Shakespeare in the Bush

Thanks to Mark Shea (you did read his column this morning, “Counsel the Doubtful,” didn’t you?) for sharing this hilarious read: What happens when an American anthropologist tells the story of Hamlet to some African tribesman?

Laura Bohannan’s thesis that “human nature is pretty much the same the whole world over” met its match in the Tiv tribe of West Africa:

I began in the proper style, “Not yesterday, not yesterday, but long ago, a thing occurred. One night three men were keeping watch outside the homestead of the great chief, when suddenly they saw the former chief approach them.”

“Why was he no longer their chief?”

“He was dead,” I explained. “That is why they were troubled and afraid when they saw him.”

“Impossible,” began one of the elders, handing his pipe on to his neighbor, who interrupted, “Of course it wasn’t the dead chief. It was an omen sent by a witch. Go on.”

It only goes downhill from there. Read the whole fantastic story to find out the true meaning of Hamlet, pace the Tiv (hint: it involves omens, witchcraft, proper hunting etiquette, and the benefits of polygamy).

 

By

Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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