Valentine is coming. 'Tis the season to be romantic' and roll out special moments for our significant others. With the razzmatazz around the day, we have taken time to ponder on something close to home – what does romance mean to Africans?
Of course, everyone wants to be loved and seen but these are expressed differently according to conditions of culture and environment. There are peculiarities in the African society and cultural subsets that have influenced the way love and romance is viewed away from the European context.
It is natural to see a European lay out rose petals or make a number of obviously romantic overtures. Public Displays of Affection (PDA) are no big deal and children are kinda used to seeing parents hug or affectionately hold hands. In some African societies, globalisation has helped integrate parts of this culture but it is still not the norm. There are ways Africans show love and it is mostly through acts of service.
Children might never see their parents hug and when they do, it might be brief and very chaste but they can obviously tell that the two people are intentional about making sacrifices to be together. They see the tangible services and items that are brought on the table.
Romance, in the African context, is tangible and mostly stems from roles. As long as the man or woman is performing their specific duties without complaints and with a good attitude, there is no greater love. Apologies are made through gift giving for the men and preparation of special delicacies for the women.
Love and romance are expressed through things people can touch or see and not through words or overtly romantic gestures. A bulk of it is sacrificial and it is in the frequency of the sacrifice, on both ends, that one can infer how much love the other holds in the partnership.
A lot of the time, married Africans refrain from publicly showing affection that holds sexual undertones. The issue of sex in some societies is seen as sacred and highly personal, so people generally avoid PDA as a way to keep their romance private.
When it comes to addressing the issue of love and romance, there is a high tendency to compare with the European way and judge the potency of love through the lens of Eurocentric views. Because of this, it is hard for some people to appreciate the practicality of how romance works in African societies. True, everyone wants cheesy things sometimes but tangible things are equally important. So, like always, whether African or European, balance can never go out of style.
In the end, it is the intention that counts but one must make conscious efforts to love others the way they would like to be loved. Intention is implicit but explicit actions get bonus points. Learn their love languages and do your best.
Having said all that, the communal feeling of love on Valentine's Day is like no other on the bustling streets of Lagos, Accra or on the leafy promenades of Abuja. A beautiful chorus of "Happy Valentine", by all and sundry rings through the air. It's a way of saying we appreciate you, you count, you mean something to us and it's a beautiful collective celebration of love.