I am fighting for African youth. … I want the youth to be more intelligent, more sensitive, more conscious, more responsible for themselves individually. I want them to be aware that each and every one of them is capable of changing the world, changing themselves to begin with. Each time one of us improves, s/he improves the world. And only through the improvement of humanity, inside of us, can the world be improved. – Werewere Liking
Werewere Liking was born in Cameroon in 1950 and has been living in Abidjan, Ivory Coast since 1978. She is a poet, novelist, painter, choreographer, performer, educator and social activist. I have not met her or gone to her cultural arts centre in Abidjan, Ivory Coast – Ki-Yi Mbock Village (which means ultimate universal knowledge in Bassa, her mother tongue) but over the past few years I have read about her, and seen a documentary about her work and I am inspired.
She is deeply committed to African tradition, to the Arts, to community, to developing the youth – and has been successful in her work, despite having left home at a very early age. She says when she wants to do something she tries it, even if there is no funding, she tries to make it happen – and she has had amazing success (and many failures, I am sure). She has a very clear vision and has worked hard to put it into practice. The cultural centre is intentionally called a village because it is about community. At her centre she works with people of all ages and they explore all the arts – writing, poetry, music, art, dance, puppetry… and the those things that support the arts – sound engineering, costume design, stagecraft… And if any of the ‘artists’ living, learning and working there can’t read, they get literacy lessons too, in French.
I recently found an interview presented in an article published by the Barnard Centre for Research on Women. For those of you who speak French, it has video clips of the interview (with English translations in the text of the article) of her speaking about her work. I have pulled out some quotes of her views on Pan-Africanism, the Youth and Women. For the full article click on this link: Werewere Liking | S&F Online | Rewriting Dispersal: Africana Gender Studies.
Werewere Liking on Pan-Africanism
For me, the label “Pan-African” implies that we take into account not only Africa, but also its diasporas. Because the term, “Pan-African” itself was conceived by Africans from the diaspora. So, it means including all the worlds born out of Africa. So, we claim them, but also offer them all we have. …. it’s a view that’s a conviction for me, that Africa is rich in its entirety as a continent only in its diversity. Africa’s primary riches are its different cultures, its peoples. … Well, because, as you can see, these very borders render spaces extremely small. They reduce Africa. They weaken it. They prevent the circulation of vital energies. Consequently, they are a handicap for the development of this continent.
I love and believe what she says – that Africa is rich because of its diversity. It is true and yet for the last few centuries – and more importantly the last 50+ years since we started the post-colonial period we made that diversity the reason for war, coups and everything that goes with it. We forget that a tapestry, a beautiful piece of cloth, is beautiful because of all the different threads that are woven together to make it one.
She has a passion for young people whom she takes in to live and learn at her center, and she has this to say about her work with young people:
I am fighting for African youth. I am fighting for children’s brains to work better. When I take charge of them, I try to help them use their brain. I force them to use their left hand because we have an entire part of our brain that does not work properly because we use only one part of the body, so there is a side of the brain that is less effective. There are many exercises that I have them do. I want the youth to be more intelligent, more sensitive, more conscious, more responsible for themselves individually.
… My battle is for little things and I see myself as a little ant, you know? The tiniest of ants can lift up crumbs ten times its own weight. However, because it [the ant] is so tiny, these are still small achievements. So be it! From my position, what I try to do is to try to lift ten times my own weight. That’s it.
On feminism and being a woman:
Because feminism, as it appeared at a time (in the 60s and 70s) —but I think it must have improved since—but the way it appeared at a time, it consisted mainly of lots of demands, lots of demonstrations, and I think this is a trap. Truly, when you look at it, we don’t need to demonstrate our womanhood. It’s like music for the heart. We know that we have things to do. We must do them, attain our goals, but without losing our nature. Our nature, our charm, our beauty, our gentleness. This is a totally different thing. This is not contradictory. To be a woman means to have it all. It’s to be all. Because for me God is a woman. So, it’s to be a creator, to be the source of life and consequently to privilege life above all. (my italics)
I first heard about her in 2008 when a someone in a workshop that I was facilitating spoke to me about her. And then I saw the documentary about her – she spoke about her life dreams, her challenges, how she built up her cultural arts centre. Her passion, drive, creativity, vision and resilience inspire me!! She has through following her passion with conviction made an impact, not only in Ivory Coast, but internationally. I would love to meet her.
Here are some links about her: