READ PART ONE HERE
Money throwing as a practice
By noon next day, I woke up in my two-star Xaiobei hotel room with a strong whiskey hangover and the smell of cigarette all over my body. Through a VPN, I looked up ‘money throwing’ on google search. The top results were about the perils of ‘throwing money at a problem’. I was not looking for that. I was actually thinking of the literal act of throwing money, as in propelling it through the air, I remembered throwing money at different events throughout my childhood.
When I was growing up in central Mexico, for instance, we used to throw coins at young and emerging Lucha Libre wrestlers in order to support their early careers (I would pick the heaviest coins and aim for their heads!). Many of my early childhood memories in relation to money are associated with scrambling and fighting with other children over ‘bolo’ – money, mostly coins, thrown by godfathers in christenings (to symbolise abundance and prosperity).
My simple online search led me to a range of non-academic sources (mostly blogs) that mainly attributed the ‘origin’ of the practice to specific countries. From these sources, I gathered that there are multiple histories of money throwing and that they vary across space, time, culture and location.
People from certain villages around Mount Bromo, for instance, a worshipped and feared volcano in the Indonesian island of Java, throw money (and many other things, including goats!) at its crater during the month-long Hindu festival of Yadnya Kasada, in retribution for the prosperity and abundance that the volcanic soil in the region provides.
Money throwing is sometimes associated with dancing during Greek and Slavic weddings in Europe, and in these cultures’ diasporas. In other locations across Latin America and the Philippines money is pinned, wrapped or taped to newlywed’s clothing, as people dance around them. These dances are variously called ‘dollar dance’, ‘money dance’, ‘bridal dance’, and so on.
In some cultures, money throwing connotes humiliation, as shown by the Ugandan star’s reaction. In the midst of FIFA’s (International Federation of Football Association) embezzlement, racketeering, and money laundering scandal in 2015, British comedian, Lee Nelson, threw thousands of fake American dollars at Sepp Blatter – the then federation’s president – as a prank demonstration against world football’s corruption.
The diverse ways in which people in different locations throw money, and the multiple meanings embedded in the throwing, do not necessarily indicate a single origin. Indeed, the multiplicity of meanings highlights diverse cultural relationships with the materiality of money; as well as evolving, meaningful, interactions between bodies and monies. In some places and spaces, currencies are used in non-normative ways. The physical act of throwing money may appear as the same across distinct places. But as a practice – with histories – it is embedded with significant variations across different contexts.
These differences are often emphasised by Nigerians when talking about ‘spraying’ money. They do this to highlight that spraying is not money throwing – and to reject stories that locate the origin of the practice in European religious rites. While Nigerian spraying happens often at weddings, it is also pervasive in musical performances outside religious spaces. Similar to what I saw in China, where Nigerian, and other West-African singers are often sprayed with money during their on-stage performances.
Not long after I first witnessed spraying, I travelled to Paris for an unrelated academic conference. During a night out, I met a Togolese actor/comedian who had lived 10 years in China before moving to Japan, where he had already resided for 15 years. He was fluent both in Mandarin and Japanese. When I described to him the money throwing I had seen in Guangzhou, he told me, with what I perceived as a hint of arrogance, that if I thought that the person spraying was ‘dancing with the singer’ – I had described the scene in those terms – then it would be very difficult for me to understand the nature of this practice. ‘The African custom of spraying has nothing to do with dancing with the person to whom you are throwing the money at. It’s not a donation. It is way more complex than that. The interpreter is only a conveyor. I’m not sure you will be able to understand it’, he said, dismissively, before changing the topic.
Upon my return to southern China, I asked Aaron, an African Studies scholar based in Hong Kong, about spraying, reporting what the Togolese had told me. ‘The first thing you need to think about is what is spraying. It is not money throwing, so you need to stop describing it like that’, he said. ‘Yes, it is throwing, tossing, flicking, attaching, all those things, but that is not what matters’, he continued. ‘The sprayer and what you call the singer are important elements in African music worlds collectives. The sprayer sprays the spirit, or genius, that manifests through the interpreter. The relationship is between the sprayer, and something else, the “voice within” the interpreter, if you want. You should look up griot, or jali, and look into praise singing, if you want to understand this better’, he finalised.
Having stumbled upon spraying while researching transnational mobility and migration among African musicians in Guangzhou, I was captivated by the reproduction of this practice in African diasporic spaces in China. So, I decided to look further into the intersection between the specific cultural histories of West African currencies and money use, praise singing, diasporic performance, and the increased aspirational mobilities of young, mostly male, Nigerian entrepreneurs. All these against the background of the globalisation of Chinese urban landscapes, and the idea of Pan-African publics in China.
CONTINUE READING HERE PART 3