The year is 1830. The sun sets big and orange over the river banks in the ancient town of Ibadan. The river bank, well known, has a lovers’ nest that is uncharacteristically deserted. A distance away from the river, two giggling lovers sit taking in the glory of the sunset sprawled across the face of the river. The lovers whisper to each other, punctuate the whispers with deep chuckles that echo across the river bank. Their love is so pure that nature itself seems in tandem. But … what else?
It is hard to imagine what romance was like in pre-colonial Nigeria, because some elements of romance as we know it today were influenced by the Europeans. Having to figure out whether romance in the past involved the bits of physical affection we display as romance today is difficult. Were kisses a thing before colonialism or we were influenced by contact? Did our ancestors consider romance in the face of the many arranged marriages? Does romance exist beyond the physical show of affection? The only thing we seem to be sure of is that they fell in love, and they definitely had sex. We exist as proof.
Romance can be expressed in too many ways. The thoughtful gestures that are shown to a lover no matter how small: The surprise small chops delivery at the place of work, the spontaneous gifts, the time spent together and the quality conversations. In ancient times, while these might have been represented by other acts, they were certainly acts of romance between lovers.
Romance is as old as human existence, it is a human instinct to want to express courtship behaviors to express love for another person. A man going to the thick forest to hunt because his wife has a bush meat craving is forever peak romantic gesture. Imagine going into the thick of the forest with a powder gun, facing all sort of uncertainties just to get a grass-cutter or antelope to sate the craving of a woman. There are so many things to consider. What if you encounter a pride of lions? How many can the powder gun shoot? How fast can you run? Sounds really sacrificial. Peak romance.
Sneaking around with a lover was a common occurrence in the ancient times. Parents were mad strict when it came to morality of women, so moving around with men was a no-no. This left a lot of lovers with no choice but to sneak around at odd times. It was a common sight to see couples loitering around deserted places just to have some alone time beyond the stares of familiar and judgemental faces. Going the extra mile to spend time together should count as an act of romance. All that effort.
Some couples had to go as far as eloping just to be together. It was an era when there were a lot of arranged marriages between families, sometimes even before the kids were born. Imagine growing up to be informed you had been betrothed at birth to a total stranger. This stood in the way of a lot of loving relationships, which sometimes led to couples fleeing their homes just to be together. There is the story of two people who were told they had been betrothed at birth. They were both in love with other people, so they both decided to elope with their lovers. The two couples lived happily ever after.
Women often showed affection toward their husbands by cooking their favorite delicacies. The popular saying that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach was birthed during this era. When a woman wanted to express her love towards her husband, she would prepare his favorite delicacy and sit with him as he ate. Couples bonded during these moments and the husband usually expressed their affection through gratitude. It was believed that husbands who had many wives usually preferred eating their favorite wife’s food.
We may never know the specifics of romance in precolonial times. Did our foremothers kiss? Did our forefathers serenade with sweet music? What we know for sure is that these little things, the cooking and the finding every opportunity to spend time with each other, count even as much as the grand gestures. They are romance.
But guys, what do you think? Do you have evidence of romance in precolonial culture in Nigeria? What did the father of the mother of the father of your mother do? Are you sure they did it? Share with us in the comment section.