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S I X Fashion Matters: La sape and Vestimentary Codes in Transnational Contexts and Urban Diasporas What young African doesn’t dream of going to France? Unfortunately, they confuse living in France with being a servant in France. I come from the village next to Diouana’s, in Casamance. There, we don’t say the way you do that it is the light that attracts the moth, but the other way round. In my country, Casamance, we say that the darkness pursues the moth. Ousmane Sembene1 In the postcolony, magnificence and the desire to shine are not the prerogative only of those who command. The people also want to be “honored,” to “shine,” and to take part in celebrations . . . in their desire for a certain majesty, the masses join in the madness and clothe themselves in cheap imitations of power to reproduce its epistemology. Achille Mbembe2 A product manufactured by the colonizer is accepted with confidence. His habits, clothing, food, architecture are closely copied, even if inappropriate. Albert Memmi3 When one thinks of various colonial centers and their respective architectural and geo-political spaces that constituted the peripheries of empire, associations with France remain indissociable from its capital city, Paris. The focus of this chapter is provided by a discussion of the symbiotic relationship between Paris as a narrative construct in the minds of its former colonial subjects and the complex manner in which urban spaces and narrative productions are simultaneously reconfigured according to the cultural, political, and sociological agendas of cultural practitioners; while in chapter 2 the acquisition of cultural capital was addressed with regard to colonial education, the focus here shifts to the acquisition of social capital in the form of a secular quest or pilgrimage to France (as opposed to Mecca).4 Throughout I argue for the necessity of analyzing the complex and complicated dynamic that is contained in the process of demystifying various narrative mechanisms associated with thinking about the particularities of the diasporic experience in the Hexagon. These fundamental questions are explored through specific reference to Alain Mabanckou’s novel Bleu-Blanc-Rouge (1998) and Daniel Biyaoula’s novels L’impasse (1996) and Agonies (1998), while extending the argument to issues of immigration and transnationalism and establishing points of commonality with similar phenomena in other sociocultural contexts, in Africa and elsewhere.5 This chapter will also further extend the discussion of gender that informed the analysis of Fatou Keïta’s work in the preceding chapter, but from a very different perspective. As an intrinsically masculinist practice , centered on European aesthetic codes and value systems, La sape has much to reveal, especially because its masculinism has been relatively ignored .6 As Barbara Burman and Carole Turbin have argued, “gender issues are interwoven into this emerging field of dress and textile history.”7 Recent critical approaches in the social sciences have provided useful paradigms and contextual frameworks for exploring these occurrences. Jean-Loup Amselle’s book Branchements: Anthropologie de l’universalité des cultures allows us to adequately assess the complex manner in which populations and histories have become imbricated. The implications of this recontextualization are tremendously helpful in delineating and illustrating how this theoretical apparatus could be put into practice in order to understand the dynamics of colonialism, immigration, and transnationalism . Amselle’s objective is to break with “traditional anthropological approaches that privilege the local over the global”;8 in a similar fashion, this chapter in turn explores the various ways in which all actors—the colonized and the colonizer, immigrants and receiving countries—are transformed by and in diasporic, multicultural, and transnational spaces. For Amselle,“Africa therefore represents a construct, a concept whose operational laws obey a semantic logic that is totally independent of any territorial attachment. The Africa-concept belongs to all those who want to get hold of it, connect to it” (Amselle, Branchements, 15). In this instance, the movement known as La sape provides a striking example of a sociocultural phenomenon to which a transnational matrix can be applied. The word sape originated as an acronym for the Société 156 black france des ambianceurs et des personnes élégantes (Society of Ambianceurs and Persons of Elegance), whose members were and are primarily young men from Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo) and Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo). The sapeurs travel to France in order to acquire designer clothes as part of a broader identitarian agenda associated with the shifting cultural, political, and social coordinates of the colony...


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