“The power of the loincloth”, the power of women, in Mali and in the world

“Tafe Fanga? The power of the loincloth? recounts with a smile of wisdom the struggle of women for their rights. ” We are like you, join us to lead the fight ! » This maddened and Malian piece, written by Jeanne Diama and directed by Assitan Tangara, was a triumph at the Francophonies in Limoges, and will certainly experience an agitated tour in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali. She plays and sings with collective momentum, overturning everyday oppressions and making us laugh with her parodies of men in the service of a liberating narrative.

On stage, the four actresses surpass themselves. Dazzling with their costumes and their characters, they reveal to us some of the darkest and most intimate stories of a woman today.

Ella, the young woman narrator incarnate, attacks to the millimeter and with seriousness and humor the neuralgic points of machismo and traditionalism which are also based on the collaboration of women. Why accept injustice and violence? The prohibition for a woman who is menstruating to enter the kitchen, the terror of excision, forced marriages, the social obligation to venerate these conjugal duties in this home which has become The Little House in Hell… evocation of oppressive men gives rise to a ballet of ridicule in gestures and movements. And why not oblige the male sex to acquire an intimate GPS so that they are less clumsy during the sexual act?

On the set, about fifteen loincloths hung on simple clotheslines create a marvelous landscape of patterns and colors. Very quickly, the truth bursts out: behind this fireworks of beauty, tradition and religion prowls the labyrinth of a malaise and an oppression felt by many women.

Yes, the realities that inspired the play have their roots in Mali, but, to the great surprise of author Jeanne Diama and director Assitan Tangara, during their investigations in France, they encountered women who had significantly the same experiences and questions. Anyway, the loincloth often no longer comes from Mali and the power of the loincloth is universal. Cross interview.

RFI : For your staging, you put a lot of loincloths on stage. The power of the loincloth, is it a tool of liberation or oppression for women ?

Assitan Tangara: It was a tool of domination that we decided to transform into a tool of liberation. Towards the end of the show, we tie the loincloths with strings. In Mali, when a woman ties this “belt”, it is to go towards a claim, to go to a fight. It’s to tell women: we’re ready now! Let us stand up and snatch our rights!

Jeanne Diama: When we are kids, we are told that we women have the power. And this power is attributed to the loincloth that we attach. When we grow up, we experience a lot of violence and insults. At one point, we said to ourselves: what if we questioned the power of this loincloth? Because we don’t really see the power we are told he would have. But if we ask the question to the company, perhaps, it could answer us. For this, the title carries a question mark.

“Tafe Fanga? The power of the loincloth? » Text by Jeanne Diama, direction by Assitan Tangara. Created at the Festival des Francophonies, Les Zébrures d’automne 2022. © Christophe Pean

What are the expectations of the women you interviewed to put on this show? ?

Assitan Tangara: We have exchanged with a lot of Malian and European women on this subject. Even the writing was done with women’s groups, discussion workshops with women. I was two months in Grenoble. And I exchanged with many women, including French, North African, Italian… It was very strong. I realized that, in fact, regardless of our color or our continent, we have one subject in common: women! What is the place of the woman? What is the woman? I exchanged with these ladies, and after the exchange, you realize that they are crying. And myself, who am here to do my research, I cry. We had so many things to say to each other. In Mali, we also exchanged with urban and village women. When you hear women testify about what they go through every day all day long, it’s incredible. We can’t fit everything in the room. No. It might even paralyze people in the room. It’s so huge.

You are 28 years old, is this the age of wisdom for such questions? In your play, you want the language of women to be released. what happens then ?

Jeanne Diama: When women decide to fight, you have to tremble! Above all, today, there is an era which is very favorable to combat, because there is freedom of speech, women are gaining much more power, they are much more independent. 28 years old is not necessarily the age of wisdom [rires], but it’s a good age to know who you are, where you’re going, and what you want to do with your life. Me, personally, I decided to be in my life this Ella who says what she does not want to be and says who she is. I think a lot of women should be that woman.

What are your expectations ?

Assitan Tangara : It’s really being able to change mentalities, to wake up women who have not yet decided to wake up. And to encourage those who have decided to wake up, but do not know where to start the fight or what direction to take. It’s a cry of fed up of women in the face of violence in society, in the face of gestures, actions, reactions all day long. I want women to understand that they can decide what they want to do with their lives, to wear, to have children or not, to marry or not. May they be at peace with themselves. And that men understand and accept that.

Women occupy all the roles in the play, author, director, actresses… What is the place of men in the play? ?

Jeanne Diama : One of the roles in the play is the voice of Thomas Sankara. He represents all men who are not against women or against women’s rights. So we did put the voice of Thomas Sankara so that the men could also hear a man’s voice speaking to them. Then in the room we did not insult the men. We just imitated certain behaviors of certain men. So the text is really not against men, but against certain men. What place do we give in the room to the men – if they want to take this place: for once, they listen to what we have to say. Afterwards, they decide if they want to join us or not. We don’t want to force them, but we would like them to be with us.

Jeanne Diama, Assitan Tangara and the actresses of the show “Tafé Fanga?  The power of the loincloth?  after the premiere at the Festival des Francophonies, Les Zébrures d'automne 2022.
Jeanne Diama, Assitan Tangara and the actresses of the show “Tafé Fanga? The power of the loincloth? after the premiere at the Festival des Francophonies, Les Zébrures d’automne 2022. © Siegfried Forster / RFI

Your country, Mali, has been going through very difficult times for some time. As many fundamentals are wavering and being questioned, is this a good time to talk about and change the situation of women ?

Assitan Tangara: I think so, it can be a little easier to change mentalities, because, at the moment, everyone is looking for themselves. With these stories of terrorism and wars everywhere, men realize that their incomes are less. It’s unfortunate to say it, but, in fact, misfortune is good for something. Because where do they turn? To women of course. They ask the women to help with household expenses, etc. I think it’s really the time when women can step forward too and make a place for themselves.

You are an author and actress in the theatre, but you also work a lot in the cinema. What does theater bring more than cinema to this question of women? ?

Jeanne Diama: Theater is something alive. We are very close to the public. We have this eye-to-eye relationship with the spectators, it’s all warm, there are all the reactions, you feel the vibrations. What the cinema does not have, because, when you shoot, the film is shown on TV or in the cinema and the public watches. But on women’s issues, especially with the film projects that I’ve worked on – and that’s also how I choose my roles – I work on roles that are about women and women’s voices. I make my life, my art and my work a struggle. My personal life and my art come together.

In your staging, the actresses embody roles with such intensity that it gives the impression that their role is reality, and reality is the role. Is it the specificity of your theatrical approach ?

Assitan Tangara: Yes, I do pretty real theater. And each time, when I do a casting, I ask the actresses: ” Don’t walk away from yourselves. Be yourself. Stay natural and sincere. Even to find feelings, text, emotions, immerse yourself in your own story, in your experiences. You may not have experienced all of these things, but you have seen. You have families, sisters, brothers, neighbours, friends… Look around you. Not very far. Right next to you. It’s here. For that, we have this reciprocity between the person who is the actress and the character.

The audience at the Festival des Francophonies in Limoges was very touched by your play. What kind of reactions do you expect from viewers in your country, Mali, where the show will be shown in March ?

Jeanne Diama: I think we will be very well received. There will obviously be some hostile reactions. This is to be expected when advocating for women’s causes in general. But we also know that the greatest and most beautiful reactions will be the reactions of certain allies: men and women. Above all, we know that many women will understand many things, because we are not there to accuse them or to put something on their head. They already have a lot on their minds. We are there to tell them: we understand you, you are like us, we are like you. Join us to lead the fight.

Tafe Fanga? The power of the loincloth ? Text by Jeanne Diama, direction by Assitan Tangara. Created in French and Bambara at the Festival des Francophonies, Les Zébrures d’automne 2022. Toured in November in Senegal, in March in Mali and in April in Burkina Faso.

“The power of the loincloth”, the power of women, in Mali and in the world