Amos Tutuola (1920 – 1997) was a largely self-taught Nigerian writer who became internationally praised for books based in part on Yoruba folktales, especially the phantasmagorical The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952). Welsh poet Dylan Thomas called the novel “thronged, grisly and bewitching,” bringing it even more attention. Tutuola was criticized in Nigeria for the novel’s “primitive” style, seen to promote negative stereotypes about Africa. However, from the perspective of weird fiction aficionados the book is as amazing and sophisticated an accomplishment as anything from such “outsider artists” as Clark Ashton Smith, or H.P. Lovecraft himself, made unique by taking different cultural referents as its entry point into the weird. “The Complete Gentleman,” a self-contained excerpt from The Palm-Wine Drinkard, is available in The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories.
The following story, “Ajantala, the Noxious Guest,” is reprinted from Cheeky Frawg Books’ recently published collection of Tutuola’s short fiction, Don’t Pay Bad for Bad & Other Stories, featuring nine of Tutuola’s short stories, in addition to an introduction from Yinka Tutuola and an afterword from Matthew Cheney. We hope you enjoy this story and the collection it comes from, and don’t forget that we also have other materials from or related to Amos Tutuola on this site, including an interview with Yinka Tutuola which formed the basis of his introduction to Don’t Pay Bad for Bad. — The Editors
Once there lived in a village, a hunter, who had a wife. When she was under pregnancy, old people of the village warned the husband, “It is time now for you to suspend killing bush animals, for if you continue to do so you will kill the baby that your wife is going to deliver when it is time, and she will deliver of a terrible creature in the form of a baby when it is time for her to deliver.”
“That is a superstition,” the hunter said after the people had gone back to their houses.
Other hunters used to stop killing animals entirely except after their wives had delivered, so that they might not kill their wives’ babies who had changed to the form of bush animals, and after that went to the bush.
When it was the time, the wife of this hunter delivered a male baby.
“Ha! Ha! Ha! This is how the world is! What did I come for then? I thought this world would be as beautiful as the heaven from where I came! Look at everything how it is very dirty! Of course, I will not keep long before I will go back to heaven!” the baby immediately exclaimed, as he came down from his mother’s womb.
Having said that, he stood up from the blood and was walking with trembling feet along to his mother’s room.
“Ha! Look at the baby, he stood and walked at the same time he was born!” the whole people of the house exclaimed with embarrassment.
“Heigh! I have never seen a woman birth such a terrible baby as this one!” said the mother painfully.
And the baby took the sponge and soap and he washed all the blood away from his body. After that, he wrapped his body with one of his mother’s clothes, and then he sat upright on a very high stool and was looking at everyone with his ungrateful eyes.
“Ha! I am badly hungry for food; what can I eat now?” Then he started to sniff the sweet smell of the food which was inside the room nearest to his mother’s room. “Yes, I am glad. I shall get better food from this room; I better go in now.”
Without bearing fear from all the people’s eyes, which were opened wildly with wonder, he stood up and entered the room. He ate the whole food, that which had been prepared for twenty or more persons. After that, he kicked all the plates and pots and they all broke into pieces. Having done all that, he came out and sat down in the middle of the people, who were looking on with their withered lips and hands.
“Good evening to you, mother of the newly born baby! Thanks to the god who has helped you deliver safely. Hope you have not any complaint after birth?” The people of the village had heard the news of the baby within one hour, and they came to greet the mother and see how the baby was.
“There is not any complaint at all and thanks to the god for that, but…” replied the unhappy mother.
“Doubtless, this is not a real baby, but a spirit of one of the animals which his father, the hunter, had killed,” the people were saying on their way when returning to their houses.
In the morning of the seventh day after he was born, several old people gathered in his father’s parlour, just to give him a name, for that must be done, though he was terrible.
The baby walked by himself and sat in the middle of the people, and he was looking at everyone’s eyes as they were praying. “Long live the baby, and—”
But to their horror, when they were about to announce the name which his father, the hunter, wished the old people to give him, the baby himself announced loudly, “My name is AJANTALA and there is no need to give me another name after this.”
The people sighed and mumbled with wonder. Then some honey, a large quantity of alligator pepper, drinks as palm wine, guinea-corn wine, plantain wine, and corn wine, and plenty of bitter kolas were brought before the people, for all these must be served at the naming ceremony.
But, when they were about to start to eat the kolas, etc. and drink the drinks, Ajantala jumped high unexpectedly and pierced one of the people with a sharp iron. When he turned to another man to pierce that one, again, the people rushed outside. All were running away as hastily as they could, and he chased them and beat them a short distance before he came back to the house.
“There is no wonder, the baby, Ajantala, must be a terrible spirit of a wild animal. Of course, we had forewarned his father to stop to killing animals, except after his wife had delivered, but he did not pay heed to the warning, and this is the result now,” the people were saying about in the village.
“Oh, yes! This is a thick, long stick.” Ajantala took it from the ground. He slammed the door and began to flog his father and the rest of the family with the stick so severely that all of them did not know the right time of day until they forced the door open and then ran away. Of course, he did not touch his mother.
“What is more to do? Yes, there are still many more things to do.” Having remembered what was the next thing to do, he took an ax and started to cut down the wall.
“Ha! Stop that,” his mother warned him.
“Oh! Which means you too have no sense? All right, I shall teach you good sense now, as I have taught the others.”
And he gave his mother seven slaps on the face.
“Ah! Ajantala, you are a cruel boy, and you are slapping your mother,” exclaimed a man who stood outside. He had hardly finished in saying so when Ajantala left his mother. He jumped from the veranda to the outside and he gave seven slaps to that man.
“Ha! Ajantala, stop that!” another man who stood nearby exclaimed. But to everyone’s surprise, immediately after that man exclaimed “Ha!” Ajantala cut his mouth open to his nape.
Now Ajantala became so fearful that the whole people of the village shunned to go near his father’s house, and his mother had nearly died for all the troubles given to her.
At last, one morning, she took Ajantala to a very far bush. She gave him plenty of sweet fruits.
“Please, Ajantala, stand near this tree and wait there until I come back and take you to the village, for I am now going farther in this bush to fetch our food.” And by a trick, she left him there and came back to the village.
“Where is Ajantala?” his father asked softly.
“I have left the terrible boy in the bush.”
“And he agreed to stay there?” the father wondered.
“Yes, he agreed, by my trick,” responded the mother.
“I thank you for that. You see, it is helpful sometime to pay heed to the old people’s warning.”
“What do you mean by saying so, my dear?” his wife asked calmly.
“The meaning is that several old people had warned me to stop killing bush animals during the period you were under pregnancy, and Ajantala is the result of the warning, and. I do believe he is one of the animals which I had killed during the period of your pregnancy.”
“Ho-o-o! No wonder!” she discovered the reason why Ajantala was acting like that, and then she believed that he was not a human.
Ajantala waited, waited, waited, and waited under that tree, but his mother did not return to him. He was wandering about in that bush and was looking for his mother until he had traveled to the heart of the bush and came to a small house which was built there. A corn farm surrounded the house, and both the house and the farm belonged to three brothers. Their names were Goat, Lion, and Ram, who was the oldest. They were human beings in those days and were living together in comfort in that house.
“Good day, sirs,” Ajantala walked zigzag into the house and saluted the three brothers, who were sitting and enjoying their leisure hours at the time he met them.
“Hello, good day, boy!” Mr. Ram returned the salutation while the other two were looking at Ajantala and expecting what he wanted to say.
“Please, sirs, I am a wayfarer, and I cannot reach my destination today, and probably not even in two weeks. Therefore, I shall be grateful indeed if you will allow me to stay here with you as your guest for a few days only, before I will continue my journey,” Ajantala asked for this obligation with due respect, as if he was a good boy.
“Of course, we may have mercy on you to let you stay with us for the few days you ask for, though you are very young,” Mr. Ram said on behalf of the rest.
“Thanks, sirs, and God.” Ajantala prostrated.
So, he was allowed to stay with them. He was eating and doing everything with them.
Having seen this luxurious living, a few days later, Ajantala asked, “Please, sirs, I want to discontinue my journey and be a servant for you. I shall comply with all of your orders.” And these three brothers agreed.
The following morning, Ajantala followed Mr. Goat to the farm to fetch their food. Having collected plenty of fruits into the basket, Mr. Goat told Ajantala to carry it.
“Oh! What do you say now, Mr. Goat?” And Mr. Goat repeated what he had told him to do.
“Ho! Ho! Ho! Is that what you mean to do? All right, I shall teach you sense now.” And Mr. Goat was looking at him with the thought that Ajantala was so small that he could not do him any harm.
Ajantala walked like a crab for a short distance. He came back with a handful of dust and he threw it into Mr. Goat’s eyes suddenly. As Mr. Goat was staggering about for help, Ajantala struck him at the forehead with a heavy stone and then knocked him down. A large quantity of blood was dropping down from Mr. Goat’s head.
After a while, Ajantala helped Mr. Goat to stand up, and he put the basket on Mr. Goat’s head.
As they were going along the way to the house, Ajantala warned Mr. Goat not to tell the rest what had happened to him at the farm. Willing or not, Mr. Goat agreed; otherwise he would harm him more severely than that.
“Ah! Mr. Goat, what has happened to your head and eyes at the farm?” the rest asked when he and Ajantala entered the house.
“It was a big stone that fell upon my head,” Mr. Goat replied and rubbed away the blood with his hand.
The following day, it was Mr. Ram’s turn to go to the same farm for food. Ajantala followed him and he did the same to Mr. Ram. And so he did the same to Mr. Lion the day that he followed him to the farm.
These three brothers became fed up to be living with Ajantala, for he was too terrible and powerful for them.
One night, when Ajantala had gone to bed—they did not know that he never fell asleep—Mr. Ram first said, “I am afraid Ajantala is a noxious guest, and if we don’t find one way or the other now to escape, one day he will kill all of us.”
“Certainly, he will kill all of us one day,” Mr. Goat supported. “But I suggest that the best thing to do now is to pack all our belongings and leave this house tomorrow morning. I am sure, before he will wake, we should go as far as to a place that he will not be able to trace us out,” Mr. Lion suggested quietly.
“Yes, you are right, Mr. Lion, and it will be better if we pack our belongings and food into one basket now, and by five o’clock in the morning leave here,” said the other two.
At the same time, they packed all their belongings into one basket and put plenty of food in it, which they would eat on their way.
Having done that, they went to bed and slept. But, Ajantala, who had heard all of their discussions, stood up cautiously, wrapped himself with dried broad leaves, and put himself at the bottom of the basket.
By five o’clock, these three brothers woke up, then Mr. Goat put the basket on his head and all left that house. They thought that they had saved themselves from Ajantala who was in the basket.
Having traveled about for miles, they came to a tree and stopped under it to rest for some minutes.
“Eh! We leave our lovely house today and Ajantala will occupy the rest of our things,” said painfully Mr. Lion.
“Were you not the one who had agreed to Ajantala staying with us?” Mr. Ram said.
“Ha! I was not the one, but Mr. Goat was,” Mr. Lion denied.
“Yes, you were the one, Mr. Lion, I believe,” Mr. Goat supported.
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Not me at all, but you were the one, Mr. Lion,” exclaimed Mr. Goat.
“Shut up there, Mr. Goat, I am quite sure you were the one,” roared Mr. Lion.
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Don’t tell a lie against me, Mr. Lion.”
“I say shut up your mouth, and if you don’t admit now that you were the one, I shall kill you and eat your body at once, especially now that I am badly hungry for meat,” Lion roared again.
“All right, if I was the one who had approved Ajantala’s request to be with us, let this ground on which we stand now split, and then swallow me. But if I was not the one, let something bring Ajantala to us now to scatter all of us.”
Mr. Goat hardly finished this curse when Ajantala jumped out of the basket, and they could not even glance at him when they scattered in different directions out of fear.
Mr. Lion escaped to the forest while Messrs. Goat and Ram escaped to the village, and then became domestic animals from that day.
It was from that day they became enemies of each other. And that is the reason the lion kills the goat or ram whenever it sees one of them, for the lie they had told against him in the past.
Thus Ajantala separated the three brothers.