Spanning a wide geographical range, this collection features many of the now prominent first generation of African writers and draws attention to a new generation of writers. Powerful, intriguing and essentially non-Western, these stories will be welcome by an audience truly ready for multicultural voices.
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About the Author
Charles R. Larson pioneered courses in African, African-American, and Third World literature. The author of numerous critical volumes, including The Emergence of African Fiction, he teaches at American University in Washington D.C.
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Under African Skies
Modern African Stories
By Charles R. Larson
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1997 Charles R. Larson
All rights reserved.
(BORN 1920) NIGERIA
Amos Tutuola's writing career began in 1948, when he mailed The Wild Hunter in the Bush of Ghosts to the Focal Press in London. In an earlier letter, Tutuola had described the ghost narrative, claiming that the text would be accompanied by photographs of Nigerian spirits. According to Bernth Lindfors, when the Focal Press received the work, "the 77-page handwritten manuscript had been wrapped in brown paper, rolled up like a magazine, bound with twine, and sent via surface mail. When the sixteen negatives accompanying it were developed, all but one turned out to be snapshots of hand-drawn sketches of spirits and other phenomena featured in the story. Tutuola had hired a schoolboy to draw these illustrations and had photographed them. He had also included a photograph of a human being sitting by the lagoon in Lagos because he felt that she adequately represented 'the old woman who sat near the river' in the story."
In Tutuola's enchanting narrative, there are illegitimate and cannibalistic ghosts, a sixteen-headed ghost, and a Salvation Army ghost, plus an educated ghost who teaches the narrator to read and write. More disturbing, the Yoruba afterworld (the domain of the spirits described in the story) has become fully bureaucratic, so complicated in its red tape that it's surprising that anyone ever passes on.
The Focal Press — publishers of photography books — quickly lost interest in Tutuola's novel, which languished until Lindfors edited the work for publication in 1982. Well before that time, Tutuola had become a worldfamous writer, primarily because of the publication of The Palm-Wine Drinkard, in 1952. Reviewing the book, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas noted: "This is the brief, thronged, grisly and bewitching story, written in young English by a West African, about a journey of an expert and devoted palm-wine drinkard through a nightmare of indescribable adventures, all simply and carefully described, in the spirit-bristling bush." The term "young English" confused the literary world, which quickly assumed that all subsequent Anglophone African writers would write in a similar style.
Clearly, Amos Tutuola's creative world is bewitching, extraordinarily vivid, and unforgettable. The Yoruba cosmology, which is central in each of the author's seven published books, often springs spontaneously alive when a character opens a door (perhaps in a tree) and enters into an entirely new world. As I wrote years ago, Tutuola's eschatology provides "a bridge between the internal and the external world (the ontological gap), between the real and the surreal, between the realistic and the supernatural."
Amos Tutuola was born in Abeokuta, Western Nigeria, in 1920. He completed six years of primary-school education, followed by training as a blacksmith, while serving in the R.A.F. in Lagos throughout World War II. The Palm-Wine Drinkard was written while Tutuola was working as a messenger for the Department of Labor. "The Complete Gentleman" has been excerpted from The Palm-Wine Drinkard as an example of oral storytelling incorporated into a written narrative. Other versions of this story exist in many West African languages. (See, for example, "The Chosen Suitor," from Dahomean Narrative, edited by Melville and Frances Herskovits, 1958.)CHAPTER 2
THE COMPLETE GENTLEMAN
THE DESCRIPTION OF THE CURIOUS CREATURE —
He was a beautiful "complete" gentleman, he dressed with the finest and most costly clothes, all the parts of his body were completed, he was a tall man but stout. As this gentleman came to the market on that day, if he had been an article or animal for sale, he would be sold at least for £2,000 (two thousand pounds). As this complete gentleman came to the market on that day, and at the same time that this lady saw him in the market, she did nothing more than to ask him where he was living, but this fine gentleman did not answer her or approach her at all. But when she noticed that the fine or complete gentleman did not listen to her, she left her articles and began to watch the movements of the complete gentleman about in the market and left her articles unsold.
By and by, the market closed for that day then the whole people in the market were returning to their destinations etc., and the complete gentleman was returning to his own too, but as this lady was following him about in the market all the while, she saw him when he was returning to his destination as others did, then she was following him (complete gentleman) to an unknown place. But as she was following the complete gentleman along the road, he was telling her to go back or not to follow him, but the lady did not listen to what he was telling her, and when the complete gentleman had tired of telling her not to follow him or to go back to her town, he left her to follow him.
DO NOT FOLLOW UNKNOWN MAN'S BEAUTY
But when they had traveled about twelve miles away from that market, they left the road on which they were traveling and started to travel inside an endless forest in which only the terrible creatures were living.
RETURN THE PARTS OF BODY TO THE OWNERS; OR HIRED PARTS OF THE COMPLETE GENTLEMAN'S BODY TO BE RETURNED
As they were traveling along in this endless forest then the complete gentleman in the market that the lady was following began to return the hired parts of his body to the owners and he was paying them the rentage money. When he reached where he hired the left foot, he pulled it out, he gave it to the owner and paid him, and they kept going; when they reached the place where he hired the right foot, he pulled it out and gave it to the owner and paid for the rentage. Now both feet had returned to the owners, so he began to crawl along on the ground, by that time that lady wanted to go back to her town or her father, but the terrible and curious creature or the complete gentleman did not allow her to return or go back to her town or her father again and the complete gentleman said thus: "I had told you not to follow me before we branched into this endless forest which belongs to only terrible and curious creatures, but when I become a half-bodied incomplete gentleman you wanted to go back, now that cannot be done, you have failed. Even you have never seen anything yet, just follow me."
When they went furthermore, then they reached where he hired the belly, ribs, chest, etc., then he pulled them out and gave them to the owner and paid for the rentage.
Now to this gentleman or terrible creature remained only the head and both arms with neck, by that time he could not crawl as before but only went jumping on as a bullfrog and now this lady was soon faint for this fearful creature whom she was following. But when the lady saw every part of this complete gentleman in the market was shared or hired and he was returning them to the owners, then she began to try all her efforts to return to her father's town, but she was not allowed by this fearful creature at all.
When they reached where he hired both arms, he pulled them out and gave them to the owner, he paid for them; and they were still going on in this endless forest, they reached the place where he hired the neck, he pulled it out and gave it to the owner and paid for it as well.
A FULL-BODIED GENTLEMAN REDUCED TO HEAD
Now this complete gentleman was reduced to head and when they reached where he hired the skin and flesh which covered the head, he returned them, and paid to the owner, now the complete gentleman in the market reduced to a SKULL and this lady remained with only Skull. When the lady saw that she remained with only Skull, she began to say that her father had been telling her to marry a man, but she did not listen to or believe him.
When the lady saw that the gentleman became a Skull, she began to faint, but the Skull told her if she would die she would die and she would follow him to his house. But by the time that he was saying so, he was humming with a terrible voice and also grew very wild and even if there was a person two miles away he would not have to listen before hearing him, so this lady began to run away in that forest for her life, but the Skull chased her and within a few yards, he caught her, because he was very clever and smart as he was only Skull and he could jump a mile to the second before coming down. He caught the lady in this way: so when the lady was running away for her life, he hastily ran to her front and stopped her as a log of wood.
By and by, this lady followed the Skull to his house, and the house was a hole which was under the ground. When they reached there both of them entered the hole. But there were only Skulls living in that hole. At the same time that they entered the hole, he tied a single cowrie on the neck of this lady with a kind of rope, after that, he gave her a large frog on which she sat as a stool, then he gave a whistle to a Skull of his kind to keep watch on this lady whenever she wanted to run away. Because the Skull knew already that the lady would attempt to run away from the hole. Then he went to the back yard to where his family were staying in the daytime till night.
But one day, the lady attempted to escape from the hole, and at the same time that the Skull who was watching her whistled to the rest of the Skulls that were in the back yard, the whole of them rushed out to the place where the lady sat on the bullfrog, so they caught her, but as all of them were rushing out, they were rolling on the ground as if a thousand petrol drums were pushing along a hard road. After she was caught, then they brought her back to sit on the same frog as usual. If the Skull who was watching her fell asleep, and if the lady wanted to escape, the cowrie that was tied on her neck would raise up the alarm with a terrible noise, so that the Skull who was watching her would wake up at once and then the rest of the Skull's family would rush out from the back in thousands to the lady and ask her what she wanted to do with a curious and terrible voice.
But the lady could not talk at all, because as the cowrie had been tied on her neck, she became dumb at the same moment.
THE FATHER OF GODS SHOULD FIND OUT WHEREABOUTS THE DAUGHTER OF THE HEAD OF THE TOWN WAS
Now as the father of the lady first asked for my name and I told him that my name was "Father of gods who could do anything in this world," then he told me that if I could find out where his daughter was and bring her to him, then he would tell me where my palm-wine tapster was. But when he said so, I was jumping up with gladness that he should promise me that he would tell me where my tapster was. I agreed to what he said; the father and parent of this lady never knew whereabouts their daughter was, but they had information that the lady followed a complete gentleman in the market. As I was the "Father of gods who could do anything in this world," when it was at night I sacrificed to my juju with a goat.
And when it was early in the morning, I sent for forty kegs of palm wine. After I had drunk it all, I started to investigate whereabouts was the lady. As it was the market day, I started the investigation from the market. But as I was a juju-man, I knew all the kinds of people in that market. When it was exactly 9 o'clock a.m., the very complete gentleman whom the lady followed came to the market again, and at the same time that I saw him, I knew that he was a curious and terrible creature.
THE LADY WAS NOT TO BE BLAMED FOR FOLLOWING THE SKULL AS A COMPLETE GENTLEMAN
I could not blame the lady for following the Skull as a complete gentleman to his house at all. Because if I were a lady, no doubt I would follow him to wherever he would go, and still as I was a man I would jealous him more than that, because if this gentleman went to the battlefield, surely, enemy would not kill him or capture him and if bombers saw him in a town which was to be bombed, they would not throw bombs on his presence, and if they did throw it, the bomb itself would not explode until this gentleman would leave that town, because of his beauty. At the same time that I saw this gentleman in the market on that day, what I was doing was only to follow him about in the market. After I looked at him for so many hours, then I ran to a corner of the market and I cried for a few minutes because I thought within myself why was I not created that he was only a Skull, then I thanked God that He had created me without beauty, so I went back to him in the market, but I was still attracted by his beauty. So when the market closed for that day, and when everybody was returning to his or her destination, this gentleman was returning to his own too and I followed him to know where he was living.
INVESTIGATION TO THE SKULL'S FAMILY'S HOUSE
When I traveled with him a distance of about twelve miles away to that market, the gentleman left the really road on which we were traveling and branched into an endless forest and I was following him, but as I did not want him to see that I was following him, then I used one of my juju which changed me into a lizard and followed him. But after I had traveled with him a distance of about twenty-five miles away in this endless forest, he began to pull out all the parts of his body and return them to the owners, and paid them.
After I had traveled with him for another fifty miles in this forest, then he reached his house and entered it, but I entered it also with him, as I was a lizard. The first thing that he did when he entered the hole (house) he went straight to the place where the lady was, and I saw the lady sat on a bullfrog with a single cowrie tied on her neck and a Skull who was watching her stood behind her. After he (gentleman) had seen that the lady was there, he went to the back yard where all his family were working.
THE INVESTIGATOR'S WONDERFUL WORK IN THE SKULL'S FAMILY'S HOUSE
When I saw this lady and when the Skull who brought her to that hole or whom I followed from the market to that hole went to the back yard, then I changed myself to a man as before, then I talked to the lady but she could not answer me at all, she only showed that she was in a serious condition. The Skull who was guarding her with a whistle fell asleep at that time.
To my surprise, when I helped the lady to stand up from the frog on which she sat, the cowrie that was tied on her neck made a curious noise at once, and when the Skull who was watching her heard the noise, he woke up and blew the whistle to the rest, then the whole of them rushed to the place and surrounded the lady and me, but at the same time that they saw me there, one of them ran to a pit which was not so far from that spot, the pit was filled with cowries. He picked one cowrie out of the pit, after that he was running toward me, and the whole crowd wanted to tie the cowrie on my neck too. But before they could do that, I had changed myself into air, they could not trace me out again, but I was looking at them. I believed that the cowries in that pit were their power and to reduce the power of any human being whenever tied on his or her neck and also to make a person dumb.
Excerpted from Under African Skies by Charles R. Larson. Copyright © 1997 Charles R. Larson. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Amos Tutuola - (BORN 1920) NIGERIA,
THE COMPLETE GENTLEMAN,
Camara Laye - (1928–80) GUINEA,
THE EYES OF THE STATUE,
Birago Diop - (BORN 1906) SENEGAL,
Sembene Ousmane - (BORN 1923) SENEGAL,
Luís Bernardo Honwana - (BORN 1942) MOZAMBIQUE,
PAPA, SNAKE &, I,
Ngugi wa Thiong'o - (BORN 1938) KENYA,
A MEETING IN THE DARK,
Tayeb Salih - (BORN 1929) SUDAN,
A HANDFUL OF DATES,
Es'kia Mphahlele - (BORN 1919) SOUTH AFRICA,
Grace Ogot - (BORN 1930) KENYA,
Ama Ata Aidoo - (BORN 1942) GHANA,
Chinua Achebe - (BORN 1930) NIGERIA,
GIRLS AT WAR,
Bessie Head - (1937-86) SOUTH AFRICA/BOTSWANA,
THE PRISONER WHO WORE GLASSES,
Similih M. Cordor - (BORN 1946) LIBERIA,
IN THE HOSPITAL,
René Philombe - (BORN 1930) CAMEROON,
THE TRUE MARTYR IS ME,
Tijan M. Sallah - (BORN 1958) GAMBIA,
Ken Saro-Wiwa - (1941-95) NIGERIA,
AFRICA KILLS HER SUN,
Don Mattera - (BORN 1935) SOUTH AFRICA,
Yvonne Vera - (BORN 1964) ZIMBABWE,
WHY DON'T YOU CARVE OTHER ANIMALS,
Véronique Tadjo - (BORN 1955) IVORY COAST,
THE MAGICIAN AND THE GIRL,
Ben Okri - (BORN 1959) NIGERIA,
A PRAYER FROM THE LIVING,
Alexander Kanengoni - (BORN 1951) ZIMBABWE,
Mzamane Nhlapo - (BORN 1960) LESOTHO,
GIVE ME A CHANCE,
Steve Chimombo - (BORN 1945) MALAWI,
Sindiwe Magona - (BORN 1943) SOUTH AFRICA,
I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT THAT, NOW,
Nuruddin Farah - (BORN 1945) SOMALIA,
MY FATHER, THE ENGLISHMAN, AND I,
Mandla Langa - (BORN 1950) SOUTH AFRICA,
A GATHERING OF BALD MEN,
MORE PRAISE FOR UNDER AFRICAN SKIES,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Under African Skies features a star-studded line-up of African writers, with short stories arranged to form a time-line from pre-independence Africa to Africa of the Nineties. Here are some notable pieces. His prose and imagery perfection, Camara Laye allows us a breathtaking view of the remnants of an ancient Guinean ruin through The Eyes Of The Statue; while Sembene Ousmane tells the story of a Black Girl eager to leave Senegal for Paris, only to soon enough learn, and with tragic consequences, that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Es'kia Mphahlele shares about Mrs. Plum, an Afrikaner woman of the Apartheid years who is always quick to profess her love for Africans, yet her actions remain wanting. Kenya's own Grace Ogot's Tekayo takes the reader back to high school days, although this time it makes for delightful reading due to the absence of the numbing fear of imminent exams. In Ken Saro Wiwa's haunting piece Afrika Kills Her Sun, which was published six years before his own execution/ murder, he tells an evocative tale of a death row inmate writing a letter to a childhood sweetheart on the eve of his execution. Nuruddin Farah dazzles in My Father, The Englishman And I as his protagonist reminisces about the role his father played as translator to the English during the signing of the 1948 treaty that saw Ethiopia take over Somalia's Ogaden region. As the reader takes her seat at the feet of Africa's finest storytellers, Under African Skies, they will be regaled with the most splendid tales from the continent... tales that only Africa can tell.