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Bridging the Best Between Asia and Africa

KoreAfrica, The Unlikely Encounter and Opportunities

KoreAfrica, The Unlikely Encounter and Opportunities

The Korean Wave (Hallyu; Hangul: 한류; "flow of Korea") is the growing global popularity of South Korean culture since the 1990s. The emergence of K-pop influence first began throughout South, Southeast and East Asia through the Korean TV shows and Korean music. In a short period of time, the popularity of K-pop progressed rapidly and later evolved into a international phenomenon.

The increasing attention on South Korea has not only exposed and developed its entertainment potential, but also prepared the ground for significant business opportunities.

Korea has undeniably influenced many countries in various aspects. Although it was most known through its entertainment, the Korean lifestyle, technology, and business were also attracting interests.

This Korean influence has incorporated foreign elements in sectors such as cosmetics, music, and fashion. In other words, Korea has successfully embraced and transformed positive aspects of other cultures. For example, the American influence of pop music, the European style of fashion, and the usage of African natural products.

Among all the other foreign elements that are visible in the new Korean expressions, the most unlikely although very impact are the one emerging from the Korea - Africa relationship. This growing Korea-Africa cooperation has much deeper implications than what people could imagine. The interaction from both cultures started from the Korean side but recently evolved into a mutual influence.

The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the most interesting elements of the interaction in the current and rapidly evolving Korea - Africa relationship.

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Fashion

The Korean Style became a mainstream interest in the fashion industry. Whether it is clothing brands or styling, Korea has become a benchmark for many influential fashion and art enthusiasts. The subject of Korean fashion has been studied from every angle by several critiques and experts and created a large following.

However, what has been noticed by many observers but not been talked about is the African features embedded in the Korean fashion and style.

For example

  • Famous Korean artists with the African hairstyle such as Dreadlocks, Afro, and Braids.

  • Many clothing brands using the African color combination, patterns, and fabrics.

1. Hairstyle

  • The Afro hairstyle

The “Afro” is a curly, dense hairstyle with a rounded shape.

This hairstyle also identifies African-Americans and their claim of the African root, which is related to the history of Africa in general. The Afro style has both political and cultural symbolism. For the black population, the Afro hairstyle is a cultural affirmation in particular with the movement: "Black is Beautiful, “Black and Proud” with icons such as James Brown. Unifying element of the African diaspora.

The Afro hairstyle can seen in a lot of influential Korean artists. Artists such as Gdragon leader of the Big Bang and Korean fashion icon wears the Afro hairstyle in his clip High High (ft T.O.P) or Michigo ( 미치 GO)

  • The African Braids

Braids are another important symbol of African culture in history. The braids can be worn in different ways, short, long, or as a bun. This hairstyle has been present throughout the evolution of African culture and has been propelled to the international scene through African-American pop.

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The braid has also been present in the history of Korea. During the Three Kingdom era (Beakje, Silla, Goguryeo) the braid was a common hairstyle of young Korean men and women.

It symbolized maturity, pride and strength. It was also used to classify whether a person was married or not.

  • The Dreadlocks hairstyle

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This African hairstyle is also called dreads or locks. It was first documented in Egypt. It was done by intermingled hair that naturally forms when the hair is allowed to grow without any intervention (no brush used).

Celebrities such as rapper Dok2 or singer Taeyang (Big Bang) were seen being inspired by this hairstyle. In addition, it is common to meet young Korean people with this unique capillary style.

2. Clothing

Some may have conflicting opinions about the African influence in the Korean clothing style. The Korean style is very different from the African style due to the different physique and skin tone. However, looking deep into the roots and the foundation of the Korean clothing style, We can see more and more design incorporating the African fabrics such as

  • The Kitenge

  • The Kanga

  • The Shigan

These three very similar fabrics with vivid and shimmering colors are originally from the Great Lakes region (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda) and also found in West Africa (Ghana, Senegal, Liberia and Nigeria). Some people believe that they are also very similar to the batik of Indonesia.

The Korean brand “Ethrica” clothing and accessories and the “Jerrybag” bag brand are both users of these African fabrics as materials.

It is very important to note that the “Jerrybag” creations have become a real success. It is difficult to purchase them at this time, because the products are sold out and out of stock.

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Business

As Korea were developing a positive reputation, it created more business opportunities and expanded its trade worldwide. To this day, the Korean exports are most well known through its cosmetics, technologies and motor vehicle industry.

Here are a few examples of famous Korean brands

Surprisingly, all three different aspects of business has been mutually influenced by the African Continent.

1. Cosmetics

Korean cosmetics are desired all over the world. Many of these products incorporate natural oils from African countries. Here is a list of famous products of African origin that can be found in Korean cosmetics.

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  • Shea butter: This product originated in West Africa has been used for thousands of years by African women for its regenerative, soothing, antioxidant properties. Shea butter is found in many products of Korean brand as Etude House, Face shop or Tony Moly.

  • Aloe Vera: Cultivated in North Africa for these medical virtues for more than 500 years. It is highly appreciated for the treatment of skin infections (eczema) and to combat aging. It is found in the products of Nature Republic, Innisfree.

  • Argan oil: Originally from Morocco, rich in vitamin E, known for its moisturizing and anti-aging properties. It is found in Etude House products.

With the incorporation of African ingredients, the Korean cosmetics is biggest exports. It is stated in the export.gov that Korea is known to be the 8th largest market for cosmetics and in 2016 it was estimated to be around 8.5 billion USD and the market showed annual growth of 7.64% for the last 5 years.

2. Technology and Motor Industry

The Korean technology and motor companies spent many years developing their products and reaching out to foreign countries. Many Asian countries with developing technology have tried to reach out to other countries to gain financial benefit and economic growth. In this global competition to conquer the African market, Korea has scored quite successfully and Africa became an increasing market for Korean technological industry.

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Some of the reasons behind this success are from goodwill and positive branding created by the Korean wave and martial art Diplomacy. It has paved the way of Korean products in Africa. Korean company KT Corporation were the first to construct a communication infrastructure and major telecoms through East Africa.

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According to Africanews, in February of 2019, under the African Development Bank(AfDB), South Korea has partnered with Africa on Technology with the purpose of developing the continent’s technological capabilities and creating job opportunities.

Martial Arts Diplomacy

Taekwondo is a one of the most famous Korean martial art based and characterized by the unique movements of kicking(chagi). Before the popularity of the Korean pop entertainment, its martial art was the main method of spreading the Korean culture and influence.

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It is well known that the first documented way to reach out to Africa was through martial arts. The “Martial Art Diplomacy” was a strategy to send Korean Taekwondo experts to various African countries to promote the Korea. This strategy was also developed as a political approach to counter the North Korean government's influence in many African countries attracted by the communist ideology.

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Thanks to its strategy South Korea has been successful in countries like Algeria, Benin, Egypt, Gabon, Ivory Coast, South Africa and etc.

This Diplomacy has culminated to the first African Taekwondo Championship in 1996 and the emergence of African Taekwondo Competitors at the Olympic games.

In addition to Taekwondo, there is also sseuiruem that has been more introduced in Africa and embraced African youth who are passionate about wrestling, like famous Senegalese wrestling. A German competitor originally from Benin has won the World Championship of ssireum; Wolfgang Amoussou.


Dance and Music

Drums have been an important and defining part of African culture for centuries. The ancient instrument represented the heartbeat and the soul of many tribes and communities. It was not just used to make music, but it was also part of communication, celebration, religion, and rituals.

In the past and current African music, the rhythm of the drum is very important and can be heard very distinctly as a driving force. This applies to African dance as well. The most basic and simple movement of African dancing follows the rhythm of the drum according to the pattern of syncopation polyphony.

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It is Interesting to notice that, Korea and Africa has a very similar attitude to the drum tradition. The sound and the shape differs from the African drum, however drum also plays a significant  importance in the Korean culture. It is also used in traditional ceremonies, Buddhist rituals, and community building.

From the Era of Three Kingdoms(Beakje, Silla, Goguryeo), The drum has been adopted as a symbol of royalty and power. Also was used to intimidate enemies during battles and scare away evil spirits.

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Recently, the Korean government has supported a special “Korean-African Day” in Seoul, where people from all ethnicities are welcome to enjoy and experience the celebration of both cultures in the public.

Conclusion

This unlikely Korea-Africa interaction shows the untapped potential and possibilities of successful cultural embrace as opposed to cultural appropriation. With mutual appreciation and respect, many development objectives can be achieved on a win win basis. This vision increasing supported by development organizations and the Korean International Corporation Agencies like KOICA.

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