The sape

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Brazaville, capitale of Congo is situated in central Africa. 70% of the population live in poverty. Despite this being stylish is a question of honor in the Congolese capital. Society for the Advancement of people of Elegance, from French “La Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personne Elegantes” otherwise know as Le ‘Sape’, is one of the world’s most exclusive clubs. Members have their own code ofhonor, codes of professional conduct and strict notions of morality. Le ‘Sape’ has recently become an international phenomenon, with branches in Brazzaville, Kinshasa, Paris, Brussels and parts of South London.At the heart of this exclusive world is the cult of the cloth, the deity of style and fashion.Adherents of Le ‘Sape’ have a style unlike any other. The clothes worn by the ‘Sapeurs’ (as thefollowers of Le ‘Sape’ are known) may look familiar but the way they wear them is not. Style and relationship to clothes is completely unique. It is at once a throwback to a lost word of pre-colonial elegance and decadence. At the same time it is also futuristic and even a little freakish given the extremity of the urban conditions in which many of them live, particularly in the Congo. Le ‘Sape’ isa movement of contradictions and paradoxes. It juxtaposes symbols of excess and conspicious consumption admidst some of the most painful scenes of urban poverty. This brings the question of how important the need for a social identity is and how crucial the need to be part of a group is? This also raises the issue of how fashion helps to construct a social identity?
To answer these questions wewill firstly describe the birth of the ‘Sape’ movement, secondly talk about the paradox of living in a poor country and dressing as someone from a wealthy country.

The SAPE translated in English as Society of Advanced and Elegant People, is a popular practice born in the late 1960s in Congo - Brazzaville. It began when the country was a French colony. This movement was created as a way forpeople to distinguish themselves by wearing luxury clothing and accessories. Many Congolese people were fascinated with French elegance and decided to imitate the French look, a style which was further developed during the transition to independence. In the seventies and the eighties, many Congolese immigrants went to France, and returning to Brazzaville brought with them the cult of elegance.Fashion labels are important and to have a good look is essential for the Sapeurs. The ‘Sape’ is perceived as an artistic expression through clothes, manners, gentleness and attitude. The ‘Gentlemen of Congo’ have to save a lot of money in order to buy very expensive and luxurious clothing, which can take years. The result of those years of saving is an extravagant wardrobe which adds a touch ofglamour and pleasure to their humble environment. As Michel, a ‘Sapeur’, said " In fact there is strong contrast between the way they live and the way they dress” (Tamagni, D 2005: 34 ). Through their amazing suits and smart suits, they can walk around the city of Brazzaville proud and enthusiastic about their perfect sense of dressing. All the ‘Sapeurs’ come from different backgrounds be itbecause of their age, professions or level of popularity as some of them are even famous, most of them being musicians. A good example can be found in Papa Wemba popular musician.
Despite their differences they all belong to the same community, the same unique group and the same cultural identity witch is Le ‘Sape’. According to author A.Hyman, there are two different types of group. First of allthe reference group is any group referred to by an individual in respect of its attitudes. According to the sociological concept of RK Merton individuals interact to define themselves as members of the group. People in interaction are defined by others, members and non members, as members of the group.
A distinction is made between group membership and reference group. The reference group is the...