Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Culture: Valentine's day in Ghana

Another story about blending cultures: "Me Do Wu," My Val: The Creation of Valentine's Day in Accra, Ghana by Jo Ellen Fair who explains that:

"Far from a story of cultural imperialism, the rise of Valentine's Day in present-day Accra shows that local adoption of global consumerist preferences is best understood as a local process imbued with local meanings and values, deliberately and rationally pursued."

She did open-ended interviews with customers and shop-owners in Accra in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and concludes:

"Borrowed from abroad, altered to fit local circumstances, Valentine's Day is part of a complex set of imported and indigenous lifestyle markers that are used increasingly in urban Africa by individuals and social groups to construct identities as older and more traditional cultural norms and forms loosen their hold. "

She explains the important role of the media in the introduction of Valentine's Day: "Of course, Val Day in Accra would be a far lesser holiday if it were not for radio and television promotion. Picked up from media promotion handbooks produced in the United States, Valentine's Day came to Accra prepackaged in a rarefied state of hype. Its packaging did not exactly fit the Ghanaian cultural environment. Broadcasters say they knew they had to figure out how to promote Valentine's Day in a way that would draw in audiences and potential advertisers. Though romance had long been a part of Valentine's celebrations worldwide, Ghanaian broadcasters took the theme of romance and created promotions that played upon Ghanaian idealizations of courtship and marriage."

She furthermore explains and acknowledges that Valentine's day is foremost for the middle-income urban Ghanaians: "Valentine's Day offers upwardly mobile, urban Ghanaians a sense of connection to global modernity. It helps Ghana's newly privatized media, as well as its merchants, create the commercial culture necessary for their advancement."

And explains why this is likely to be so: "Modernity and Val Day intersect in another important way. Upwardly mobile Ghanaians increasingly are enticed by conceptions of love, courtship, and nuclear family life that are at odds with older kin-based marital systems, obligations, and sexual mores. When a young Ghanaian says that Val Day gives her boyfriend the chance to express his devotion to her, and that this courting behavior makes them both feel "modern," she is invoking love, monogamy, and individual rather than kin-based selection of marital partners. Thus Valentine's Day is a good fit with the challenge to customary patterns of marriage and social organization increasingly mounted by upwardly mobile urbanites. Personal selection of a marriage partner, monogamy, and the nuclear family as a social and economic unit are seen by many educated urbanites as a wave of the future. Val Day, for them, has a progressive gloss (which in the West it certainly lacks). When a preacher says that Val Day is for couples, he too is arguing for monogamy. He is using Val Day to support the insurgent position that even in Ghana the relationship between husband and wife is the central fact of marriage. Thus the interests of educated urbanites and advocates of a conventional Christian morality converge on Val Day. Both use the holiday to advance their seemingly parallel causes."

"Although much has been said about the Western media's impact worldwide, not enough work has been done to explore empirically why certain new images and ideas promoted by media strike a chord in this or that society, with this or that population. We need to know how imported cultural products meet local trends and are repelled or absorbed by them. This work points to the importance in this process of local contingencies and choices, and to the value of close work on the relationship between local media campaigns and highly visible or highly volatile elements of popular culture. One Ghanaian marketer said of Valentine's Day what might be said of most imported cultural products: "Saint Valentine's Day is like palm nut soup. You cannot just look at the soup and say whether it's good or bad. You have to taste the soup, savor it, and then decide" (Pauline Badu, interview, Feb. 6, 2002)."

No comments: