‘Tongo is a Prison’: revisiting Hamile, the Tongo Hamlet

Stephen Collins, Nii Kwaterlai Quartey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

In 1964, the Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) produced an adaptation of
Shakespeare’s Hamlet with staff and students from the University of Ghana’s School of
Music and Drama. Transposed to the far north of Ghana, Hamile: the Tongo Hamlet is
described as the film starts as a straight adaptation with very little alteration: ‘The text is
unaltered, except where it would not make sense in a Frafra community, or where an
archaic word obscures the meaning’. However, in this article we explore how the
repositioning of Hamlet to Ghana’s Northern Region speaks to a brief window of radical
post-colonial politics and culture.

1964 was also the year in which Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, declared a one-party state and himself president for life before his government was toppled in a coup
d’etate in 1966. We argue that given the political context not only can Hamile be read as a
profound reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s text, but that the combination of the
iconography of northern Ghana together with the ambition of Ghana’s nascent creative
institutions captures the highpoint of Nkrumah’s cultural policy. Indeed, the significance of
the examination of this largely forgotten film lies both in our positioning of it as a clear
example of decolonial practice and in its own denial of radical adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalShakespeare in Southern Africa
Volume37
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 24 Mar 2024

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