Dollar bills and culture vultures

Nigerians love celebrating, and they love celebrating in style – I learned that pretty early on in my ‘special relationship’ with Nigeria. Weddings, engagements, anniversaries, milestone and non-milestone birthdays, wake keeping and funerals. You name the occasion, Nigerians will turn it into an excuse to have an ‘owambe’ which incidentally is one of the first few Yoruba words I learned. A big part of these celebrations involve food, music and dancing, and much of dancing involves spraying money.

It is no surprise Nigerian rapper Wale would choose to celebrate his baby daughter’s birthday in true Nigerian owambe style. What came as a surprise last week was how the rapper got backlash from American fans who had not bothered to find out about Wale’s culture before they raged at baby Zyla Moon Oluwakemi being showered in money.

Finding himself at the centre of social media outrage, the rapper was forced to have to defend his heritage, saying “You just have to respect other people’s traditions on all levels. Before you speak on it, you should know about it. I’m proud of where I come from and my family’s heritage. I never even thought for a second that it was anything wrong with it because that’s all I knew when we was growing up.”

Most of Wale’s non-Nigerian fans had taken issue with Baby Zyla Moon being sprayed, seeing the act reminiscent of ‘making it rain’ on a stripper. One user commented, “It’s like they’re getting her ready for her future career, just need the stripper pole.” And another wrote “What do you think about the negative message that the girls will learn at an early age..shit, one little girl already knew what to do with the money, making it rain and picking it up.” Yet another commented, “She’s just a cute lil baby..there are well many other things she could have celebrated with, not $$..she doesn’t even know what it is. This are why they call us blacks.”

What is in equal measure frustrating and fascinating about this storm in a teacup is just how righteous people get without taking a moment, taking a step back and checking themselves. A quick Google search will take you to the entry ‘money dance’ on Wikipedia – “an event at some wedding receptions in various cultures”, which originated in Poland in the early 1900s in immigrant neighbourhoods. Also known as the ‘dollar dance’ or the ‘apron dance’, the money dance has a special place in many African and no African cultures.

In Poland, the dance takes place some time after the first dance, where customarily, the best man begins dancing with the bride, pinning money onto her wedding gown or putting it into a purse, which she carries especially for the purpose, or into the pockets of an apron she dons over her gown especially for this dance.

In Mexico, relatives take turns dancing up to the bride and groom and pinning money on their clothes, which allows the couple to spend a few moments with each of their guests. After the money dance, the groom is ridiculed by his friends, tossed in the air while being covered with the veil, and given an apron and broom.

In Hungary, the bride wearing a special Hungarian traditional dress, has the money pinned to her dress, or dropped in her shoes left in the middle of the dance floor before anyone dances with her.

In my native Turkey, relatives pin money to the bride and groom’s clothes as the celebration and dancing goes on. Guests are encouraged to give generously as the money will be used for the bride and groom’s honeymoon or to give them a little extra cash with which to set up housekeeping.

While not indigenous to Nigeria, it is in Nigeria and in the Nigerian diaspora that spraying money is done with most relish and flamboyance – so much so that even the shy two left-legged wallflowers would want to leg it to the dancefloor just to have the experience of being sprayed with money.

Given that it is an essential part of any Nigerian celebration, and that Wale is Nigerian, it is only natural for him to want to celebrate his daughter the Naija way. Given that the rapper also captioned his social media post “the Naija way” with the Nigerian flag emoji, it does beggar belief how quick some people are to judge than do a quick internet search to find out more about a different culture.

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