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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Congo: The Sape

Hector Mediavilla, ‘The Congolese Sape’ series.

“Severin Mouyengo, who has been a Sapeur since the seventies, poses in the entrance of his family home in the Bacongo neighborhood. Sandals on the ground are from his family members. In Congo, as in other parts of Africa, people commonly take the shoes off before entering home.”

Papa Wemba, Congolese musician, and the modern godfather of the Sapeur movement, from the BBC Storyville documentary ‘The Importance Of Being Elegant’ “BBC Four: As your documentary shows, the members of La Sape are fiercely devoted to designer clothes. Could you elaborate on the symbolic importance of high fashion for the sapeur? George: The Sape emerged from the chaos that was the Congo during the reign of Mobutu. It was really one way of coping with a society that had broken down. For a young person growing up at that time, there wasn’t much to grasp hold of to help you feel better about yourself. Politics was out, so you found a lot of cargo cult religions in the Congo. The Sape is essentially one of these. The distinctive look of the sapeurs was also a rebellion against one of Mobutu’s dictatorial decrees, which was that everyone was expected to dress in a very traditional, standard African costume - the abacost.Cosima: The sapeurs in Paris and Brussels are using these European status symbols not to integrate into European society but to ‘be someone’ back home in the Congo. This separates them from European fashionistas. They aren’t so much concerned with proving anything to the outside world but rather to one another, among their own community. These people have grown up with no kind of social structure to rely on. The Sape is a mini-state providing its own social strata: president, ministers, acolytes and so on.” In 2004 Papa Wemba was arrested in Belgium on accusation of human smuggling, he was said to have been charging $4,000 per person, and smuggling people under cover of being his musicians.

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ColoredOpinions said...

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