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Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd: How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds

Thursday 23 March 2017, author(s)-editor(s) Francis B. Nyamnjoh

This book questions colonial and apartheid ideologies on being human and being African, ideologies that continue to shape how research is conceptualised, taught and practiced in universities across Africa. Africans immersed in popular traditions of meaning-making are denied the right, by those who police the borders of knowledge, to think and represent their realities in accordance with the civilisations and universes they know best. Often, the ways of life they cherish are labelled and dismissed too eagerly as traditional knowledge by some of the very African intellectual elite they look to for protection. The book makes a case for sidestepped traditions of knowledge. It draws attention to Africa’s possibilities, prospects and emergent capacities for being and becoming in tune with its creativity and imagination. It speaks to the nimble-footed flexible-minded “frontier African” at the crossroads and junctions of encounters, facilitating creative conversations and challenging regressive logics of exclusionary identities. The book uses Amos Tutuola’s stories to question dualistic assumptions about reality and scholarship, and to call for conviviality, interconnections and interdependence between competing knowledge traditions in Africa.

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ISBN 9789956764655
Pages 326
Dimensions 229 x 152mm
Published 2017
Publisher Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon
Format Paperback

7 Book Reviews

  • Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd: How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds 23 March 2017 09:44, author(s)-editor(s) Milton Krieger, Emeritus Professor, Western Washington University

    “Twenty years after his death, valued by some scholars and writers but discounted by others, Amos Tutuola here finds a compelling advocate. Nyamnjoh reveals a voice that both embraces a range of African communal experience beyond ‘lettered’ reach and challenges commonplace aesthetic and philosophical constructs of African knowledge. And he shows why Tutuola matters, in his own time and now.”

    Milton Krieger, Emeritus Professor, Western Washington University

  • Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd: How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds 23 March 2017 09:44, author(s)-editor(s) Richard Fardon, Professor of West African Anthropology, SOAS, University of (...)

    “Francis Nyamnjoh invites us to rethink contemporary cosmopolitanism through strange encounters and marvellous episodes recounted in the stories of Amos Tutuola, a mid-twentieth century Nigerian Yoruba author. This might seem an endeavour more implausible than the tales themselves, but reading will change your mind.”

    Richard Fardon, Professor of West African Anthropology, SOAS, University of London

  • Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd: How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds 23 March 2017 09:45, author(s)-editor(s) Harry Garuba, poet and scholar, University of Cape Town

    “Tutuola’s tales of frontiers, of incompleteness, of crossroads and conviviality advance profound epistemological perspectives on being and knowledge that we will do well to acknowledge. Nyamnjoh positions Tutuola as a vernacular theorist whose narratives are a fount of hermeneutical and epistemological insight. Much is often made of the idea of vernacular theory but this book is an exemplary instance of putting that idea into practice.”

    Harry Garuba, poet and scholar, University of Cape Town

  • Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd: How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds 23 March 2017 09:45, author(s)-editor(s) Professor Bernard Lategan, Founding Director, Stellenbosch Institute for (...)

    “The book is an important contribution to African intellectual history. It offers a fresh and original interpretation of the life and work of Amos Tutuola, but at the same time marks a substantial advance in the ongoing epistemological debates on the study of Africa…. Based on his concept of the incompleteness of human existence, Nyamnjoh opts for an inclusive, dialogical and interdisciplinary approach. Of special interest is the way in which he relates ethnography to fiction and his focus on the real life experiences of ordinary people. This is a seminal work which no doubt will have a significant impact on current epistemological thinking.”

    Professor Bernard Lategan, Founding Director, Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS)

  • Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd: How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds 23 March 2017 09:46, author(s)-editor(s) Sanya Osha, author of African Postcolonial Modernity: Informal (...)

    “Weaving varied ethnographic accounts together with richly textured historical perspectives, Nyamnjoh traces and rehabilitates the checkered career of an unusual and often controversial literary icon.”

    Sanya Osha, author of African Postcolonial Modernity: Informal Subjectivities and the Democratic Consensus

  • Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd: How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds 15 September 2017 21:18, author(s)-editor(s) Patience Mususa

    Great Books on Africa Patience Mususa highlights a book that challenges the idea of all-knowing experts. “We don’t know everything. I think that is an important approach for all scholars”.

    Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd, How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds by Francis B. Nyamnjoh. Click here to view the video https://www.facebook.com/TheNordicA...

  • Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd: How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds 11 February 17:49, author(s)-editor(s) Edlyne Eze Anugwom

    Francis B. Nyamnjoh (2017), Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd: How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds, Bamenda: Langaa RPCIG, ISBN 9956764655 (soft cover), 310 pp.

    Nyamnjoh’s insightful book offers an original, nuanced, and penetrative interpretation of the late Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola, whose true value and influence were mainly recognised only after his demise. According to the writer, the book is about “the epistemological dimensions of how research is conceptualized and practiced in African universities caught betwixt and between the tensions and possibilities of interconnecting global and local hierarchies” (1). While the above captures a key focus of the text, I believe it really diminishes the extent and breadth of issues tackled in the book. The book criss-crosses orthodox disciplinary divides; represents a commentary on literature, on history, and more critically on the sociology of knowledge and serves as a critique of contemporary Africanintellectualism.

    The book is even more interesting because it does not just draw on Nyamnjoh’s pedigree as a fictional writer, whose use of English contrasts with Tutuola’s broken English and peculiar use of syntax, or on the fact that Nyamnjoh is neither Nigerian nor Yoruba; it also reveals an understanding of Tutuola that should provoke jealousy amongst those who may wish to claim Tutuola as rightly theirs.

    Nyamnjoh also deserves praise for combining the various dimensions of the spectral and surreal tales of Tutuola in a single narrative that valorises the African viewpoint in knowledge production. It was no mean feat to discuss the various writings of Tutuola – namely, The Palm Wine Drinkard (1952), My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1954), Ajayi and His Inherited Poverty (1967), and The Wild Hunter in the Bush of the Ghosts (1982/1989) – in one systematically presented thesis.

    It is equally fascinating how the author applies the notion of the “frontier African” in the text. Frontier Africans are those “who are able to successfully negotiate change and continuity and bring into conversation various dichotomies and binaries” (3). The agenda to reconfigure the knowledge system in Africa and to encourage the emergence of truly African epistemologies in our universities has found purchase in Nyamnjoh’s writings of late. Tutuola and his novels – which establish a flux between the modern and traditional, between the global and the local, and between conventional realities and the spectral worlds of spirits, ghosts, and “devil-ish” enchantments – are, for Nyamnjoh, nothing more than pedestals to further push an agenda very close to his intellectual heart. For instance, through his seamless excursion into “one dimensional” Christianity and his Yoruba cultural beliefs, Tutuola offers an example of the interconnectivity and complexity of conviviality championed by Nyamnjoh.

    The book thus makes a case for a more reflexive and relevant African epistemology which, while not at daggers-drawn with Western unitarism and dualism, presents an alternative that both reflects and validates the African worldview. Nyamnjoh has opened the door for us all to ponder not only the addiction to Western dualism that currently pervades our knowledge systems but also the long-overdue imperative for genuine African intellectualism and knowledge systems which best valorise and celebrate Africa’s past and present.

    Beyond what I see as the urgent revival of Tutuola, Nyamnjoh also calls for the reconfiguration of African knowledge systems through convivial scholarship. This sort of scholarship confronts and humbles the challenges associated with things such as “over-prescription, over-standardization, over-routinization and over-prediction” in the process of knowledge production.

    Nyamnjoh’s quest for the real African scholar can be seen clearly in the following analogy he borrows from the narrator in Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard: “he is a veritable cosmopolitan crossroads creature in constant navigation, negotiation and conversation with dichotomies and boundaries in the interest of interdependence and conviviality” (151). In much the same manner, Nyamnjoh desires some nimble-footedness incompleteness, interdependence, and conviviality from the African scholar. He contends that the assumed superiority of the West “is the result of borrowing without acknowledgement, dispossession without restitution, and debasement, appropriation and commodification of others without compunction and with impunity” (200).

    Though Nyamnjoh contends that African scholars need to “(re)familiarize themselves with and encourage these popular modes of knowing and knowledge-making in the production of relevant, inclusive, negotiated, nuanced and complex social knowledge” (3), this is still another case of him being overly semantic and thus appearing to talk at the reader.

    Nyamnjoh seems to elaborate the alternative to Western dualism very well. However, he does not mention the practical steps required to realise that aspiration. This is a critical lapse, especially when one recognises that the culture of assessment and learning in our universities, in spite of nascent cries for decolonisation, are becoming even more steeped in Western paradigms and frameworks.

    Moreover, one may take issue with the obvious repetitions in the book and argue that a more concise approach could have reduced its length by about 50 pages. However, the author pre-empts this criticism and justifies his style of writing. His aphorism that “repetition is the mother of all learning” (30) seems untouchable. On another point, given the array of concepts exploited in the book and even the semantic challenges posed therein, it could have done with a subject index.

    The task Nyamnjoh sets for African scholars is indeed challenging, and he is not in any way ambivalent about it. He contends that “disrupting colonial epistemologies is difficult but can in part be achieved through cross-disciplinary conversations and joint initiatives between natural and social scientists, and between scholars and academics in university institutions and actors involved with alternative and complementary traditions and practices of knowledge production, circulation and consumption” (33). It would appear that the time has come to take the above concerns beyond the realm of debate and encourage the emergence of a critical mass of scholarship on authentic “decolonization” of knowledge production and dissemination in Africa.

    Edlyne Eze Anugwom