Puppet of Liège, Belgium. Manipulated by a single rod fixed at the top of its head, this puppet character appeared around 1860 in Liège where ignorance or contempt for puppetry had long been in existence. The first mention of this popular hero was in 1885, and it wasn’t until 1887 that an author writes that “the already immortal Tchantchès, witty and good-natured, wise and subtle, quick in finding resolutions and fertile in resources”, was born from an unknown father. An unidentified spirited showman accentuated the temperament of one of his popular characters with the much-used first name of Tchantchès (a dialect distortion of the name Françwès: François). Its success was contagious as this first name became generic in use and adopted by all his peers: Cananète, Gnouf-gnouf, Trènoupet…
Tchantchès, rebellious and libertarian, does not like to wear a “uniform” costume. Each puppeteer gives him his own voice and his own look, allowing him to improvise in a half-Walloon, half-French spicy language that contrasts with the language of grownups/upper class. Depending on the theatre, Tchantchès plays minor roles or takes a larger part but he is never the lead. Timeless, he can be seen with Charlemagne, Tristan or Geneviève de Brabant and can easily be found either in the manger at Bethlehem or opposing modern invaders. Good-hearted but stubborn, a faithful friend but quarrelsome, adept at giving a “poisoned” head butt, he is a big drinker of pèket juniper alcohol (gin). His wife, Nanèsse (Agnès), who is also a gin drinker, is readily cantankerous and gossipy. Tchantchès sometimes suffers but with good humour. When depressed, he recovers with a witticism that reveals the popular Walloon citizen, mocking and sentimental.
Authors took over from puppeteers, and Tchantchès entered into literature and went beyond being a “mere” puppet by becoming a type “forging the conscience of a community: he is the face in which an entire population recognizes itself in laughter, a modern myth born from a modest wooden actor” (Maurice Piron). This recognition garnered him the honour of two monuments in the heart of Liège. The very old Tchantchès entered the Théâtre Al Botroûle in 1964 wearing his sculpted bonnet with drooping tassel, hence his nickname Bonète, and stated: “I remain your contemporary forever.”