal tapster. The tapster draws him many gallons of palm wine. One day the tapster falls from a tree and dies, and so the drinkard sets off for Dead's Town to try to bring back him back from the dead.


At first, his work was received with much enthusiasm in the West whereas many African critics criticized his work as unoriginal and uncreative, recounting similar tales that all Africans had heard in the village square. Throughout the years, critics recognize that this controversy lies on the assumption that his work is a novel and argue that he is best described as a story teller.[4] In fact, Tutuola can be seen as a storyteller who takes the stories from the past and alter and embellish them accordingly to engage the given audience.[4] Tutuola states, "I wrote The Palm-Wine Drinkard for the people of the other countries to read the Yoruba folklores [...]. My purpose of writing is to make other people to understand more about Yoruba people and in fact they have already understood more than ever before."[5] As a storyteller, and his writing style engages the reader in a similar fashion. He leaves a lot of the details to their imagination and create many spaces where the readers could potentially participate in a group discussions on many of the riddle-like stories that are left open-ended.[6] The adaption of the traditional folklore and the alterations he had made can be seen as Tutuola conveying a message about West African consciousness and sensibility during the time when Africa was experiencing changes. His writing is considered an exploration of literary style based on African folklore instead of the imitation of European novels.[6] Yet, by using pidgin English and incorporating images of bombs, planes and Christian God, he does not ignore the changing society of his times and create an authentic West African novel that blends the cultures and languages that developed from the interaction between the West and Africa.[7] It is also noteworthy that he is a storyteller who adapts the western medium of preserving culture and write down the folklores that had been passed down through oral traditions[6]

In popular culture[edit]

Kool A.D., one of the rappers in Das Racist, released a mixtape of the same name in 2012. Law and Order SVU character Detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola's name is derived from this novel.


  1. ^ Harvey, Graham (2013). "Animist realism in indigenous novels and other literature". In: Harvey, Graham (ed.), Handbook of Contemporary Animism. Acumen Handbooks. Durham: Acumen Publishing.
  2. ^ Garuba, Harry (2003). "Explorations in Animist Materialism: Notes on Reading/Writing African Literature, Culture, and Society". Public Culture 15 (2): 261—85.
  3. ^ Pepetela (1989). Lueji, o nascimento de um império. Porto, Portugal: União dos Escritores Angolanos.
  4. ^ a b Palmer, Eustace (1978). "Twenty-five years of Amos Tutuola". The International Fiction Review 5 (1). Retrieved Jan 20, 2015. 
  5. ^ Lindfors, B. (1975). Critical Perspectives on Amos Tutuola. Washington D.C.: Three Continents Press. 
  6. ^ a b c Chouldhury, Saradashree (October 2013). "Folklore and society in transition: A study of The PalmWine Drinkard and The Famished Road". African Journal of History and Culture 6 (1): 3-11. doi:10.5897/AJHC2013.0158. Retrieved Jan 21, 2015. 
  7. ^ Gantz, Lauren. "Lauren Gantz on "The Palm Wine Drinkard"". E3W Review of Books. E3W. Retrieved Jan 20, 2015. 

External links[edit]