Friday, July 17, 2009

In search of a Sugar Daddy...

Do you have a "Sugar Daddy"?
Or maybe you are a Sugar Mommy?

What? You laugh?

Maybe you haven't read the signs.

And by that I mean these signs...

They read:
"I don't sell myself"
"Accepting gifts does not mean you've accepted sexual relations...refuse the SHUGA DADI.
(or SHUGA MAMI as the case may be)

They are part of a recent campaign in Rwanda to cut down on "inter-generational sex"

The term is very amusing to me, as are the signs.

But the issue they are trying to get at is an important one.

Still, I have a question. Who is a Sugar Daddy?

In this case one assumes that we are talking about an older man "buying" a younger woman often with gifts or other financial incentives. I am assuming that they are suggesting that this Sugar Daddy is not an actual husband. If you marry her, perhaps you cease to be a "Sugar Daddy" and become a proper husband?

The problem is that marriage, like "Sugar Daddy"hood, is often a financial transaction here. It is not exclusively a financial transaction, but that is certainly part of it. Men pay a very real bride price to a woman's family. The process of gifts and payments is extremely long and drawn out, and is certainly seen as essential. While some men are too poor to make these payments, and so begin living with a woman without paying for her, they are usually deeply ashamed of this and it causes a rift in the family, only to be bridged by a belated payment. A young man I know recently made the mistake of sleeping with his neighbor, a young woman of about the same age as himself. They are both around 18 years old and the girl did not get pregnant. None the less, her family was outraged. They had the young man picked up by police and brought him to court. They may have been upset about several issues but the critical one was not that they was too young or irresponsible but rather that he had not paid for her. A goat and two cases of beer were demanded to settle the debt.

So the slogan of "I don't sell myself" seems like an interesting one. A prospective groom is expected to act as a suger daddy to his would-be bride's family. Here in Congo, in addition to the normal payments of goats and cows, a groom must give his mother in law other gifts such as expensive African cloth for her to wear.

I'm not necessarily opposed to the system. It is nice to see such a strong tradition remaining in a culture that often seems to be falling apart (I'm speaking of Congo not Rwanda). The elaborate process is also a way of protecting women from rash decisions and inappropriate behavior. It is a way of honoring family, and forces a man to prove his financial stability before embarking on the very expensive process of raising a family.

Of course it also has negative sides, but that is not my point.

It is just interesting to see Rwanda embarking on a campaign to discourage people from seeing male/female relationships as finacial transactions.

Because the reality is that nearly all relationships here have a financial aspect, in a way that makes me, as an American, a bit uncomfortable. I was raised to believe that "you can't buy your friends" and "the best way to lose is a friend is to lend him money". Relationships, whether friend or family or romantic, are supposed to be about love, and if money enters into that, it taints it. I am from the land of hollywood romance. Althugh I have no doubt that finances often figure into marital decisions, we all are supposed to pretend that they do not.

In Africa, the lines are not so clearly drawn. People seem to think "what is a friend, if I can't ask him for money" , and even more so for family members. Money seems to be a well-recognized part of relationships. Friends and family are expected to ask for money at any time, and they are expected to give it.

Sometimes this makes me nervous. I am prone to feel that no relationship is real if money is involved. I like the slogan "I am not for sale" and often find myself wondering if everything here is for sale.

But I must catch myself. I may be from the land of the hollywood romance, but I am also from a land where the size of the diamond in your ring still matters to a lot of people. It is a land where divorce battles are common,and the injured party is compensated with money. And it is a land where families often tear eachother apart over the money in their inheritance.

The reality, as Madonna once sang it, is that "we live in a material world". Both here and in America, money does enter into relationships, the question is simply how we deal with it.

Which perhaps is why the Rwandan sign does not suggest refusing the gift, which would have been the logical advice from my point of view. They simply argue that the gift doesn't obligate you. An interesting, and true, point.

And now that I have done all this thinking,
I gotta tell you...

my husband has been paying my bills for the past three years,
and he did give me some pretty nice gifts before we got married,
And he is older than me, if only by six months...

So maybe I've got my very own SHUGA DADI?


kristine said...

i remember when i was doing my masters, in my gender course we one week had this essay/discussion question: "why do men marry? why do women marry"? it was SUCH an interesting discussion, especially as we were from about 10 different countries.

There is alot of this here - older men buying (very!!) young girls phone top-up cards and trinkets in exchange for sex. The transactional nature of marriage is less a feature here, so it is not as fluid a line as the one you describe....

Chroniqueur said...

«...Which perhaps is why the Rwandan sign does not suggest refusing the gift, which would have been the logical advice from my point of view. They simply argue that the gift doesn't obligate you. An interesting, and true, point. »

Intéressant, et pertinent; votre message m'a interpellé, et m'a fait réfléchir. Vous m'ouvrez à une autre réalité. Merci ! [ Interesting, and relevant; your message challenged me, and made me reflect. You open to me with another reality. Thank you! ]

Anonymous said...

I think the Congolese culture as a whole roots itself in African tradition when it comes to relationship. But, also to some extreme the legacy of Romantic culture from Franco-Belgian colonial times. Especially, the Catholic church. It is generally seen as immoral, friendship between two unmarried individuals of the opposite sex, and gender role still is a significant fabric of the society. There is always a sign of sexual connotation underlined in such relationship.So, parties implied are expected to make things right. I don't really see any difference with Ruanda in that regard, though I have to say the more one is urbanized, the less tradition has an impact upon him. So, it is fair to say that rural folks are more likely to be conservative in the line of Republicans and urbanized individuals more liberals as Democrats.Unlike, some countries in the West,relationship between genders in the Congo is much similar to that of the Indian Subcontinent as well as some moderate Middle Eastern nations. Frienship between folks of the same sex, is more in line with Southern European culture than Anglo-Saxon. We are in that instance much closer to Italians, Spanish and Portugues. Friendship without some extends of favors may wither. So we tend to ask favors and " make offers one can't refuse."

shona congo said...

kristine thanks for sharing your experience. that does sound like a fascinating question on why people marry. I'd love to do a blog on that sometime, and see what kind of comments come out.\And it is interesting how ever many differences that exist between cultures, men's fasciantion with
(very!) young girls seems way too common.

RPL, I found the topic quite interesting as I was writing, I had intended to just post the pics and got a bit carried away. Glad you found it interesting as well.

shona congo said...

Thanks for your comments on how the history of cultures plays a large part in continuing attitudes towards relationships. It is a good reminder how much our own expectations of relationships, my own included, are formed by our own culture and its history of interactions with other countries.

your comment made me what to travel to many of the places you mentioned (most of which i have not been to) and see some of the similarities and differences.

certainly I am often struck both here and in Rwanda by the many influences of belgian culture which remain intact. rwanda, and particularly kigali is a fascinating study in that regard. Obviously the current president has shown a strong desire to move away from some of the historical influences of belgian and french cultures. The way that he has largely converted the country, or at least kigali, from francophone to anglophone in the past decade is fascinating. I don't really know what to make of it all but it is interesting both the way cultural influences remain but also the way they can be changed.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Anonymous said...


How many US dollars does a goat cost in the Congo?

shona congo said...

I believe a goat costs about 40-50 American dollars in Goma. What makes you ask?