Shakespeare in the Bush. “An American anthropologist set out to study the Tiv of West Africa and was taught the true meaning of Hamlet.”:
I decided to skip the soliloquy. Even if Claudius was here thought quite right to marry his brotherÄôs widow, there remained the poison motif, and I knew they would disapprove of fratricide. More hopefully I resumed, ÄúThat night Hamlet kept watch with the three who had seen his dead father. The dead chief again appeared, and although the others were afraid, Hamlet followed his dead father off to one side. When they were alone, HamletÄôs dead father spoke.Äù
ÄúOmens canÄôt talk!Äù The old man was emphatic.
ÄúHamletÄôs dead father wasnÄôt an omen. Seeing him might have been an omen, but he was not.Äù My audience looked as confused as I sounded. ÄúIt was HamletÄôs dead father. It was a thing we call a Äòghost.ÄôÄù I had to use the English word, for unlike many of the neighboring tribes, these people didnÄôt believe in the survival after death of any individuating part of the personality.
ÄúWhat is a Äòghost?Äô An omen?Äù
ÄúNo, a ÄòghostÄô is someone who is dead but who walks around and can talk, and people can hear him and see him but not touch him.Äù
They objected. ÄúOne can touch zombis.Äù
ÄúNo, no! It was not a dead body the witches had animated to sacrifice and eat. No one else made HamletÄôs dead father walk. He did it himself.Äù
ÄúDead men canÄôt walk,Äù protested my audience as one man.
I was quite willing to compromise.
ÄúA ÄòghostÄô is the dead manÄôs shadow.Äù
But again they objected. ÄúDead men cast no shadows.Äù
ÄúThey do in my country,Äù I snapped.