DirtPol's blog posts tagged with 'culture'

Between Prostitution and Polygyny in Africa: The Implication for Culture by John Olatunde Uwa

Aug

07

As a researcher and a cultural archivist sampling perception and conceptions of dirt in Africa, I have had the opportunity of engaging a number of individuals on topical issues that revolve around ‘dirt’ in Africa. Some of these issues cut through the themes of religion, ethnicity, corruption, prostitution, civil partnership, robbery, poverty and such like. On a particular occasion, I had cause to interview a man on the theme of prostitution as a canvas for the collective odium that has followed those who solicit. This fellow made two striking submissions which I thought might be of interest to this forum. The first is that, prostitution is totally alien to Africa; while the second is that, polygyny is a structure that was put in place from primordial time in Africa to check, curb or prevent the practice of prostitution.

Whether prostitution is alien or not is not the question here as prostitution is already a global phenomenon, even in countries where the practice is considered as ‘haram’. What is quite puzzling here is that, between prostitution and polygyny in Africa, there are cultural codes that signify how both practices may be perceived. The former is an abomination; while the Later is a valid cultural practice, believed to have been handed down to prevent prostitution. But since prostitution is a ‘trade’, can polygyny solve the financial requirements of the woman? Of what economic benefit is polygyny to the woman? Even if we assume that prostitution is for sexual gratification, is it possible for a single man in a polygamous union to give all the women in the union the gratification they require? The assumption is that, while the man may be getting all the gratification he wants, some or all of the women in the union are denied total sexual gratification.  

 In spite of these burning questions, proves abound to show that about 90% of Nigerian women would rather be involved in a polygamous union than get involve in prostitution, when faced with the two variables. This is mainly due to their cultural and religious orientation more than what they are truly capable of doing. These cultural orientations which manifest themselves in taboo, abomination, witchcraft etc. tends to act as a strong restriction against the activities of the id. However, there is a latent content that becomes operational beyond the limit of social conformity.  Beyond this limit of social conformity in which culture and religion gives no answer, and in which ‘prostitutes’ find themselves, every woman become capable of soliciting. In other words, there is a limit to which every human can be in social conformity and there is a limit to which culture and religion can provide answers; and beyond this point, there is an ambient in which humans are capable of anything, and prostitution is not an exception. It is at such point that women are also capable of exhibiting the same tendencies that can make a man crave for more than one wife or woman.

Elsewhere in the world, especially among some nations of Europe, polygyny is unacceptable; however, it is an ‘accepted’ norm in Africa. Considering this paradox and the influence of a dominant culture, which is propelled by financial crunch, in a new global order which African is part of, what is the place of a primordial culture that is believed to prevent prostitution? What is the future of prostitution as we push towards the limit of social conformity and beyond? While it may be easy for us to keep theorizing, it must be must be noted that a culture that is inelastic is like a carved deity who becomes vindictive to those who provide it with palm oil and other libations; he is either reminded of the tree from which he was carved out, or turned into firewood while other deities are erected in ‘his’ place.      

About the author:  John Uwa is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communication.  John's based in Lagos, has an MA in English Literature and speaks Yoruba, English and Pidgin.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

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