Shakespeare in the Bush This story, by Laura Bohannan, is a perfect example that literature is open to many interpretations. To many people in our culture the play of Hamlet is well-known, and accepted without many difficulties. However, in the Tiv culture there are several errors in the plot that the chiefs point out. While visiting the Tiv in Africa, Laura is asked to tell the elders a story from our culture. It is at this point that she finds her chance to tell about Hamlet because she thinks it is one of the most important pieces of literature in our society.
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He was, after all, a very English poet, and one can easily misinterpret the universal by misunderstanding the particular. To end an argument we could not conclude, my friend gave me a copy of Hamlet to study in the African bush: it would, he hoped, lift my mind above its primitive surroundings, and possibly I might, by prolonged meditation, achieve the grace of correct interpretation.
It was my second field trip to that African tribe, and I thought myself ready to live in one of its remote sections—an area difficult to cross even on foot. I eventually settled on the hillock of a very knowledgeable old man, the head of a homestead of some hundred and forty people, all of whom were either his close relatives or their wives and children.
Like the other elders of the vicinity, the old man spent most of his time performing ceremonies seldom seen these days in the more accessible parts of the tribe. I was delighted. Soon there would be three months of enforced isolation and leisure, between the harvest that takes place just before the rising of the swamps and the clearing of new farms when the water goes down.
Then, I thought, they would have even more time to perform ceremonies and explain them to me. I was quite mistaken. Most of the ceremonies demanded the presence of elders from several homesteads. As the swamps rose, the old men found it too difficult to walk from one homestead to the next, and the ceremonies gradually ceased. As the swamps rose even higher, all activities but one came to an end. The women brewed beer from maize and millet.
Men, women, and children sat on their hillocks and drank it. People began to drink at dawn. By midmorning the whole homestead was singing, dancing, and drumming.
When it rained, people had to sit inside their huts: there they drank and sang or they drank and told stories. In any case, by noon or before, I either had to join the party or retire to my own hut and my books. Come, drink with us.
Before the end of the second month, grace descended on me. I was quite sure that Hamlet had only one possible interpretation, and that one universally obvious. Early every morning, in the hope of having some serious talk before the beer party, I used to call on the old man at his reception hut—a circle of posts supporting a thatched roof above a low mud wall to keep out wind and rain. One day I crawled through the low doorway and found most of the men of the homestead sitting huddled in their ragged cloths on stools, low plank beds, and reclining chairs, warming themselves against the chill of the rain around a smoky fire.
In the center were three pots of beer. The party had started. The old man greeted me cordially. Then I poured some more into the same gourd for the man second in seniority to my host before I handed my calabash over to a young man for further distribution. Your servants tell me that when you are not with us, you sit inside your hut looking at a paper. The messenger who brought him letters from the chief used them mainly as a badge of office, for he always knew what was in them and told the old man.
Personal letters for the few who had relatives in the government or mission stations were kept until someone went to a large market where there was a letter writer and reader.
Since my arrival, letters were brought to me to be read. A few men also brought me bride price receipts, privately, with requests to change the figures to a higher sum. I found moral arguments were of no avail, since in-laws are fair game, and the technical hazards of forgery difficult to explain to an illiterate people.
Storytelling is a skilled art among them; their standards are high, and the audiences critical—and vocal in their criticism.
I protested in vain. This morning they wanted to hear a story while they drank. They threatened to tell me no more stories until I told them one of mine. The old man handed me some more beer to help me on with my storytelling. Men filled their long wooden pipes and knocked coals from the fire to place in the pipe bowls; then, puffing contentedly, they sat back to listen.
One night three men were keeping watch outside the homestead of the great chief, when suddenly they saw the former chief approach them. It was an omen sent by a witch. Go on.
Shakespeare in the Bush
They married May 15, In Bohannan received her doctorate from Oxford University. Tiv[ edit ] Off and on from to Bohannan and her husband lived among the Tiv tribe of southeastern Nigeria. They would be the subject of her major works. Bohannan, while living in a small village in Nigeria , attempts to tell the story of Hamlet to a group of villagers. Thus, the essay is often used by students of anthropology , linguistics , and literary theory as a means of understanding how perspective affects perception and expectation.
Shakespeare in the Bush Introduces Anthropology
He was, after all, a very English poet, and one can easily misinterpret the universal by misunderstanding the particular. To end an argument we could not conclude, my friend gave me a copy of Hamlet to study in the African bush: it would, he hoped, lift my mind above its primitive surroundings, and possibly I might, by prolonged meditation, achieve the grace of correct interpretation. It was my second field trip to that African tribe, and I thought myself ready to live in one of its remote sections—an area difficult to cross even on foot. I eventually settled on the hillock of a very knowledgeable old man, the head of a homestead of some hundred and forty people, all of whom were either his close relatives or their wives and children.
While she is there she hopes to prove that human nature is universal and the same everywhere and that the Tiv will understand and interpret the story of Hamlet in the same way that the people in her culture have. Before she goes she decides Hamlet is universally intelligible and that the story only has one world wide interpretation. While Bohannan is in Nigeria she is asked to tell the elders of the Tiv a story from her culture. This is when she realizes her opportunity to tell them about Hamlet and study their interpretation. She also thinks Hamlet is particularly important because it is one of the most important pieces of literature in her our society. She feels the story will be easy to make clear because it is understood by everyone or so she thinks! Laura Bohannan and the modern Western culture feel that this action or marriage was slightly incestuous and also happened too quickly after the death.