Interview with Werewere Liking, by Sylvie Chalaye

Limoges, October 1997

Mother Courage
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Werewere Liking is the founder of the KiYi M’bock Théâtre, which she set up in 1985 in Abidjan. This disturbingly successful woman has dared to broach the most taboo issues facing African society. Not having been to school hasn’t stopped Werewere Liking. She immigrated from Cameroon as a young woman and today successfully runs an artistic community, which she manages to keep alive almost entirely with the cultural work out of it, without any official funding. Today she’s the Mother of an entire village, but in her youth she suffered the same humiliations that all young African girls suffer. Werewere Liking is independent and free and she was strong enough to change her own destiny. She personifies feminine strength and the patience of the African people.

 » Is it possible to be Black and NOT patient ? « ,
Koffi Kwahulé, Cette Vieille magie noire, Ed. Lansman, p.70.

You have gained international re-known for your theatrical work. Your career path has been rather extraordinary »? In what way has the path you have taken been difficult?
There are always hurdles in everything we do – for men just as much as for women. Granted, each sex faces problems of a different nature, but every big undertaking has it’s hurdles. The hardest thing is not getting discouraged or succumbing to laziness. You have to accept far more than is normal, and not think of each criticism as a reason for giving up. That’s the main obstacle. There is a local proverb that says that only those who don’t do anything remain irreproachable. Every time you undertake something, you are bound to make mistakes, or even hurt people. Therefore, you have to be on your guard so as to do the least damage possible. Obviously, it’s not always easy since our subconscious mind sometimes pushes us to do things that might hurt others even though we don’t mean to.
And as a woman?
As a woman, you have to resist the temptation to think that there’s anything special about being a woman. I think that as a woman you are faced with certain difficulties but you have certain advantages too. I don’t feel handicapped by the fact that I’m a woman. On the contrary, I believe that it’s a privilege to be a woman. And I’ll say it to anyone who wants to listen: no man could have created Ki-Yi at the time. It was too hard for men. Only a woman could do it because you had to be used to giving your own life so that life goes on. Only women have learnt this. It’s a kind of sacrifice that goes beyond your own personal power and your authority – whether this authority is questioned or not. Because you have to be able to put aside your authority in order to seek to understand for life to go on.
Feminine Self-sacrifice?
Yes. Absolutely. That’s what I’m talking about.
Would it be right to say that your present success compensates for the past – you had a hard childhood, from what I understand?
I don’t know what you call a « hard » childhood. My life wasn’t any harder than anyone else’s. My destiny is a bit unusual so my life has been a bit unusual. They say that God never sets us insurmountable trials.
How does your commitment as a woman influence your theatre work?
It shows in the fact that I’m not rushed. You can’t decide how fast you want your child to grow. Whether you’re in a hurry or not, it’ll take as long as it needs and will grow at it’s own rate. This patience shows that I am a woman. I know that there’s no point in rushing things. I work hard, but I let things ripen fully. You have to take the time to train people. For the kind of aesthetic that I’m trying to reach there’s no-one already trained. So I have to take the time to train them.
In your last production, L’Enfant Mbénè, the Grandmother’s role is very important. Is there something of you in the character, even though you’re still young?
In tales there are always role-model characters. I would say that I play that woman’s role in my everyday life. Every day I have to be watchful, I have to remind people that they have a destiny, and responsibilities, that they have to put in more effort than usual. That’s the role I’m playing. I am the Ki-Yi’s Grandmother and am seen as an ancestor. That’s why it doesn’t shock me that you see me as the Grandmother. But my favourite character from the fables is in Kaïdara. It’s the character that collects wood and makes a bundle. When he goes to pick it up, it’s too heavy. And yet, he continues collecting more and more wood. Even though he still won’t be able to carry the bundle, obviously! This parable says that even if what we are trying to do is too hard for us, we mustn’t give up. I shouldn’t stop picking up wood, just because I can’t lift the bundle, because there will be other people who come after me who’ll be able to lift it. And, they won’t have to waste time collecting the wood, and they might be able to carry the bundle and keep the chain going.
It seems to me that the work that Ki-Yi does is firmly based on a strong female bond of solidarity?
Yes, I try to encourage lots of women. In the teams that I build, there are far more women than men these days, because they are incredibly self-sacrificing. They say that, training a man is good, but training a woman is like training ten men.

///Article N° : 5282


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