Just like other anthropologists such as Mauss, Gregory and Strathern, Charles Piot has accumulated his interest on the gift economy of Kabre society in understanding about persons, hierarchy, and agency that operate in that particular society. Based on the book entitled Remotely Global written by Charles Piot, this essay attempts to explore the “logic of exchange” of Kabre society by discussing its relations to personhood, gender and community of that particular society itself. In the homogeneous Western society, gifts or exchanges tend to be seen as some kind of appreciation, celebration or reciprocity to a person due to someone’s help, achievement or kindness. Unlike this kind of idea of gift and exchange, the underlying principle of gift and exchange that is being culturally practiced within Kabre society seems to be a way of maintaining their relationships or social bonds among each other.
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Kabre people perpetually entangled with one another through the exchange. As one of cultural practices in Kabre society, the value of giving is instilled in Kabre children at an early age as early as a year old or less. Kabre people will teach their children to give without expecting anything in return, as Piot notes a young Karbe mother’s saying about this in his book, “You give, and that’s it. Sometimes you get back and sometimes you don’t. But in either case, you give. That is what we teach our children” (Piot 1999:69). Thus, it can be seen that how this type of gift and exchange relationship (ikpantore) has been rooted in Kabre society since young and becomes one of their cultural practices.
In Kabre society, the quality and timing of the gift are more important and more focussed than the quantity. Kabre society may substitute quantitatively dissimilar objects for one another, for instance by substituting a chicken for fifty seed yams or for a goat (Piot 1999:64). This shows that the numerical value or quantity does not matter, but what matters are the subjective needs of the exchangers and the relational implications of the exchange, where it creates a relationship between two individuals or ikpantore, which shows the gift or exchange has its ‘quality’ that can maintain the social bonds. According to Gregory, “The distinction between gifts and commodities manifests itself as a difference between the exchange relation established: gift-exchange establishes a relation between the transactors, while commodity-exchange establishes a relation between the objects transacted” (Piot 1999:64). Unlike market or commodity exchange in terms of money that can create debts, the kind of exchange among Kabre society is more about which one person’s “desire” was met by another, and this kind of exchange is some kind of relationship “that cannot be broken”, known as ikpantore. This theory of need or desire is based on the right timing to return the gift. For example, “when the friend has no money of his own that his need or desire will be the greatest and, of course, that he will most appreciate the gift” (Piot 1999:66). Therefore, it can be seen that gift and exchange in Kabre society are not just something to be neglected, but create some kinds of ‘obligation’ that can maintain the ikpantore.
Piot also claims that any gift given establishes a relationship between two persons, hence “giving is always tied up with control, power and the appropriation of an other” which can create difference and hierarchy (Piot 1999:70). When exchanges are considered as unequal, one is beholden to the other and therefore must show him or her “respect” (nyamtu) because the one was “saved” by the other (Piot 1999:65). This establishes the conception of personhood, where based on Karabu’s narrative in Piot’s book personhood is seen as nonindividualistic. Rather than seen as debt, unequal exchanges or borrowing is viewed as “sensuous memory” that can still maintain the relationship. Piot notes Tikenawe’s saying in his book, “Everytime he (the chief) saw me all year, he had to let me know that he had not forgotten his debt with me” (Piot 1999:70). Thus, instead of creating “debt”, unequal exchange or borrowing creates “respect” and “obligation” to the ones who “save”.
Despite its gift practices, commodity exchange is not at all alien to Kabre society. The earliest record of exchange among Kabre was during the time of the slave trade, where the sale of people was not as gift, but as commodity exchange (Piot 1999:74). According to Piot in his book, there is much more ikpantore today than in the past (Piot 1999:72). However, there are sometimes people in Kabre who prefer buying and selling to barter exchange in order to avoid the often burdensome demands-the indebtedness and hierarchy under ikpantore relationship. Thus, commodity exchange or barter exchange is something that Kabre people find having the option to do either an attractive one.
Love in the Times of AIDS
The book Love in the time of AIDS by Mark Hunter explores an ethnographic analysis of the people in Mandeni, KwaZulu-Natal and presents arguments about why AIDS emerged so quickly in South Africa. According to Hunter, Mandeni is one of the areas worst affected by HIV in the world, where 39 percent of women tested positive for HIV in antenatal clinics in the KwaZulu-Natal province in 2008 (Hunter 2010:3).Based on the book, this essay attempts to discuss the key factors that contributed to and shaped the AIDS pandemic in South Africa.
The most influential political-economic explanation for AIDS in South Africa is the men’s long history of circular migration to the gold and diamond mines after the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in 1867 and gold at Johannesburg in 1886 (Hunter 2010:38). The separation between husbands who migrated to the cities and their wives in rural areas has led them to engage in extramarital sex. One of the most obvious reasons of AIDS in Africa is urban prostitution in the cities that usually involves men who work in the mines. According to Monica Wilson, in an area adjacent to Natal, a group of women called amadikazi, who were largely divorced or widowed women or single mothers and usually seen as ineligible for marriage as first wives, could benefit materially from sexual relations, including relations with married men (Hunter 2010:47). For the wives in the rural areas, it was sometimes accepted that a married woman living apart from her husband for long periods might have intimate relations with a “secondary” lover who could provide economic support without their husbands’ knowing (Hunter 2010:48). Therefore, this kind of intimate relation is viewed as what Hunter calls the “materiality of sex”, which sex embodies the material or economic support for women. This type of relationship also takes place among women in the cities, which will be touched upon later in this essay.
Another reason that has led to the spread of AIDS pandemic in South Africa particularly in KwaSulu-Natal area is due to the rise of unemployment and the greater mobility of women. Due to the mid-1970s global economic downturn, unemployment and inequalities expanded rapidly, led the women in rural areas had less expectation of marrying and being supported by a husband. Thus, women mobility to urban areas became more apparent. Hunter notes in his book that large numbers of rural migrants, including women, began working in the factories. By 1982, Isithebe Industrial Park employed 4,239 men and 3,207 women (Hunter 2010:76). This in turn led the backyard shacks mushroomed as much as in informal settlements that coincided with the introduction of the deadly HIV virus in the 1980s. According to Hunter, the highest HIV rates are found in informal or shack settlements, where the areas that house some of the poorest South Africans (Hunter 2010:4)
The increased of women into migrant labour and the growing economic failure of rural areas have reduced marriage rates. This results in more significant to the scale of South Africa’s AIDS pandemic are boyfriend-girlfriend “gift” relationships that involve material benefits for unmarried women but also feelings of love and a wide range of moral and reciprocal obligations, which is described by Hunter as “the materiality of everyday sex” (Hunter 2010:6). This shows that today, the existence of sex-money exchanges often leads to claims that sex has become “transactional” or “commodified.”
In addition, how women draw on rights to actively contest intimate relations, including the use of condoms is also another factor that contributed to the AIDS pandemic. The use of male condoms, which is the most widely promoted technology used to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) usually depends on men’s willingness to use it. This can be related to gender inequality, where the choice of using condoms is mostly on men. Speaking of gender equality, some women employ rights to argue they now have the right to have multiple partners, just like men. Nevertheless, this may bring problems to the rise of a deadly virus that causes AIDS (Hunter 2010:132).
In conclusion, Hunter does a great job in writing his book by showing that AIDS pandemic in South Africa is not only can be related to the causes around fertility, love, marriage, and genital pleasure, but also by combining ethnography, history, political economy and intimacy, it gives better understanding and responding to the AIDS crisis itself. Therefore, the recent transformations in intimacy at the time of chronic unemployment as well as reduced marriage rates and gender issues must be taken more seriously in understanding the AIDS pandemic in South Africa.
Section 3 – Question 3
Women Rights in African Societies
Chandra Mohanty argues that about the homogenous and universal idea of Western feminism has shaped and constructed the image of the Third World women as being oppressed, powerless, tradition-bound, uneducated and sexually constrained. Although all of these images of the Third World women tend to be viewed as stereotypical, it has brought to the rise of the feminism in the Third World, especially in Africa. According to Charles Piot, Africa is often portrayed as a place where democracy and development have failed, where traditional cultural practices such as clitoridectomy (often referred to as female genital mutilation) still hold sway (Piot 1999:3). Therefore, this essay aims to explore African societies and cultures in particular, local contexts as well as global connections by specifically examining the international discourse of women rights in Africa based issues over “safe sex” and clitoridectomy or female genital mutilation.
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According to Mark Hunter, gender-rights approaches do not always recognize the multiple inequalities with which gender is entangled, where very meaning of womanhood may vary across vast social differences. This shows that gender-rights language today can have the inseparability of being a female-bodied person and simultaneously being racialized, classed, and sexualized in profoundly important, and often very diverse, ways (Hunter 2010:8). The thing is argued by Oyewumi, where gender and feminist discourse needs to be analysed within specific context rather than just a universal idea of feminism such as the Western feminist discourse. Therefore, in analysing women rights in Africa, it needs to include all aspects of the issues, such as political, economy, history and culture. Therefore, an ethnographic analysis of particular issues may avoid some flaws encompassing gender issues in Africa.
In respect to AIDS in Africa, women rights tend to discuss about the rights of women to have safe sex. According to Hunter, “rights provide women with an important tool to challenge certain aspects of men’s control over women’s bodies” (Hunter 2010:134). However, women do not always have this kind of rights, especially in a masculine dominant society like Zulu and most other parts in Africa, where Hunter (2010) notes in his book that the choice of using condoms, which as one way to prevent the spread of AIDS is based on the willingness of the men, although insisted by their partner. Therefore, this right of having “safe sex” is viewed as gendered. On the other hand, as in most African society, men have the rights to have multiple partners or wives, known as the practice of polygamy. In the rising of women rights in Africa, Hunter (2010) notes that women in Africa also argue that they too have the right to multiple partners. And by drawing on this language, women not only challenge men, but sew themselves into the very fabric of dominant masculinities.
In discussing the issue of female genital mutilation, Charles Piot mentions about the case of a Togolese women seeking asylum in the States-had flashed across the pages of U.S. newspapers and had become a cause célèbre in American feminist circles,
“The woman, Fausiya Kasinga, originally from a small village in the north, had fled Togo-first to Germany, then to the United States-because she was in danger of being forced by her family to undergo clitoridectomy at the time of her marriage to a businessman in the south” (Piot 1999:3).
Based on this story of female genital mutilation, it can be viewed that female genital mutilation is a serious issue in feminist discourse, especially in the West since female genital mutilation nowadays is more associated with the Third World countries as a “barbaric” practice. Therefore, it is viewed as a serious human or right issue advocated by women and female children, particularly.
Feminists are often on the side of against female genital mutilation, as it is argued as detrimental to health and violates human rights. As a cultural practice, female genital mutilation is a prerequisite for daughters’ eligibility for marriage. As for long term, the daughters can provide financial security for their families through dowry of their marriages. It is claimed that if they do not pursue with the clitoridectomy, they will not be married. These kinds of portrayal for reasons of performing female genital mutilation are argued by many feminists as having economic dependency on women or female children for their dowries, making them to have no choice to not performing clitoridectomies.
Although there are proposals in Congress to tie development money to the eradication of female genital mutilation, it is not one-sided, where there are strong advocates of non-interference in cultural matters, people who are arguing that it is wrong-a type of imperialism-to impose our values on other (Piot 1999:4). According to Walley, clitoridectomies have been illegal in Kenya since 1982 (Walley 1997:411). However, there are still some arguments in favour to the continuation of the practice as being described as it is “our custom” (Walley 1997:411). Some of the reasons that are pro this clitoridectomy practice is that the primary purpose of the practice was to keep unmarried girls from getting “hot” which is, from having sexual relations and getting pregnant before marriage or from having extramarital affairs later. According to Walley, there were students in Kenya argued that the practice was “bad” because it was forbidden by Christianity and the practice is also argued as simply another way of “destroying” women’s bodies (Walley 1997:411). Despite the banning of female genital mutilation in certain parts of Africa, it may still be practiced someway, whether publicly or secretly.
Based on the issues of “safe sex” and female genital mutilation encompass women rights in Africa, it can be seen that it is hard to establish certain kind of opposition what would be considered as “violating” women rights, especially in the places of masculine dominant like in most African countries. Therefore, rather than directly and vigorously opposing these kinds of issues, it is important to first understand the local structures of those particular places in terms of culture, religions as well as economy. Instead of imposing some kinds of prohibitions, it is important to just raise awareness about the issues through education, thus giving the people choices to have what they think the best not only for themselves, but for their society as a whole.
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