By Salem Lorot
In March 6th this year, here at Chicamod, the Editor asked a rhetorical question Is this How Africans Love? Well, the gist of what she was complaining about is that ‘it is not unheard of to find Africans—grown Africans—who have never hugged their parents and observed that ‘love is a weakness, apparently, so much so that the word itself is absent in many African languages’. Also, she rightly observed that there was no separate word for love and for such-like. (You might want to read the full article here). That is true. I agree.
In my search for education, I travelled from my rural village to Nairobi. I got a culture-shock. In my village, we never hugged. That was the greatest height of bad upbringing. Instead, we used to have those brief and precise handshakes that Chinua Achebe describes as ‘those that never passed the elbow’. Kissing was a strong no-no, thank you for understanding. And it was even impossible to think of kissing, if a mere hug was such a big issue.
So, there I was, at the University, a fresh first year. A place where a hug is a form of greeting and a kiss is not such a big deal. For the first weeks and months, I really struggled never to hug yet sometimes my insistence could be mistaken for ‘arrogance’ or ‘feeling so full of myself’, whatever that means. But like any other institution, you learn things. So at third year, I had learnt how to hug and give one of those gentle rubs on people’s (no, ladies’) backs. It was a good transition from the rough, bear-hugs I was accustomed to at first year. Thank education for such small mercies. (Balancing forks took some time, though, but that is a story for another day).
So, I understand how it works. Among the Pokots, they are not that lovey-dovey like the Nairobi couples. Luxuries like being asked ‘my dear, how was your day?’ are simply not there. It is unfortunate but women are there for child-bearing, period. Headaches, bad days, mood swings and such-like, at least from what I have experienced and have been told, can be shared to fellow women and not a husband. I believe this replicates itself across many communities in Kenya— of women, so to speak, in the firm grip of a male-dominated society. But again, such an issue is complex and is also a discussion for another day. I think we were talking about the twin sins of hugging and kissing.
Decorum defined the social mores of the African set-up. Sex was always a taboo topic. Women, especially, could not raise the subject of sex and equally, they could not declare their intentions to a man, lest they be considered of loose morals. Dating, at least in the village I grew in, was a secretive affair— always, until a girl was made pregnant or was married. Thus, the love-birds met on the way to the river or at the posho-mill or at night during the village dance. Even in these occasions, they always talked about general concepts like how cows are getting emaciated, or some locust invasion, the rains, the dust and such-like. ‘I love you’, that phrase does not exist in the Pokot bank of words. The closest someone can come to it is by showing affection, probably by holding a lady’s hand or touching the tattoos in her waist ( which is a bit daring, if you ask me) or better still fondling the beads round the lady’s waist. The average dating period is 3 years.
YES, Editor, don’t be surprised. This is how Africans Love. But is it the right way of loving? From an African perspective, it is; from the Western, probably not. Hugging and kissing are two emotional acts which have a thin-line between the mutual respect between persons and a precursor to sex. When somebody hugs, it is like he/she is giving a part of himself or herself. Hugging is simply un-African even to two love-birds. Kissing, at least to me, even to married couples is so foreign and far-fetched that it needs to be rethought afresh. I know it is so inborn but seriously, ‘kissing is repulsive, just cut the pretence and admit it—don’t be a slave to the media glamour it attracts’.
And Editor, you ask, ‘Will we get leprosy if we tell our parents, our children, our girlfriends and boyfriends that we love them?’ No we will not. But we can make them feel the love. We don’t necessarily need to tell them. Actually we don’t. I think we were clever enough not to speak about things we don’t understand like love. Love is an abstraction. Many don’t understand it. We understand how to chew herbs for a sick child, you might call it love, we call it our duty. Our wives cook for us and know whether we prefer sour milk or fresh milk any given day; you still call it love, we call it the purpose of our women. And since we speak less about things like love, we don’t attract some of the problems you the modern couples do. We find it very cumbersome to speak of ‘I love you’ like a mantra. This cannot feed children. This cannot add more firewood to the fireplace. No, it will not. We might not say it but we still love.
Salem Lorot is a lawyer currently pursuing a post-graduate diploma in law. He is a published poet with a running blog, echoes of the hills, a writer and an avid reader. He has written extensively on a wide range of issues on law and society. He is a connoisseur of the music in East Africa, fashion, cuisine and his regular staple is the entertainment industry with the manifold twists and turns. His interests are informed by themes of social justice and interactions with diverse groups in Kenya.