Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd
326 Pages
English
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Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd

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Gain access to the library to view online
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326 Pages
English

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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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Published 15 March 2017
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EAN13 9789956764181
Language English
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Exrait

DRINKING from the COSMIC GOURD
FRANCIS B. NYAMNJOH
How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds
“Twenty years a er his death, valued by some scholars and writers but discounted by others, Amos Tutuola
here nds 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
“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. DRINKING from the is 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
“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 COSMIC GOURDvernacular theorist whose narratives are a fount of hermeneutical and epistemological insight. Much is o en
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 How Amos Tutuola Can
“ e book is an important contribution to African intellectual history. It o ers 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 Change Our Minds
way in which he relates ethnography to ction and his focus on the real life experiences of ordinary people. is
is a seminal work which no doubt will have a signi cant impact on current epistemological thinking.”
PROFESSOR BERNARD LATEGAN, Founding Director, Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced
Study (STIAS).
“Weaving varied ethnographic accounts together with richly textured historical perspectives, Nyamnjoh traces
and rehabilitates the checkered career of an unusual and o en controversial literary icon.”
SANYA OSHA, author of African Postcolonial Modernity: Informal Subjectivities and the
Democratic Consensus
is 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. O en, 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. e 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 exible-minded “frontier African”
at the crossroads and junctions of encounters, facilitating creative conversations and challenging
regressive logics of exclusionary identities. e 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.
FRANCIS B. NYAMNJOH is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town.
Francis B. Nyamnjoh
Langaa Research & Publishing
Common Initiative Group
P.O. Box 902 Mankon
Bamenda
North West Region
Cameroon

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






Francis B. Nyamnjoh














Langaa Research & Publishing CIG
Mankon, Bamenda Publisher:
Langaa RPCIG
Langaa Research & Publishing Common Initiative Group
P.O. Box 902 Mankon
Bamenda
North West Region
Cameroon
Langaagrp@gmail.com
www.langaa-rpcig.net



Distributed in and outside N. America by African Books Collective
orders@africanbookscollective.com
www.africanbookscollective.com





ISBN-10: 9956-764-65-5
ISBN-13: 978-9956-764-65-5

© Francis B. Nyamnjoh 2017




All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and recording, or be stored in any
information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher

Praise for this Book



“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, USA


“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, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS),
University of London, UK


“Francis Nyamnjoh’s book argues that Tutuola’s work provides a theoretical
tool kit for conceptualising and understanding what it means to be African at
the contemporary moment. 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


“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. Moving beyond the restrictions of the
Eurocentric/anti-colonial dichotomy, Nyamnjoh presents a more creative
alternative for an African epistemology. Based on his concept of the
incompleteness of human existence, he 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)


“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


About the Book


In this book, Amos Tutuola’s unusual writing style firmly rooted in African
storytelling is used to refute the common misconception that there is only one
type of scholarship and set of experiences worth writing about. The issues
faced by African intellectuals and scholarship who seem to have to abandon
their African identities in search for international recognition at the expense of
local relevance by reiterating dominant colonialist scopes of knowledge are
explored. This is especially relevant in light of the wave of protests at
universities all over South Africa where students demanded the “fall” of
Eurocentric education standards, calling for a more Afrocentric curriculum,
more grounded in African traditions and experiences, and thus more relatable
to the African students in the ivory towers of Africa.

The idea of the West as the centre of knowledge and civilisation is challenged
by pointing out that this number one status achieved was only possible by
borrowing bits and pieces from all over. Rather than just a simple dismissal of
Western ideals, an alternative to these Eurocentric dualisms is offered – an
acquiescence of incompleteness as a way of being. A number of stories from
Tutuola’s works are used to illustrate the importance of conviviality. We are
urged to accept that one’s independence will always be thwarted by one’s
dependency on others and to see debt and indebtedness as a normal way of
being human though relationships with others.

Acknowledgements


Writing this book has been a questing journey of many enriching encounters.
I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to all those who in one way
or another contributed with humbling generosity their ideas, insights, time,
suggestions, and intellectual and related energies to kindle and rekindle my
efforts in putting together this book on African epistemologies of
incompleteness and conviviality inspired by Tutuola and the cosmologies of
his existence and creative imagination.
Of special mention are all those who read and commented various drafts
and sections of this book, pointing me as they did to sources and resources for
further enrichment of my argument and its substantiation. These include, in
alphabetical order, Richard Fardon, Ntonghanwah Forcheh, Divine Fuh,
Malizani Jimu, Milton Krieger, Bernard Lategan, Ayanda Manqoyi, Louis
Herns Marcelin, Motoji Matsuda, Dirk Moons, Artwell Nhemachena, Anye-
Nkwenti Nyamnjoh, Sue Bih Nyamnjoh, Itaru Ohta, Elsemi Olwage, Sanya
Osha, Michael Rowlands, Nanna Schneidermann, Kathryn Toure, Jean-Pierre
Warnier, Joanna Woods, and Wafule Yenjela. They include as well, the
reviewers for Journal of Asian and African Studies and Stichproben. Wiener Zeitschrift
für kritische Afrikastudien, which respectively published “Incompleteness:
Frontier Africa and the Currency of Conviviality” and “Amos Tutuola and the
Elusiveness of Completeness,” essays which highlight some of the ideas
developed in this book. I acknowledge the opportunity to present and discuss
aspects of my thoughts on Amos Tutuola at graduate conferences and doctoral
seminars at the University of KwaZulu Natal, Stellenbosch University and
UNISA in South Africa, and at Kenyatta University in Kenya. I cherish my
Japanese editions of The Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a
special gift from Itaru Ohta, and I look forward to reading them the day I
acquire the juju to activate my competency in Japanese.
I am most grateful for three fellowships, one from the Stellenbosch
Institute for Advanced Study (April – June 2015), a second from the Graduate
School of Asian and African Area Studies of Kyoto University (June – July
2015), and a third from the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Residency
Program (25 August – 22 September 2016), which fellowships enabled me to
write sections of the book. I benefitted enormously from the generosity, both
intellectual and social, of fellows and staff of the three institutions. I am in
their debt. I am also grateful to Steve Howard and his colleagues of Ohio University, for a visiting scholarship (August – September 2015), which
enabled me to develop some of the themes in this book.
Special thanks go to Richard Fardon who generously agreed to do the
Foreword, and to Harry Garuba, Milton Krieger, Bernard Lategan and Sanya
Osha for their commendations. I acknowledge with profound gratitude the
editorial contributions of Kathryn Toure. I am equally indebted to Manya van
Ryneveld and Sue Bih Nyamnjoh for assistance with proofreading.
Last but not least, my sincere gratitude flows out to all the palm-wine
tapsters and drinkards of Africa and the worlds beyond.
Table of Contents


Acknowledgements……………………………....…….… vi

Foreword……………………………………………...…… xi
by Richard Fardon

Chapter 1: A Preview……………………………………… 1

Chapter 2: Dominant and Dormant
Epistemologies of Africa……………………………….. 33

Chapter 3: Tutuola and the Extravagant
Illusion of Completeness61

Chapter 4: Keeping Alive Popular
Ideas of Reality………………………………………….. 125

Chapter 5: TThe Palm-Wine Drinkard
and the Challenge of Dichotomies…………………….. 141

Chapter 6: Activation, Potency and
Efficacy in Tutuola’s Universe…………………………. 159

Chapter 7: Tutuola in Conversation
with the Cameroon Grassfields and Beyond…………... 199

Chapter 8: Conclusion: Tutuola’s Legacy……………... 255

References……………………………………………….. 277

ix

x �

Foreword


I am unsure which tense past, present or future best addresses the
discerning reader you must be. You will soon find, if you don’t already know,
that Francis Nyamnjoh is not a thinker who marches in straight lines or turns
at right angles; he prefers to explore meandering bush paths where a traveller
might encounter strange companions and other wonders. Perhaps you read
similarly and so are coming to this Foreword finally, or not at all (in which case
my choice of tense won’t matter). But let me assume that you are holding a
book you have yet to read and are wondering what awaits you. I can tell you it
will be an expansive and inclusive read; we are all addressed, wherever or
however we find ourselves.
Francis has taken a companion on this intellectual journey which is for him
both a setting forth and looking back. The Yoruba author Amos Tutuola was
among the earliest Nigerian fictional writers of English, and he piques Francis’s
curiosity in two related but different ways. Tutuola’s imagination re-envisioned
classic themes of African, particularly West African, story-telling and published
them from the mid-twentieth century onwards in a written English that
remains uniquely his. By doing so, Tutuola attracted so wide a range of
assessments that his work became a chamber of opinions: approved and
disapproved in equal strength; the grounds for approval were frequently no
more sustaining than those for disapproval. Some Nigerian intellectuals,
particularly student expatriates, disparaged his unconventional use of English,
suspecting his prestigious London publishers, Faber & Faber, might be
encouraging a quaint view of Nigerians’ capacities to express themselves
grammatically, a view of which they were themselves the living disproof. By
the same token, some of the ringing endorsements by western commentators
now ring as patronizing as the rejections in their assumption that this
midtwentieth century writer had channelled some timeless collective African
imagination not of his own era. This mirroring, often distorted, has continued
as each new development has found its own Tutuola – recently as a magical
realist and pathfinder for Ben Okri’s generation of Nigerian writers.
Amos Tutuola accompanies Francis both as a fellow writer of fiction and
as a reflection of the state and status of writing. As writer, Tutuola’s stories
expand ‘what is out there’; put more formally, through them he makes
ontological claims about everyday African worlds. His protagonists’
xi experiences show us how they ‘find out what is out there’; or more formally,
they suggest practical epistemologies for understanding this given world that
has been expanded beyond the mundane. Their knowing both ‘that’ and ‘how
and why’, Francis Nyamnjoh argues, are correctives to colonial or western
ontologies and epistemologies, and particularly to the forms in which these
have been embraced as ideologies by African intellectual elites. The focus of
his interest, however, lies less in those ideologies, which he is content to treat
in shorthand, than it does in everyday African knowledge practices (or for that
matter everyday western practices). To these, Francis brings an
anthropologist’s ability to derive middle-range generalizations from grounded
local circumstances, including their fictional representation.
I have room to touch upon the generalizations you are about to read only
incompletely, which happily is a virtue in this context because the first of them
is precisely about the matter of incompletion. Drawing on Tutuola’s
storytelling, Francis notes the principled incompletion of agents, both individual
and collective. This quality has two aspects: that they consist of assemblages
of more or less completely fused elements that are hence more or less
susceptible to decomposition; and that these incomplete entities seek to
complete themselves through extension. These are characteristics compatible
with a number of others: an emphasis upon conviviality and a capacity, even
compulsion, for living together, supplemented by an openness to frontier
experience in its various forms. Paradigmatically, the frontier will involve
encounters with the bush, both in a narrower and more literal sense of the
word, and in the geographically wider sense of the migrant’s world, particularly
as these expand the possibilities of interaction with powers and forms beyond
the mundane, local world. Such experiences, which have been documented
primarily by creative artists and by anthropologists, who happen sometimes,
as in Francis’s case, to be the same people, are the source of embarrassment
to the carriers of modernizing ideologies. Artists can be dismissed as fiction
makers, but what of anthropologists?
Other than in South Africa, where Francis Nyamnjoh works now,
anthropologists are thin on the ground in Africa south of the Sahara. It takes
a brave African scholar to argue that anthropology which, like a character from
one of Tutuola’s tales, has been fated to drag a reputation tarnished since
imperial and colonial times behind it, can be a liberatory discipline. But Francis
encourages us to think about the variety of conversations an anthropological
sensibility invites. Over several years, I was struck to see my students
xii captivated by an essay of his which brought a cool ethnographic eye to his
lived experience in order to dissect the ambivalence of belonging. Titled after
a saying popular in his Grassfields Cameroon home, that ‘A child is one
person’s only in the womb’, Francis’s essay is partly about the ways an
individual is supplemented by belonging to family and community.
Supplemented but never entirely completed, since frontier experiences are
always available. The reader might begin to sense a familiar cosy nostalgia, but
before this condition is allowed to seem too rosy, Francis presents us with the
other, coercive face of connection, composed of entreaties and more or less
veiled threats that cajole any ‘bushfallers’ who seem to have prospered to
recognize the obligations due connection (including connections they might
never have known of). Connection is ambivalent, so some disown it and
choose a social death. For only the socially dead, and perhaps the chiefs
maintained by immense collective effort to be perfect symbolic containers, can
aspire to completion. The rest must live imperfectly but, as Francis suggests,
convivially and hopefully. This argument enlarged is at least part of the
ontological condition he figures for us here by drawing insights from fictions,
both his own and Tutuola’s, as well as from the ways these stories provoke
their readers.

Richard Fardon
SOAS, University of London

xiii
xiv

Chapter One

A Preview


African intellectual history has been a struggle. A struggle of how to
reconcile international recognition with local relevance ever since the
publication of Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard in 1952.
African intellectuals’ quest for distinctively African ways of
interpreting African life and thought has taken many forms and
provoked lively cross-disciplinary debate and literature. The results
are, however, mixed. Students still decry curricula that do not
satisfactorily reflect, if at all, their African context and lived realities.
Their professors complain about a geopolitics of knowledge
production and consumption skewed in favour of the West or the
global north. While students and professors of African universities
are having a raw deal at the global marketplaces of the production
and circulation of ideas, ordinary Africans outside of the academy, a
high proportion of whom have pursued little or no formal education,
are equally complaining and challenging their universities to prove
their relevance to the wider society. To many, universities are indeed
ivory towers (sometimes perched on hilltops or hillsides like deities,
spirits or gods), notorious for talking academic gibberish and for
talking without listening, even when claiming that no social
knowledge is of much import if not immersed in and distilled from
the lived realities of those it purports to be knowledge about.
This is a book on the epistemological dimensions of how
research is conceptualised and practiced in African universities
caught betwixt and between the tensions and possibilities of
interconnecting global and local hierarchies. These hierarchies shape
relations and structure knowledge production in and on Africa.
Inspired by Amos Tutuola, the late Nigerian writer, and his novels
and short stories, the book is a contribution to the unfinished
business of the transformation of colonial and apartheid ideologies
on being human and being African that continue to shape how
research is conceptualised, taught and practiced in universities across
Africa. The book also examines how such resilient colonial and
1