gift giving

Many tourists get fed up with constant demands for "cadeaux": give me, give me, give me. And it is annoying, but it is important to understand that it is not just locals asking rich white foreigners for gifts. The culture itself is based on gift giving amongst people. All the major celebrations from the religious to the life events such as marriage and births are accompanied by a dance of giving and receiving. Even travelling has its gift giving traditions. There are rules to all this, however, that in the end even out so that everyone gives and receives.

Hospitality is not for sale. It is unthinkable to demand money for feeding or lodging guests. When visiting, people often give gifts as well. It is considered polite to compensate a family for their trouble, even though they will never ask for it. These offerings are under the guise of a contribution to the meal, a gesture of appreciation to the woman of the house, or something for the kids. Some examples that I have received (from local friends and visiting in-laws) are tea- in a large enough quantity not to be insulting; sugar either accompanying the tea or alone; dates-this was during Ramadan from a man who often came to break fast with us; a 50kg sac of flour; a carton of packets of instant juice mix; meat, fruits, vegetables usually from people staying a few days contributing to the meal thus; gazelle, hare, and other game from someone who had been hunting.

When you travel you are expected to return/arrive with gifts; either for the people you are visiting or the people you are returning to. When you depart for your travels the people from whom you are taking your leave are expected to offer you gifts. Just who gives and receives gifts depends on your financial status, age, and duration or distance of the trip. the longer the trip or farther away you go the more people will offer gifts and expect gifts. A head of household will be expected to bring back gifts for his/her children and any step children, for brother and sisters and brothers and sisters-in law, nieces and nephews, cousins if they are close, aunts and uncles and parents if they are still alive and any good friends. It can be acceptable to offer an important gift to a family as a whole instead of to the individual members. Likewise a member of one of these families may offer you a departing gift in the name of the whole family. Examples of gifts I have received are clothing or cloth with which to make clothes, sheet and pillow case matched set, bed spread, carved wooden bowl for milk, gourd spoons, woven hand fans, jewellery or various quality and design, purse, shoes, perfume, leather cushions, tea set; watches and knives are also popular gifts.

On the religious celebrations it is customary for children to go visiting relatives and friends of their parents offering greetings and to receive small coins or treats. beyond this there is a system of offering gifts to your cousins but only those who are the children of your fathers sister(s). The reason for this seams to be an idea of equalizing relations between certain degrees of cousins. Since the fathers sisters sort of have lower status by virtue if being female their children also have lower status so the offspring of the male siblings offer gifts to the offspring of female siblings to even out the disparity and keep the cousins on level footing. From a Western perspective it might at first seem unfair as some kids always have to give while others receive. But in fact with the high birth-rate almost every man has sisters and every woman brothers and all children have a mother and a father they all give to their paternal aunt's kids and receives from their maternal uncles kids.

Marriages are even more complicated. There is a whole system of giving: the prospective groom has to give a certain quantity of kola nuts (or the money to buy them) to the brides family but this is then distributed in varying quantities to all the members of the family to inform of the impending marriage. Gifts of clothing, shoes, toiletries etc. are also offered to the bride but in fact part of these are to go to various member of the wedding party. or to be worn on certain days of the wedding celebration and then discarded (given to the appropriate person). Often most or all of the brides pre-marital clothes are given away, again the recipients are certain particular people. In some of the cultures there are events during the wedding where the women gather and each woman and daughter offers money in varying amounts based on age and order of birth. All this money is gathered and donors noted then it is redistributed according to complicated sets of rules. Some of it helps pay for the wedding some of it goes to people who have helped out... There are games to "extort" more money from the groom that then get distributed amongst the bride’s friends and used to throw her a sort of bachelorette party. The wedding guests offer gifts to the bride or her family usually envelopes of money or housewares.

More complicated than the preceding aspects is that the guests that are relatives of the bride or groom are expected to give money to other guests that are in certain other relations to the bride or groom. You must truly be raised in the culture to know who all has the right to ask of you and of whom you have the right to ask. One thing is clear though, after you have given to one or several people you can refuse other requests on the grounds that you already offered what you can afford for the occasion.

Baptisms are also a confusion of giving and redistribution of offerings. Guests come and offer gifts to the new mother according to their means. Often a bit of money; soap is another popular gift and very useful to the mother. Clothes, cloth and baby things are also welcome.

Another aspect of gift-giving culture is that if someone asks for something you are supposed to give it, If someone compliments something excessively it is seen as a mark that they desire the thing and therefore you should offer it. That is one reason why people are careful not to seem too enthusiastic about other people's belongings. Unless they really do want to be offered the item. Even amongst themselves there are many of the give me give me comments. These can be a bluff to see if you will offer the item admired object. You can call the bluff by offering the object. Often when a person asks for something, "Oh that is really nice can I have it?" they will refuse to actually accept it if you offer it. If you don't offer it the person will keep pestering you for it or other things. Of course it is a case of bluffing the bluffer and they might call yours in accepting it. Other ways of getting around giving a thing are to make up an excuse like it's not yours you are just borrowing it, perhaps it is something that is "part of your job" and belongs to your employer or you can explain why it has some special significance like your deceased grandmother gave it to you as a special gift.