An exhibit showing images of the crew, cast and scenes from Nigeria's first indigenous film
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Segi and Daodu celebrate the success of the new yam contest
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