This film is held by the BFI (ID: 18867) and Imperial War Museum (ID: CCE 215).


Opening with a map of the area, the film depicts aspects of village life as local women carry baskets and grind millet. The living quarters of the family are shown, while a compound floor is hardened. There follows a more detailed description of the administration within the district - which is 'in the hands of the chiefs and headmen' - overseen by the District Commissioner. The film outlines a system of 'indirect rule through the chiefs', showing the development of self-government within the area under British supervision. In doing so, the film illustrates the ordering and collection of a head tax, before a sequence highlighting trade with the Ivory Coast and a visit to the marketplace.

(REEL TWO). The film examines the further responsibilities of the local administration, in issues of transportation, the distribution of the annual budget, the justice system, and education. It concludes by examining the future of the area 'on the long road towards eventual self-government'.

Documentary about village life in West Africa.


Documentation/associated material: COI file: script, shotlist



A Mamprusi Village, produced by the Ministry of Information, was distributed by the Central Film Library at the Imperial Institute in South Kensington. In a letter to The Times in May 1944, the Institute’s Director, H.A.F. Lindsay, explained that the library contained an ‘empire section, which is in keen demand in schools throughout the United Kingdom’. Lindsay suggested that the library’s circulation was approximately 350 films a day, of which ‘roughly a third represents the issue of Empire films to schools’ (The Times, 3 May 1944, 5).

A Mamprusi Village was therefore predominantly intended for schools. The film, according to a review by the Educational Panel Viewing Committee in Monthly Film Bulletin, offered lessons in geography and in ‘how native administration works in Africa’ (Monthly Film Bulletin, Vol.13, 1946). Yet, Documentary News Letter was more troubled by the film’s pedagogical function: ‘If shown to children, this film will convince them that coloured people are totally different from white people’. The review strongly criticised the paternalistic and traditional representation of Africans within the film, arguing that ‘the film resolutely shoulders the white man’s burden. The coloured men are shown as gay, childlike, amiable, irresponsible, happy and carefree – just simple noble savages. As for diseases or hunger, well, they’re too much like children to notice such things. Perhaps they are thankful to their masters and die’ (Documentary News Letter, September 1945, 92).

Documentary News Letter further suggested that the film ‘will cut no ice in America’, but it was screened as part of educational lectures in Washington and Boston. It was shown to the Walla Walla rotary club in February 1947 as ‘evidence of Britain’s work with African natives’ (Union Bulletin, 20 February 1947, 5) and as part of a lecture examining ‘how the natives may obtain reasonable self-government’ by the British Consul-General in Boston, at the Berkshire Museum in May (Berkshire Evening Eagle, 16 May 1947, 4). Furthermore extensive material from the film would feature in John Page’s 1947 COI film, Here is the Gold Coast, which also played non-theatrically across America.

A Mamprusi Village was filmed in 1944, at a time when Sir Alan Burns, the Governor of the Gold Coast, was proposing constitutional reform in the area. Since the 1920s – most notably with the introduction of the Native Administration Ordinance in 1927 – African chiefs had assumed greater powers within local affairs, but while the British viewed the Chiefs as the people’s representatives, the Chiefs were often deeply resented and ‘in serious conflict with their people’ (Roberts, 1986, 341).

The new constitution, which was agreed in principle by Oliver Stanley, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in October 1944, and introduced in 1946, sought to ease this growing local dissatisfaction by providing for the election of eighteen members of the thirty-strong legislative council. Yet while the reform was intended to serve as a further, gradual step ‘on a peaceful road to a distant independence’, by 1948 there were riots directed at the central government in many parts of the country. These riots resulted in 29 deaths and prompted the Governor to call a state of emergency. The subsequent 1948 Watson inquiry reported that the Burns constitution was ‘outmoded at birth’ and should be revised to give ‘capable Africans a proper role in running the country, which had not been well served by a colonial government relying on feudal chiefs’ (Brendon 2007, 518). 



“These people, children as well as adults are on the long road towards eventual self-government. It will take time, it musttake time, because the gap between the primitive and the older civilisations cannot be filled quickly with benefit to the primitive. But a start has been made and the results are already encouraging”.

The final words in A Mamprusi Village outline the dominant colonial attitudes towards both the African people, and towards the process of self-government. The film creates a clear distinction between the ‘primitive’ Africans and the ‘civilised’ British. This is illustrated through ethnographic shots of bare-breasted women at work, but also through the commentary, which, in the film’s only reference to either religion or agriculture, describes the people of Mamprusi as a ‘cheerful, friendly lot. Simple, pagan, mainly occupied in farming’. The commentary states that ‘these people, primitive as they are, have a strong tribal organisation and a considerable momentum of self-government’. The film attempts to illustrate the development of the Africans, thus far, under colonial rule, while also highlighting the many developments still needed before these ‘primitive’ people can achieve self-government.

The film outlines the system of British rule within the area – a district officer shakes hands with the chiefs, who are shaded under umbrellas, while crowds of barely clothed Africans watch – representing an ideal of indirect rule in which the British ‘advise’ the chiefs and headmen. In highlighting the perceived developments under British rule, the film must emphasise the previously ‘undeveloped’ nature of the area. In doing so, it suggests that the British have removed the system of bribes that used to control the courts, they have brought law and order with the introduction of the uniformed mounted Police and they have brought education so that ‘the children are fed, clothed and educated’. Even the introduction of the head tax is presented as liberating for the local people, as now ‘by handing over a small fixed sum he is free of any obligation to work on another man’s land’.

The intended audience for the film, which was aimed at children in schools as much as adults, also influences the often-simplistic representation of the local people and their government. The annual budget is calculated by moving bags of money around – ‘discussion goes on until there are no more bags’ – while the justice system is represented by a case in which a man has stolen another’s wife: ‘Should he be made to return her, or if no-one is in favour of that, how many goats must he pay?’ However, the film does depict detailed aspects of local life that are rarely seen on film, while such a representation also serves to illustrate the continued need for British assistance. Yet, despite the film’s emphasis on gradual self-government (‘it must take time’), supported by the impending Burns Constitution, within thirteen years the Gold Coast would achieve full independence.

There are a number of notable omissions within the film. There is no mention of the War, even though the West African forces numbered 150,000 by 1945, while any local grievances or dissatisfaction with this feudal form of government are also overlooked. In attempting to illustrate the need for continued British assistance, A Mamprusi Village does suggest that ‘the Mamprusi district has none of the riches that its name [Gold Coast] suggests’, but the reasons for these problems are not readily addressed. For example, while the film illustrates the road building schemes initiated by the British, the lack of rail links within the Northern Territory greatly hindered the area. It depicts a traditional African marketplace, and refers to a flourishing export trade, yet economically the Northern Territories had few exportable products, such as the cocoa of the South, and imports regularly exceeded exports.

Tom Rice (February 2008)


Works Cited

‘African Talk to be Given at Museum’, Berkshire Evening Eagle, 16 May 1947, 4.

Brendon, Piers, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781 – 1997 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2007).

Documentary News Letter, September 1945, 92.

Finnegan, Gregory A., ‘A Mamprusi Village’, American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 79, No. 3. (September 1977), 748-749.

Monthly Film Bulletin, Vol.13, 1946.

Roberts, A. D. ed., The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 7 1905-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

‘Knowledge of the Empire’, The Times, 3 May 1944, 5.

‘Gold Coast is Program Topic’, Union Bulletin, 20 February 1947, 5. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
19 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1729 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Page, John
film editor
Mellor, Jim
Page, John
Production company
Ministry of Information