This manipulation technique, similar to the jigging puppet and marionnette à la planchette in Europe, is mainly used in Africa, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire: “He (the old griot storyteller/historian) attaches string to the big toes of his feet; this string is threaded through the bodies of two crude puppets representing a man and a woman. Sitting on the ground, he spreads his feet, extending also the string, and then, by wiggling his toes, he imparts to the string a series of shakes, which makes the two puppets draw closer, or pull away, until they finally bump into each other” (Maurice Delafosse, Les Frontières de la Côte d’Ivoire, 1908).
These puppets are often used for divination, an example being those of the Lobi of Burkina Faso. These are made of carved wood, with an extended curved base that allows them to tilt while being worked within an area delimited by a drawing on the ground. A single string passes through the trunk, and a loop at each end is attached to the big toes of the fortune teller. The male puppet is called Sié and the woman, Yeli. The position of the puppets, combined with that of the cowry shells (used as money) that are thrown on the ground, which, preceded by invocations, brings about the predictions.
Other puppets of this type were identified by Olenka Darkowska-Nidzgorsji. The tuma diyondo are puppets made of banana tree wood of the Bakwa-Lunti in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with their head and body carved in one piece and articulated legs, which are manipulated by a string that passes through two metal hooks. In the village of Gisenyi, Rwanda, Hutu puppets, made of poker-worked wood, are manipulated by means of a looped string. Here, the couple is joined at the arms, which are articulated on a wire pivot at the shoulder whilst the legs have a similar joint at the hip and move freely. One can also mention the puppets of the Lega, in the city of Goma, in Zaire; the bwanamandjanga, puppets of the Ngbaka of former-Zaire, a single piece of sculpted wood, with a counter-weight attached to one of their feet; the mikosh, flat puppets of the Sonde, Togo, made of bamboo pith, again with the head and body in one piece, each arm of the couple articulated at the shoulders, the legs mounted on a pivot and moving freely, and an articulated phallus; and finally the abarambo puppets consisting of two pieces of wood, four clay balls, and two feathers.
Chantal Lombard recalls the performance of “twist dancers” in Côte d’Ivoire, where puppets are made of palm pith raffia and measure about 15 to 20 centimetres. The torso and carved head are made of a single piece; two small sticks, bent in half, are attached to the shoulders and hips; the legs are attached to the hips by a pin and move freely. These puppets are sexually defined – a hole in the stomach for one, and a long, horizontal phallus for the other. The puppets, facing each other, are placed on a looped string which the manipulator, who is sitting on the ground, holds between his big toes. The skill of the performer consists of bringing them together. He tenses or slackens the string by hitting his thighs. The lively movement of the couple leads up to the introduction of the male phallus into the hole in the female figure to the great joy of young boys. These puppets used for entertainment have long existed in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo) (see Rites and Rituals).
It is also worth mentioning the ibibio puppet theatre of Nigeria. This consists of a booth in which the akan performance is re-enacted “on the playboard” with a single doll. Five metres above, the ekpo akpara performance takes place between two puppets mounted on a horizontal thread that runs through their bodies and is suspended between two poles.
- Darkowska-Nidzgorski, Olenka. Marionnettes en territoire africain [Puppets in African Territory]. Exhibition catalogue. Charleville-Mézières: Éditions de l’Institut international de la marionnette, 1991.
- Delafosse, Maurice. Les Frontières de la Côte d’Ivoire, de la Côte-d’Or et du Soudan [The Frontiers of Ivory Coast, Gold Coast and Sudan]. Paris: Masson & Cie, 1908.
- Lombard, Chantal. “Les Marionnettes aux pieds du Pays Godie (Côte d’Ivoire)” [Foot Puppets of Godie Country (Ivory Coast)]. Unima-France. No. 63, 1979, pp. 20-21.
- Unima-Informations. Special issues. Théâtre populaire de marionnettes en Afrique noire [Popular Puppet Theatre in Sub Saharan Africa]. Paris, 1976, Nos. 61-61; L’Afrique noire en marionnettes, 1988.