Theatre artist, researcher and writer originally from Cameroon, working in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast, officially the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire). From the Bassa ethnic group, Werewere Liking Gnepo (born Eddy Njock) continued her study of tradition with work among the Bambara in Mali in 1977, and established herself in Côte d’Ivoire beginning in 1978. While a researcher at the Institute of Black African Literature and Aesthetics, at the University of Abidjan (1979-1985) she mounted work with French woman Marie-Josée Hourantier from 1980. But, seeking greater professionalism, she laid the foundations for the Ki-Yi Mbock Théâtre, which had become a professional self-supporting troupe of multidisciplinary artists and took residence in the Villa Ki-Yi which she founded within the heart of Abidjan by 1985. The group’s foundation supports and trains impoverished youth in artistic practice, and a number have gone on to international artistic careers. Today the Ki Yi is a cooperative “village”, home to resident artists of diverse traditions and origins, including puppeteers, dancers, actors, musicians, sculptors, painters, costume designers, sound and light technicians, etc.
Singer, dancer, painter, novelist, actress, poet, Werewere Liking also writes plays. Some of her published plays include La Queue du diable (The Devil’s Tail, 1979), La Puissance de Um (Um’s Power, 1979), Un Touareg s’est marié à une Pygmée (A Tuareg Married a Pygmy, 1992), and La Veuve dilemme (The Widow’s Dilemma, 1994). She is also a novelist and poet and received the Prince Claus award in 2000 for services to culture and society and the Noma Award in 2005 for her book, La mémorie amputée (Amputated Memory).
Her work began from research on ritual roots of African theatre, seeing how this might speak of contemporary political issues, promote pan-Africanism rather than nationalism, and other positive values.
In theatre, Werewere Liking’s visual work is often inspired by puppets from Mali, and her early productions grew from ritual bases. Highly influenced by ki yi, a secret initiation of Bassa origin, she took its techniques and philosophy to mould her theatre style. Her avant-garde texts denounce the abuses of power and degradations that are part of African contemporary realities. This ritual theatre relies on tradition, keeping only essential meanings, and seeing the primary purpose of a human as taking control of oneself before the universe and God. This human self-conscience through ritual is a core idea of Werewere Liking’s theatre. Beginning from this idea, she explores the juxtapositions of power in the universe, the relation between man and God, which she compared to puppet and puppeteer.
Her theatre is action-oriented and committed. It makes use of all the arts of performing, even circus, and might, for example, call for a contortionist. Her puppets, gigantic, life-like costume puppets, sometimes mounted on stilts, improve upon traditional manipulation techniques, adapting them especially for women puppeteers (often women were traditionally not allowed to perform in ethnic groups). She participates in numerous international tours with her company and conducts many workshops in different countries. Over time, her works have become more politically pointed and didactically aimed.
As a researcher, Werewere Liking has mostly studied puppetry from Mali and the painted statues of the “colonial” style, which represent Europeans (colonial hat, white suit, cane or walking stick, white skin … ) which are present in some shows. Today, she is well known for her research, explaining the role of figures and the staging of productions, but also for her work as a manager, actor, and director.
(See Côte d’Ivoire.)
- Conteh-Morgan, John, and Irène Assiba d’Almeida, eds. “The Original Explosion That Created Worlds”. Essays on Werewere Liking’s Art and Writings. (Francopolyphonies 8). Rodopi: Amsterdam/New York (NY): Rodopi, 2010.
- Delacroix, Jean-Marie. Gestalt-thérapie, culture africaine, changement [Gestalt Therapy, African Culture Changes]. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1994.
- Hourantier, Marie-José. Du rituel au théâtre rituel. Contribution à une esthétique théâtrale négro-africaine [From Ritual to Ritual Theatre. Contribution to a Black
- African Theatre Aesthetic]. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1984.
- Hawkins, Peter. Werewere Liking at the Villa Ki-Yi. In African Affairs. Vol. 90, No. 359 (Apr. 1991), pp. 207-222. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0001-9909(199104)90%3A359%3C207%3AWLATVK%3E2.0.CO%3B2-R. Accessed 12 June 2013.
- La Veuve dilemme [The Widow’s Dilemma]. Plays by Women: An International Anthology. Book Two. Ed. Judith Miller. New York: Uburepertory Theater Publications, 1994.
- Liking, Werewere. “Dieu Chose. L’expérience du Ki-Yi Mbock Théâtre d’Abidjan ou l’ouverture sur la marionnette humaine” [God Thing. The Experience of the Ki-Yi Mbock Theatre of Abidjan or the Opening on the Human Puppet]. UNIMA-Informations. 1988, pp. 25-29.
- Liking, Werewere. La Puissance de Um [Um’s Power]. Abidjan: CEDA, 1979, 64 pp.
- Liking, Werewere. “La Queue du diable” [The Devil’s Tail]. Du Rituel à la scène [The Staging of Ritual]. Paris: Nizet, 1979.
- Liking, Werewere. L’Amour-cent-vies [Love’s One Hundred Lives]. Paris: Publisud, 1988.
- Liking, Werewere. Les Mains veulent dire [What the Hands Would Like to Say] and La Rougeole arc-en-ciel [Measles in Rainbow Hue]. Spectacles rituels [Ritual Spectacles]. Dakar: Les nouvelles Editions africaines, 1987.
- Liking, Werewere. Statuettes peintes d’Afrique de l’Ouest. Marionnettes du Mali [Painted West African Statuettes. Puppets of Mali]. “Traditions africaines” [African Traditions] series. Paris: Les nouvelles Éditions africaines/Arhis, 1987.
- Liking, Werewere. Une nouvelle terre. Théâtre rituel [A New Earth. Ritual Theatre]. Abidjan: Les nouvelles Éditions africaines, 1980.
- Liking, Werewere. Un Touareg s’est marié à une Pygmée [A Touareg Married a Pygmy]. Carnières: Lansman, 1992, 39 pp.
- Mielly, Michelle. “Werewere Liking and the Aesthetics of Necessity: Re-Considering Culture and Development in Post-Colonial Africa”. http://www.southwestern.edu/academics/bwp/pdf/2003bwp-mielly.pdf 2003? Accessed 11 June 2013.