Poor Africans (the vast majority) also have an everyday life, which is
often happy and hopeful despite the hardships. Sape exemplifies this.
However, this is not an ancient folkloric manifestation, but is a direct
result of European Colonialism. I consider it to be a most
anthropological phenomenon for several reasons:
1.It allows the sapeurs to dream on and survive a harsh reality. The outlook, especially for the young people is quite bleak. There are
hardly any jobs. But as Lamame, an old sapeur still longing to go to
Paris, says, “When I dress up and go out to the streets, and people
admire me, I forget about all my problems…these are moments of glory that make me immensely happy”.
2. They have a social role of great importance. They are the
“next-door famous”, and have a similar role to the one played by our
“new celebrities” produced by reality TV shows such as Big Brother.
Their presence is required at funerals, parties and other celebrations to bring a touch of stylishness to these events. Like our celebrities,
everybody knows who they are, where they come from and even where
they live. Everybody knows their elegance is just a façade but nevertheless, they perform an important social function for their fellow citizens.
3. It is a myth that survives to this day despite the fact that its most representative values have not. Today’s sapeurs are still dressed as 1930’s dandies, and still dream of traveling to the most emblematic places in Paris, where -allegedly- the most refined elegance floats in the air. However, that Paris is no more (if it ever existed).
We are in the 21st Century and the values of elegance or refined manners are not held in the same esteem they used to be. Nonetheless, young sapeurs still travel to Paris, coming back to Congo as “Grand Sapeurs”, as winners. In the old days a couple of good suits did the trick, but now the social pressure is far stronger.