Academic journal article ARIEL

Mouthwork

Academic journal article ARIEL

Mouthwork

Article excerpt

It takes only a few pages of Amos Tutuola's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1954) to note the narrative's economic feel and the way it hinges on a range of practices, locations, maneuvers, and values that are easily recognizable and instantly familiar. Narrated by a boy who is seven at the novel's open, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts immediately establishes its historical background and economic concerns by revealing the circumstances of the boy's appearance in the eponymous bush and his first ordeals therein. Set against the backdrop of the slave trade, the narrative begins with the boy and his brother being given "two slices of cooked yam" (Tutuola 18) and left to their own resources by their mother, "a petty trader who was going to various markets every day to sell her articles" (17). Unwarned by their fathers two hateful wives of an approaching war and left behind to fend for themselves, the boys flee their house and their village only to realize they have to separate if at least one of them is to avoid capture. The older brother runs away, leaving the younger under a fruit tree from where he unexpectedly enters the "dreadful bush" (22), a supernatural world full of fantastic creatures and incredible events. "[V]ery hungry" upon his arrival (22), the boy begins his sojourn by eating the two pieces of fruit he and his brother picked under the tree and which his brother forwent for his sake.

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is mostly set in the eponymous bush, populated by grotesque spirits and characterized by bizarre incidents. The seven-yeat-old narrator stumbles into it quite unexpectedly trying to avoid a slave raid. While the raid provides an important frame of reference, it is never contextualized in terms of time or place. Indeed, as Laura Murphy points out, "Tutuola does set his novel in a kind of mythic time" (49); nevertheless, the "impetus for the narrator's journey into the bush is the slave trade itself" (Murphy 51). Wandering in the bush, the boy travels from town to town, each numbered and usually ruled by a more or less horrid and cruel ruler. Most of these rulers offer the boy little more than a dreadful ordeal, forcing him to flee to yet another ghostly town. The boy's misadventures in the bush are countless, the violence he experiences unending, and his escapes numerous and often truly miraculous. They last over twenty years, until he manages to find his way out of the forest, unexpectedly finding himself under the same fruit tree that provided entrance to the bush.

As if to maintain the spirit of consumption that inaugurates the boy's over twenty-year-long stay in the horrifying land of ghosts, the narrative has him choose the most pleasing of the three ghosts who dwell inside a hill. He enters their house to discover "a junction of three passages" (23) that lead to three rooms: golden, silverish, and copperish. His choice is dictated by sensory impression; each of the ghosts tempts the boy with delicious food: "But as I stood at the junction of these passages with confusion three kinds of sweet smells were rushing out to me from each of these three rooms, but as I was hungry and also starving before I entered into this hole, so I began to sniff the best smell so that I might enter the right room at once from which the best sweet smell was rushing out" (23). While the boy considers choosing the copperish ghost's room because he offers African food, he is aware that each ghost wants him "to be his servant" (24). He also glimpses the work that will be expected of him as he wanders around the bush noting that certain chores have apparently been done even though no workers can be seen: "Every part of this small hill was very clean as if somebody was sweeping it.... The entrance resembled the door of a house and it had a portico which was sparkling as if it was polished with brasso at all moments" (22-23).

As the last quotation illustrates, the apparitional nature of labour and the erasure of labourers from the ghostly landscape as well as the concomitant promise and prominence of consumption constitute the economic foundation on which the narrative and the boy's travails in the bush rest. …

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