The Palm-Wine Drinkard

by Amos Tutuola

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The Palm-Wine Drinkard Summary

The Palm-Wine Drinkard is a 1953 novel by Amos Tutuola about an unnamed man who goes on a journey looking for a deceased palm-wine tapster.

  • The narrator and protagonist grows up drinking palm-wine. Once the tapster dies, the narrator goes on a quest to find him and bring him home.
  • Along the way, the narrator rescues a lady from a masquerading skull, marries her, and brings her along on his journey.
  • After many episodes and trials, the narrator finds the tapster in Deads’ town but realizes that the dead and the living cannot coexist.


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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

The narrator is the son of a wealthy man, who indulges his son by employing a tapster to provide him with the immense amounts of palm-wine he likes to drink, as well as a huge farm full of palm-trees. When the tapster dies, the narrator, believing that the dead can still be found somewhere on earth, sets out in search of him.

After seven months, the narrator meets an old man who says he will tell him where his tapster is if he finds Death and brings him back to the town where the old man lives. The narrator succeeds in doing this, but the old man and all the other inhabitants flee in terror, leaving no one to divulge this information. In another town, the head man tells the narrator that he will reveal the tapster’s whereabouts if the narrator rescues his daughter from a skull who has captured her and is holding her prisoner. The narrator rescues the lady and marries her. After three and a half years living in the town, the narrator and his wife continue the search for the tapster.

The narrator and his wife encounter various strange creatures in the bushes, the forest, and the fields. They stay with the island people, who are kind to them and give them a beautiful home on Wraith Island. They are captured by the cruel, evil inhabitants of Unreturnable-Heaven’s Town but manage to escape, burning the town to the ground in the process. Eventually, they go inside a white tree, where they meet a woman called “Faithful-Mother” who lives in a large and beautiful house.

The Faithful-Mother heals the wounds inflicted by the inhabitants of Unreturnable-Heaven’s Town, and the narrator and his wife stay with her for over a year, eating, drinking, and dancing. After this time, the Faithful-Mother sends them on their way well armed and well provisioned. They meet a red lady who brings them to a town where all the people, livestock, food, and drink are colored red.

The narrator volunteers to be a human sacrifice for two hideous monsters, a giant red fish and a giant red bird, that have been menacing the red town. He shoots both creatures, but the townspeople are afraid of his power, thinking that he may later decide to harm them. They change themselves into a great fire and burn the town to the ground. However, when they found a new town, the narrator and his wife live among them and quickly become rich.

One of the laborers the narrator employs, a man called Invisible-Pawn, arouses the animosity of the townspeople, first by performing his work with ferocious efficiency and then by taking all their yams and corn. A battle ensues, in which Invisible-Pawn kills all the townspeople. Afterwards, the narrator and his wife continue on their journey to Deads’ Town. A man they meet on the road takes them to the wrong town, where they are accused of murdering the prince. However, when the king gives them fine clothes and horses so that they can enjoy the last week before their execution, the real culprit—the man who brought them to the town—mistakes these gifts for signs of favor and confesses to the murder. He is executed, while the narrator and his wife are permitted to proceed to Deads’ Town.

When they reach Deads’ Town and find the palm-wine tapster, he tells them that he cannot come with them, as it is impossible for the living and the dead to coexist alongside one another. The narrator sees for himself how different the ways of the dead are and...

(This entire section contains 831 words.)

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accepts this. He leaves to return to his hometown, and the tapster gives him the gift of an egg, which he says has the power to grant wishes. The narrator and his wife take the road away from the Deads’ Town but are chased into the bush by dead babies who beat them with sticks. In the bush, they are captured by a huge man who puts them in his sack.

The huge man forces them to work as slaves on his farm, but they escape and start to travel through the bush again. A creature that is perpetually hungry swallows them, but the narrator shoots the creature from inside its stomach and cuts a way out for himself and his wife by using the weapons the Faithful-Mother gave him.

After settling in a town for a while and then encountering mountain-creatures who try to force them to dance, the narrator and his wife cross a river and arrive in the narrator’s hometown, where they are welcomed with palm-wine. There is a severe famine in the town, but the narrator is able to provide food and drink for the people using his magic egg. One day, the egg is smashed, so the narrator tells the people that they must make a sacrifice to Heaven, after which a heavy rain falls, and the famine is over.


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