October 27, 2005

Shaking the Bush

Bohannon, "Shakespeare in the Bush" -- Drama as Literature (EL 250)

The old man was acquainted with four kinds of "papers": tax receipts, bride price receipts, court free receipts, and letters. 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 for 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. I did not wish them to think me silly enough to look at any such papers for days on end, and I hastily explained that my "paper" was one of the "things of long ago" of my country.

It is nice to understand what other cultures are accustomed to; it is also nice to see the spin that other cultures might put on our reading of things. This is just like literary criticism, only tribal criticism versus that of theory that we already regard. In this passage, it discusses the particulars to that region and what they are acclimated to accept. When the narrator told the tribe the story of Hamlet, the members were quick to change the tale to fit their culture. If one has to appreciate the culture of another, then this act should be a reciprocal action.

Of course, it is nice to get their opinions on witch craft, sorcery, and poisons Ė but sometimes isnít it just better to listen to a story as it is told. I understand the point of the article is to show the way different people interpret passages because of their heritage and understanding, but if we were to listen to a story of another culture, it would be rude to hone in and interject meaning.

Meaning is at once universal and particular. But, in order to not aggravate the story teller, just listen happily.

Posted by KatieAikins at October 27, 2005 9:52 PM

Yes, you and I would just listen and sit quietly as the story was told. But, you see the whole point is that they don't see things the way we do. In their culture, maybe it is not rude to interject and ask questions about a story. Maybe that is how they thoughtfully engage themselves and participate in the telling of the story.

The other thing is that they often interject because they don't understand. They are asking questions so they can better understand what is going on in the story. They don't know what a ghost is and they don't believe a man's spirit can walk around and talk to people. So the idea that there is something like that in the story confuses them. They can't comprehend that idea, because they have never heard it before, and so it is perfectly natural for them to want to ask questions.

Posted by: Lorin Schumacher at October 28, 2005 8:12 AM


As we discussed in class, I was done with reading for the entire week...period, and wanted to read no more and wanted to read with happy people who would just listen.

Alas, you have quite the valid point. Their interjection is equivalent to our listening. And you're also right, we learn so much about their culture from their interjections.

Thank you, Lorin, and I am sorry about my quick entry.


Posted by: KatieAikins at October 29, 2005 4:18 PM

No need to be sorry. You just weren't in the best of moods when you wrote it and so I understand. Forgive me for my defensive reaction on this blog and in class. I'll see you tomorrow. Hope you had a good weekend! (I'm sure you enjoyed the lack of classes Monday morning, as did we all!)

Posted by: Lorin Schumacher at November 1, 2005 1:41 PM

I see both sides of your argument.

On Lorin's side-- the tribe DID let a woman of another culture into their tribal circle, so they are somewhat progressive and curious. Maybe they do just want answers.

On Katie's side-- the tribesmen listening to the story do seem rude. While they do make a peace offering and claim to like her story, they are drunk. Do you remember the scene in "Forrest Gump" where Jenny is playing guitar naked at the club? Maybe the whole scene in the hut is more like that...

Posted by: David Denninger at November 3, 2005 10:15 AM

David, you always have to be the moderate don't you? =0) But, that is good sometimes. Although, I am still not convinced that the tribe was being rude. And I also don't think we would perceive them as being rude if their interjections were comments that agreed with our perception of what the play means. Which is, in reality, the real problem.

Posted by: Lorin Schumacher at November 5, 2005 7:00 PM