The Difference Between a Prostitute and a Courtesan
So I realised that I start waaay too many posts with the word “So”.
Anyway, I haven’t got round to replying some of the comments in the last three posts so I’ll do that later on today.
Thanksgiving break is over (why?????? I was just getting started sleeping) and I am ashamed to say that I did not accomplish anything worth mentioning over the break. (well that is not entirely true. I cooked curry rice. 😀 – well technically it came in a box that said “add water and heat” – so maybe not). I did manage to do one drawing though. A drawing of Bilili (my Igbo courtesan :”)
If you don’t know who Bilili is, she’s a character in the story I’m writing. So some people have expressed reservations about the plausibility of an Igbo courtesan so let me explain.
If there is one universal truth in this world, it is this:
Wherever there are men, particularly wherever there are wealthy, powerful men, there will always be groups of women that fuck them.
It’s just the plain truth. It applies in ALL societies on Earth, in all time periods (well maybe except for Vatican City – but that’s a special case). Do you really think there isn’t some chick that’s getting jiggy with King Saud of Saudi Arabia as I type this? As far as sexual relationships between men and women are concerned, there have always been groups that have endured throughout time:
Wives (these of course evolve from fiances or betrotheds, etc)
Mistresses (Kept women)
Courtesans (Exclusive Upper class prostitutes to very wealthy and powerful clients with loadsa cash)
Always. No matter where you are. In the words of the dude that wrote Grips and Tonic, if it has a penis it likes fucking.
Good, now that that is out of the way, let me explain the social structure of 7th -9th century Igbo land.
Communities were divided into the following groups:
Villages, Towns, and Cities.
Villages are self-explanatory, just a bunch of people farming and doing mundane stuff.
Towns revolved around a particular industry and so were bigger. They typically developed most along the coast or the River Niger (the industry in question being fishing and transportation of goods for trade).
Cities are my particular favourite and here’s why.
The cities developed because of and revolved around the courts. By court I mean royal court as in The Nri Court (which as you know is the seat of the entire Igbo nation and the birthplace of mankind :D).
Here’s the basic principle. People tend to cluster most around those in power. So, whereas a village might be sparsely populated and highly uninteresting, key concentrations of power in Nri and Onicha were very densely populated because of the need to serve the court and the opportunity to rise to power.
For example, occupations in Nri and Onicha were highly differentiated compared to in other areas of Igbo land where every man was a farmer or a hunter or whatever. In Anambara, especially in these two areas, there was far more specification because of more emphasised social stratification. Basically, there was the Eze Nri, the dudes who served him, the dudes who served the dudes who served him, the people who provided them with different goods and services, the soldiers who fought in their armies and the rest of the people who did their damn best to ingratiate themselves to all these other people so that they could benefit financially and socially.
What has this got to do with Bilili and co? Well basically the premise of this whole thing is that you find the same basic people in different levels of society. And the strata of society they exist on determines how complicated or elaborate is what they do. Bilili is an Igbo courtesan making her an Akuna.
So, for instance, a man might be a simple subsistence farmer in a backwater village somewhere in Nnenasa, but another man with the same occupation (farming) would oversee a large and complex farm with many distribution channels to sell wholesale to market sellers and traders in Onicha. Same occupation, different levels of society, hence the difference. As this pertains to Bilili, it’s simple: In the villages, people who want to be unfaithful to their wives have lovers because everybody knows everybody else. In the towns, there are streetwalkers. Simple prostitutes that are solicited by men to give blowjobs behind Okoro’s house or whatever. But in the cities, it becomes far more complex. The streetwalkers are still there and they are accessible to everyone, but Bilili and co are the exclusive bunch. The ones that you can’t just simply pay for. The ones who either deem you worthy or refuse to even notice you. And that’s where all the fun is, which is why I’m writing about her, because she and her clients are far more interesting than the babe on her knees behind Okoro’s house.
Now, let’s outline some basic differences between Prostitutes and Courtesans (there are words in almost every language for these two groups of people – the French one just happens to be the most popular).
- Provide sex for money – to anyone who can pay
- Are generally disapproved of
- Generally act individually
- Are often harassed by law or authority figures or even just regular members of society
- Provide sex for money, clothes, housing, jewels, you name it – to only those of their choosing – who can pay
- Are generally admired
- Hone sexual services into a fine artform
- Are well educated
- Tend to have eccentric quirks
- Tend to have highly ritualised habits
- Are well versed in the arts
- Live independent lives
- Are often of high social status
- Maintain a very glamourous and socially active lifestyle
- Tend to have official backing
- Where they exist in groups, tend to display high levels of strictly ranked organization
- Exist and flourish only in close proximity with money and power
- Are almost untouchable by law or authority figures and regular members of society
Isn’t this fun? Unfortunately Westernization has reduced the fine art of the courtesan to mere prostitution these days but they still exist in a very limited degree today.
Something very interesting I’ve discovered doing research about courtesans from all corners of the globe is that no matter where there are from in the world, almost all courtesans seem to smoke.
It’s very baffling. From African and Asian courtesans who smoke pipes to European courtesans who smoked cigars or cigarettes, almost all of them puffed on something. Does anyone have any idea why smoking was so widespread among pleasure women?
Also, they all seem to have mirrors, and these fabulous looking rooms, and luxuries that no one else seems to be able to get their hands on.
Another very interesting thing I noticed is that all courtesans seemed to have outrageous elaborate hair and clothes. I guess it’s all part of the show and the fantasy world that they create, but it’s so cool.
So yay to courtesans!! Anybody remember Jagua Nana? Yeah! So yay to Karuwanci, Ashawo, and Akuna everywhere!!! 😀
Anyway, I did a drawing of Bilili and I’ll put it up once I’ve scanned it. It’s just the preliminary drawing and I’ll probably adjust her a couple of times before I’m ready. I still don’t know if I want to make this a graphic novel, but I am SORELY tempted to. It’s just that the way the story is in my head, there’s so much beauty in it I’m not sure I can describe it all in words. I’ll put the sketch up later on today.