It’s big. It contains multitudes. The bulk of Africa is composed of fifty-four fully independent states populated by over a billion people speaking well over 1,000 languages.
Puppets of various traditions can by found in many of these countries, making adequate coverage in a fifty- page magazine impossible. As the puppetry of Africa is too important— and dazzling—to be ignored, however, we must make a start!
This issue features the puppetry of several regions of Africa. In the north, the hand puppet tradition of Aragoz in Egypt is celebrated in a new book by Nabil Bahgat, reviewed by Bradford Clarke (page 46) and its Moroccan variant, Alargeoz, elucidated by Siraj Mohamed (page 44).
From West Africa, Elizabeth den Otter introduces us to the puppetry of the Bozo (or Boso) and Bamanan people of Mali (page 5). Many of these figures depict animals, life-sized or larger. A favorite of mine is Sigi the bush buffalo, which is not only a puppet, but serves as a puppet stage for smaller puppets that he carries on his back! Heather Denyer (who wrote about Uganda’s Werewere Liking in PI #37) takes us on a visit to the town of Boromo in Burkina Faso to meet the African offshoot of Les Grandes Personnes—figures of men and women that walk through the streets, towering over villagers and even buildings (page 12). Denyer also brings us to the Teni- Tedji festival in Benin, where we meet puppeteers and other performers from several nearby countries (page 16).
From South Africa, Dutch artist Saskia Janse recounts the story of her collaboration with Macebo Mavuso, from the Eastern Cape, in which they turned an odd bit of his tribe’s history into a production using actors and puppets (page 33). Professors Lawrence Switzky and Veronika Ambros—as contributing editors—have assembled a selection of articles that present other aspects of the puppetry of South Africa, and which highlight the influence of Handspring Theater, a group we have featured many times, beginning with issue #1. Founded by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones in the late 1970s, they worked against apartheid and for human rights. Some of the many performers they’ve worked with over the years have gone on to work elsewhere, or form their own theaters (page 21).
We also have a fascinating account by Ron Binion, who has been involved in humanitarian work in several African countries. His narrative really speaks to the resilience and creativity of people living many miles from goods and services (page 36). Also, Nancy Staub introduces us to the collection of African puppets housed at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta (page 40).
In addition to our coverage of Africa, John Bell reviews a book on modern puppetmasters of Spain, and Claudia Orenstein visits a rare exhibit of the puppetry of Robert Anton.
It is a commodious issue that we hope reflects some of the color and brightness of the horribly misnamed Dark Continent.
-Andrew C. Periale