The Shocking phenomenon called Nigerian Mapouka

THE SHOCKING PHENOMENON CALLED NIGERIAN MAPOUKA

Its largely youthful proponents see it as harmless, light-hearted entertainment. Yet, the spectacle of nude or partially nude young girls, some of them in their early teens, performing lewd and lascivious ‘dance' moves by exposing their genitalia and other taboo zones to the rhythm of tams-tams and other musical instruments is a sub-culture that is bound to shock and offend even liberal sensibilities. Welcome to the unsettling world of  Ivorian "Mapouka", a musical genre that is making huge  waves of controversy across West Africa and beyond  with its stark and graphic images! In Nigeria and much of Africa , Mapouka is repackaged and peddled mainly in either the VCD or DVD format.

 

  I must admit right away that I discovered Mapouka by accident. And what a discovery it has been! Like other culture-minded citizens, I make it a point of duty updating my music library each time I visit the fatherland. A connoisseur of indigenous music forms, I cherish the diversity that African choreographies offer. So, during one of my  trips in Nigeria , I went to my favorite music store in Makurdi. My aim was to buy the latest CDs and DVDs/VCDs by Congolese artistes. After showing me about ten titles, the boy behind the counter suggested in a rather cheerful tone that he also had DVDs of a genre he called "Mapouka"! He immediately proceeded to play a VCD. Luckily, it was in the morning and there was no other client in the store. I got hold of the box. On it were inscribed the words " Nigeria Mapouka. Wicked and Wild Live"! I couldn't believe what I was seeing on the screen  - raw and indeed vulgar postures of semi-naked African women gyrating on the bare floor with young, half-dressed, apparently viral men on top, supposedly feigning copulation! All that, to thunderous applause from a huge local audience! Feigned or not, some of these scenes were clearly obscene, the type of moral perversions that inspire revulsion whenever there is a debasement of one of Nature's greatest gifts to Man – sex , a debasement that would readily merit the tag of "coitus more ferarum", that is , "sex by the way of  beasts"! This was an initiation I had not bargained for. All the same, an unrelenting voice beckoned my curiosity. I had to learn more about this unusual phenomenon. I paid for the VCD and another one in the same category, that is apart from the music I had gone to the store to buy in the first place.

 

Back to where my family and I were staying, I continued educating myself regarding this ‘naughty' Mapouka. Of course, my wife was scandalized. That is putting it mildly. She couldn't imagine that the relevant African authorities, the Nigerian government included, were (and still are) doing little or nothing in the face of what she termed the menace of home grown pornography. In one scene of the Mapouka VCDs, a girl was completely naked. She lay on her back, legs wide open and continued to shake her waist to tunes by what I later learnt is a singer from Ivory Coast . Yet another scene was shot in the bush! There were three plump young women, all naked except for a flimsy girdle or head scarf around their respective trunks. They ‘danced' with their backs facing the camera! In yet another tableau, a dancer was on stage in an Ivorian bar. Her performance included a masturbation segment with the help of a probing beer bottle!

It goes without saying that this evocation of the Mapouka legend in Nigeria bears no voyeuristic design. It is definitely not part of an orchestrated campaign to impose subjective standards of morality on our society. Its intention is first and foremost to help provoke debate around one of the major moral questions of our times. Why, for instance, is pornography or so-called adult entertainment so brazenly invading our socio-economic spaces without any countervailing  authority or influences robustly challenging the plague? Is this the way of the future for Nigeria and the rest of Africa ? I suspect that much of what is called Nigerian Mapouka is a commercialized repackaging of Ivorian productions. This is not to say that there may not be out there home-grown, authentic Nigerian versions of the Mapouka odyssey. There are already dark hints here and there that some local Nigerian producers may be making soft porn for an illicit underground market. Whether native to Nigeria or not, the fact that this negation of all that is culturally decent seems to be competing with respectable art forms emanating from Nollywood and elsewhere for the minds of impressionable youths and the society in general must be seen as deeply troubling.

 

It needs reiterating that the acts of debauchery captured in Mapouka DVDs are happening in locations or establishments accessible to large segments of  the society, including underage boys and girls.  They are part of a disturbing social trend, fast becoming the staple of night life  across much of West Africa today.  These acts of decadence would suggest a worrisome "democratization", that is to say the banalizing of a pernicious moral orientation that calls into question the role of churches, mosques, the family and formal education  in the spiritual well-being of the nation. What about the responsibility of the political leadership at all levels of society? A situation whereby those that should normally be seen as role models are the very ones engaging in acts of bestiality and incestuous liaisons, not to mention a disturbing tolerance of sleaze and unlawful conduct  on their part, is a powerful incentive for the kind of hedonism that is on display in the bars and  pepper soup joints of the country these days. Also, in Nigeria and much of Africa , the relative paucity of cultural models or voices that should help modulate the direction of our music or artistic forms has contributed to the creation of a fertile ground for unconventional sub-genres. When our media houses spend so much time and energy promoting sordid and prurient foreign pornographers and other dubious characters in the name of music festivals, their notions of decency and culture must be considered suspect. In its Nigerian or Ivorian manifestation, Mapouka is indicative of a wider moral  rot within African  societies. It is symptomatic of the state of  creeping anomie our societies are confronted with nowadays. It is feared that this grim reality of Mapouka and its attendant ills is feeding the AIDS pandemic on the continent. In a sense, Mapouka is a metaphor for life in Africa today, a snap-shot of the existence of precariousness and savagery much of the local populations have been reduced to after decades of vicious military dictatorships, incompetent civilian tyrannies and harsh IMF/World Bank impositions backed by callous representatives of alien governments and their African collaborators.  

 

It is worth mentioning  that Mapouka is first and foremost a traditional dance  form. Its origins are said to be in a small Ivory Coast village called Nigui Saff, about thirty kilometers from Abidjan .  It is the traditional dance of the Ahizi ethnic group. It is remarkable that traditional Mapouka was crowned the best cultural dance in South Africa in 1999. The Nigui Saff K Dance is an Abidjan-based company dedicated to the promotion of traditional Mapouka. Its director, Dr. Bernard Pitté, balks at the idea that the venerated music of his ancestors has been "expropriated" and transformed into a vulgar, if popular vehicle for the transmission of indecency and self-denigration. In an interview with Afrik.com, Pitté said in 2003 that his dance group would work together with the Ivoirian Centre for Arts and Culture (Centre national des arts at de la culture, CNAC) in the promotion and rehabilitation of the original Mapouka. "Nous avons une convention de partenariat au terme duquel le groupe Nigui Saff K Dance et le CNAC, qui regroupe des experts nationaux en théâtre, cinéma et audiovisuel, doivent tourner des films et des clips pour faire la promotion du mapouka originel Â». From  the look of things, it is safe to say that traditional Mapouka is losing out in favour of its urban rival. It is my contention that the recent conflicts that are tearing the delicate fibre of Ivorian society are potent ingredients responsible for the moral void which, if care is not taken, may prove fatal, not just to Pitté's Mapouka, but also  other communal values. Compared to the traditional or original version,  "modern" Mapouka, the perverse, smut-laden genre that is engendering a lot of brouhaha wherever it goes, is osé and hardcore. It is the type with apparently a huge fan base, especially amongst urban and young audiences. These days, when one talks of Mapouka, one is more often than not referring to this pop variant. Ivorian Mapouka music groups include, amongst others, Magic System, Les Tueuses de Mapouka, Espoir 2000 and Meiway. An important question to ask is if beyond the "modernity"/ "traditionalism" dichotomy, there is  a yet to be defined force, aesthetic or otherwise, sustaining the apparent Mapouka craze.

 

The various governments across the continent need to put in place measures aimed at curbing those indecent acts or displays associated with Mapouka and other obviously demeaning shows. As for the pornographic elements in Mapouka and other adult  DVDs or films, official censors of the continent must act to repress the menace. Only the other day,  a cross-section of mothers in Abuja was interviewed by a Nigerian daily and the overwhelming position amongst the women was for a more purposeful crackdown by the police against the unbridled hawking of pornographic products in the streets and shops of the Nigerian capital. So far, Kano state seems to be in the forefront of enforcing its censorship laws regarding pornography and other indecent manifestations. The relevant levels of government should enact legislation that protects the dignity of the person against the purveyors of toxic filth in this Internet Age. Africa should be able to entertain itself (and the rest of the world) without descending into the pits of self-debasement. Surely, we cannot allow ourselves to be culturally defined through these degenerate art forms. And above all, our outrage should of necessity be directed against those figures or influences whose  abdication and lack of exemplary conduct have greatly contributed toward the generalized lack of redeeming values our societies are grappling with today.

 

Aonduna Tondu

New York

 

P.S. Mapouka through images:

http://membres.lycos.fr/u10/cote_ivoire/mapouka.htm