December 2014

Kongi's Harvest: From Stage to Screen

The Centenary Project

An exhibit showing images of the crew, cast and scenes from Nigeria's first indigenous film

Kongi's Harvest
Kongi's Harvest is a film adaptation of a play written by Wole Soyinka in 1965 with the same title. It was produced by Francis Oladele's Calpenny Nigeria Films.The film analyzes the degeneration of personal rule in independent Africa and satirizes the resulting tyranny in terms of the confrontation between a populist politician and a traditional ruler.

The lead character, Kongi, was played by Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian playwright, poet and the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. He also wrote the screenplay for the film.

Although the ending of the film diverges altogether from both Soyinka's original play and his film script, it did capture the essence of what he sought to convey: the rising trend of dictatorships and tyrannical rule in Africa at the time.

On Ossie Davis and Soyinka

Francis Oladele - film producer and founder of Calpenny Nigeria Films, a pioneer film making company in Nigeria.

He started his career as a photographer, and worked as a photojournalist for Daily Times Nigeria before proceeding to the prestigious New York Institute of Photography. He worked briefly with Technicolor (USA) before returning to Nigeria to work as the Pioneer African Head of the Film Unit of the then Western Nigeria Television (WNTV).

On 21st September 1965, he set up Calpenny Nigeria Films Limited in September 1965 as the first Nigerian film production company. According to him, it was set up as the result of his desire for Nigerians to produce films that told their own story.

Francis Oladele and Calpenny

Kongi's Harvest was directed by distinguished African-American, Ossie Davis.

Fresh from directing the commercially successful film, "Cotton comes to Harlem" in 1969, Davis came to Nigeria full of enthusiasm to direct what would become the first film in Nigeria with a fully African cast. He also appeared as narrator in the early scenes. Davis is known to have described Kongi's Harvest as "a comedy of African politics [which shows] Africa as Africans see it."

In 1989, he was named to the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame with his wife, actress/activist Ruby Dee. In 1995, they were awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honour conferred to an individual artist in the United States. And in 2004, they were recipients of the prestigious Kennedy Centre Honours.

Plot Summary of Kongi's Harvest
President Kongi, the dictator of an African developing nation, is trying to modernize after deposing King Oba Danlola, who is being held in detention. Kongi demands that Danlola present him with a ceremonial yam at the harvest ceremony to indicate his abdication. Daodu, Danlola's nephew and heir, grows prized yams on his farm. Daodu's lover Segi owns a bar where Daodu spends most of his time. She is revealed to have been Kongi's former lover. As the different tribes are resisting unification, Kongi tries to reach his goal by any means necessary, including forcing government officials to wear traditional African outfits and seeking advice from the man he deposed. In a climactic scene at the harvest ceremony, Kongi is shot dead.

As president, Kongi resolves to acquire the last vestige of leadership – the spiritual privilege – which is left to Danlola. Therefore, he demands that the king must hand over the new yam to him at a public ceremony.

In the meantime, Kongi retreats to the mountains with his chosen intellectuals whom he is shaping into a new image of wise men to replace the traditional council of elders-the Aweri-who in time past formed the king’s cabinet.

Kongi renames the new sages the “Reformed Aweri Fraternity” and requested that they accompany him to his mountain retreat for a period of fasting, meditation and debate, charged with an immediate task to decide upon the public image for Kongi and also find a way to make Danlola submit to Kongi’s demands.

Kongi’s power is maintained by his personal brigade-the “Carpenter’s Brigade” – led by a Captain. Subordinated to only Kongi himself, the brigade impose their own form of order on the populace.

The Origin of Kongi's Harvest

Meanwhile, the energetic organising secretary (Femi Johnson) plays the role of mediator between Kongi and Danlola. There are other five rebels in preventive detention and another five in death cell awaiting public execution for a previous attempt on Kongi’s life.

The organising secretary uses this as a bargaining point and pleads with Kongi that an amnesty for the five men might persuade Danlola to cooperate. It works. A general amnesty is declared.

However, in a night club run by Segi (Nina Baden-Semper), a plot is being hatched to help the condemned men escape.

Segi's father, Dr Gbenga is one of the condemned men. Master-minding the plot is Segi’s current lover, Daodu. Dr. Gbenga eventually escapes and takes refuge in his daughter’s (Segi) home. The news of his escape infuriates Kongi and in a fit of temper withdraws the amnesty.

Danlola who had been released from detention in turn withdraws his promise of cooperation and decides to perform in public the age-old ritual of eating the new yam.

The organising secretary pleads with him in vain and Daodu whose plot depends on the Harvest Ceremony, resolves to desecrate the king’s ritual.

At the climatic scene, at the Harvest Ceremony, Daodu makes his speech and signals for the yam to be brought forward. Kongi rises and so does Danlola who will formally hand over the new yam.

A shot rings out and the amazement of everyone, Kongi is shot dead.

The Captain of the Brigade moves his men into position to contain the melee. Dr. Gbenga now emerges and the Captain at once knows who has been behind the assassination.

They begin to talk and negotiate and the subject turns to the price of cooperation. The yam is there for the king's taking – at a price the Captain will name.

Daodu, Segi, Danlola and the Organising Secretary wait for Dr. Gbenga’s decision. After all, Kongi lies dead.

Cast
Kongi's Harvest casts ranges from Africa's first Nobel prize winner to British actress and recipient of Joint Television Award and a number of Nigeria's seasoned theatre performers

Wole Soyinka played president Kongi

Rashidi Onikoyi played Oba Danlola, the king of Isma

Segi, Daodu's lover and Dr. Gbenga's daughter was played by Nina Baden-Semper, an outstanding British actress and recipient of Joint Television Award.

Promoting African Culture in Filmmaking

Dapo Adelugba played Daodu, Oba Danlola's nephew, Segi's lover and a fierce opposition to Kongi’s regime.

Kongi's Harvest as Practical Workshop

Femi Johnson played Organising Secretary, the mediator between Kongi and Oba Danlola faction

Dr. Gbenga was played by Orlando Martins a pioneering black actor in film on stage and the chairman of Calpenny films

Captain of Carpenter brigade - played by Femi Robinson

Wale Ogunyemi - played Dende

Banjo Solaru - played Sarumi

Notable Scenes
Kongi's Harvest scenes essentially captures a play on Power, Pomp and Ecstasy": the power of autocratic president Kongi, the pomp of detained king Danlola, the ecstasy of Segi and Daodu who oppose the dictator.

The organising secretary and Daodu having a conversation regarding the state of Isma.

Segi and Daodu plotting the escape of Dr. Gbenga

Daodu wins the new yam competition

Segi and Daodu celebrate the success of the new yam contest

Kongi and the people stands at attention as the national anthem is being recited at the Harvest Ceremony

Kongi shot dead

Kongi's body lies dead on the stage while the captain of carpenter brigade negotiates with Dr. Gbenga on the prize he is to pay for assassinating Kongi.

The Indigenous Crew
Kongi's Harvest crew was essentially furnished by Lennart Berns of Omega Film in Sweden. The indigenous crew was limited in number because the country, at the time, lacked human capital skilled in the techniques of film making.  

Film Assistant Director - Tunde Adeniji

Technical Director - Dejo Alabi

The importance of training in filmmaking

Assistant Film Editor - Alhaji Gboyega Arulogun, former commissioner for information, Oyo State, Nigeria.

Kongi's Harvest assistant film editor
Centenary Project
Credits: Story

Curator: Rita Moemeke
Assistant Curator: Emem Akpabio
Exhibit Coordinator/Initiator: Patrick Enaholo

Source materials: Tunde Kelani, Mainframe Films and Television Productions
Josef Gugler: "Wole Soyinka's Kongi's Harvest from Stage to Screen: Four Endings to Tyranny", Canadian Journal of African Studies, 1997

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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