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.  Laura thinks that the story will be fairly easy to explain because of it is generally understood by everyone.  Also, she thinks that the elders will understand because before starting to tell the story, Laura thought that every culture would understand the plot of the story in the same way our society does.  "I was quiet sure that Hamlet had only one possible interpretation, and that one universally obvious” (Bohannan 24).  Once the story started, it was clear that the Tiv had a completely different way of thinking, and interpreting story’s. 

    The first error that the elders found in the story was the word usage that was used to translate non-existent word in the Tiv vocabulary.  The word "chief" was used in place of king or ruler, which may not seem to make a difference to our understanding.  However, to a culture that relies heavily on chiefs, the story is greatly changed because the word “chief” brings about many responsibilities.  Trying to explain that the “chief” was dead, brought about a lot of confusion. To the Tiv people there is no such thing as a ghost, which means as soon as they found that King Hamlet came back to visit Hamlet, the Tiv thought it to be an omen sent by a witch.  The Tiv rely on interpretations to make sense of stories, and the only way for them to interpret Hamlet is to relate its meanings to their culture. 

    Throughout the story telling by Bohannan it is clear that each society has their own interpretations of stories no matter what culture the story’s come from.  When Bohannan finish’s telling her interpretation of Hamlet the elders tell her that it was a good story, but there are errors that were over looked.  This is the ending scene, where Hamlet and Laertes get into a machete fight, and Hamlet is supposed to die of poisoning.  Most people over look the fact that it was who ever won the fight that drank from the poison cup.  This meant that it wasn’t only Hamlet that would die if he won the fight, if Laertes won then he too would drink from the cup. 

    From this story we find that elders in every society feel that they know what is best.  Bohannan was told several times to check with her elders at home to get the real meaning of Hamlet.  Elders are often listened to because they are thought to have much experience in the ways of life.  Laura came into the Tiv culture thinking that everyone thought alike, but really she found that everything is open to interpretation and experience.  One person is listened to if we believe that their experience is better than our own. 

 

 

http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/EthnoAtlas/Hmar/Cult_dir/Culture.7874

http://hcms.hollandchristian.org/smeenge/tribes.html

 

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