The Stories of Nigerian Love in the 1960s

The transformations of West African societies in the mid-20th century substantially changed the social conditions of people’s lives. Increasing urbanization was among those. Western cultural influences had affected the modernization of cultural life in Nigerian cities.

Let us consider the examples of romantic love from the ethnographic field study of Leonard Plotnicov, which he conducted in urban life in Nigeria. He presented several illustrative cases of romantic love from Nigeria between 1960 and 1962 (Plotnicov, 1995).

Romantic Lust or Romantic Love?

From Plotnicov’s observations and conversations, it appears that romantic love was of little interest for many men and women. The expression of lust, however, was an important part of the masculine gender role. For many Nigerian men, talking about sex and lust was more exciting than talking about love. Philandering was a common male behavior in relationships with women.

For some men, fulfilling their lust was like pursuing a favorite sport; they did this with great and passionate interest. They, however, had little interest in real romantic love and serious relationships.

Many Nigerian marriages did not involve love, both during courtship and during marital life. Love was rather an extramarital affair.

Many men had girlfriends and lovers before being married or during their marriages. But only wealthy men could afford to engage in frequent philandering. Men usually make an effort to keep their womanizing secret from their wives.

Nevertheless, the majority of women appeared to be aware of these indulgences of their husbands when they happened. Many wives had reason to be suspicious of their husbands’ womanizing. However, some were reluctant to voice their jealousy or protest against such extramarital relationships. In their spare time, men shared tales of philandering over rounds of canned beer in the neighborhood taverns. Occasionally, men told how their wives made trouble when they learned who their girlfriend was.

The Nigerian Men’s Stories of Romantic Lust

For example, Isaac, Musa, and Olu never experienced real romantic love. They preferred philandering and womanizing. Olu appeared to be a staunch traditionalist and a good Christian. He had no formal education, did not speak English, and always got dressed in traditional style. Unlike Olu, Isaac and Musa had an extensive Western education. Both were proud of their good command of the Queen’s English. Isaac always wore western attire, while Musa preferred to dress in traditional styles. However, both Isaac and Musa were modern-oriented men. However, terms like “modern” and “traditional” were not imperfectly precise in these cases (Plotnicov, 1995).

The Nigerian Men’s Stories of Romantic Love

Some other Nigerian men had little interest in womanizing behavior. They were more serious in their relationships.

In the other four cases, which Plotnicov portrayed, men had fallen in love. They were culturally conservative. Their descriptions evidently indicated that they experienced real romantic love. But the love of these men showed no evidence of Western cultural influences involved in the way they loved. This romantic love appeared to be culturally specific. And what was interesting was that the Western and modern-oriented Nigerian men expressed their experience of love in the same way as the culturally conservative men. Their romantic love was the fervent, ardent, and passionate desire for another, without whom a man felt utterly incomplete (Plotnicov, 1995). These examples were illustrative to show the cases of romantic love in Nigeria, where romantic love under traditional Nigerian conditions was unexpectedly present. As Leonard Plotnicov demonstrated in those anthropological cases, for the most part, these occurrences of romantic love could not be attributed to the Western influence of romantic love ideas. The cases could not also be attributed to other exogenous influences. Thus, Nigerians had their own endogenous cultural understanding of romantic love (Plotnicov, 1995).

Modern Western Love in Nigeria in the 1960s

Nevertheless, many instances of romantic love among modern-oriented men in Nigerian cities, which Leonard Plotnicov described in his ethnographic reports, reflected Western cultural penetra­tion and acculturation. Modern-generation men were typically younger, worked in trades or occupations introduced from Europe, and preferred to live in cities. They were commonly fond of various Western cultural products.

Being in Love Is the Love Madness of the Human Mind

As I noted elsewhere, the Fulbe people of West Africa believe that love is a defiant emotion that should be avoided, suppressed, or at least not expressed. And this negative view of love is cross-culturally present in many other societies as well. Besides the Fulbe culture, this belief about love madness is shared by other Muslim societies in the world (Regis, 1995).

The Mysterious and Malicious Power of the “Ishq”

The Arabic word “ishq” has been widely used in other languages of the Muslim world, referring to passionate love. Old medical textbooks of the Islamic world portrayed “ishq” as a mixture of psychic and physical illnesses. Here is an example of how the medieval Islamic medical thought described this state of mind and soul:

“It exceeds the limit of mere inclination and [normal] love and, by possessing the reason, causes its victim to act unwisely. It is blameworthy and ought to be avoided by the prudent”

(Dols, 1992, p.319).

Islamic theology is deeply entwined with the idea that madness results from ardent love. This idea affects how folk tales portray characters. Like Romeo and Juliet in Europe, the tale of Qays and Lila and their tragic love has become a classic story in Islamic literature.

While both tales depict star-crossed lovers, the Islamic one depicts Qays as a “majnun,” or a lunatic (Dols, 1992, p. 332). The madness evolving from the experience of passionate love is a pan-Islamic theme.

When He or She Is Madly in Love

Because of these traditional myths, the Fulbe cultural views toward the experience and expression of love as love-madness look like traditional Islamic thought on “ishq” (passionate love). Full engagement in the feelings of grief, pain, wrath, happiness, or love is like possession with no reason or sense. Many people of Islamic faith think the same way as the Fulbe, with suspicions about passionate and romantic feelings.

Here is another example. The Muslim Tuareg people of Niger, a Berber ethnic group that lives in the Sahara, share the same cultural beliefs about love as the love-madness. “Tuareg cultural values… discourage revealing personal sentiments directly, in particular love preference.”

These cultural attitudes are particularly strongly attributed to Muslim women. Because of these gender stereotypes of inequality, women suffer more than men from tamazai, “an illness of the heart and soul.”

The ailment of tamazai is culturally attributed to a person’s possession by a spirit due to a “hidden love” or not acting on desires. A woman or a man suffering from the malady of tamazai feels withdrawn from people (Rasmussen, 1992, p. 339).

Smadar Lavie, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis, documented the similar cultural beliefs about passionate love feelings among the Mzeina Bedouin of South Sinai (Lavie, 1990).

The Surprising Cross-Cultural Views on Love as Madness

The Islamic religious beliefs explain the cultural similarities in the attitudes toward love of the Fulbe, Tuareg, and Mzeina people (Lavie, 1990; Rasmussen, 1992; Regis, 1995; Riesman, 1971).

It is interesting, however, that the same cultural beliefs and comments about passionate love are present in Africa among the Christian ethnic groups of the Igbo people in Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria, and Equatorial Guinea, as well as the Ijaw people in southeastern Nigeria.

The Cultural Value of Moderation in Love

According to the cultural beliefs of these Muslim and Christian societies in Africa, any emotion is acceptable in moderation. Therefore, an experience of extreme love is insane. The passionate insanity of love can be caused by a love potion or by an excessively strong personal will.

According to their cultural views, men and women in a state of love are affected by forces that are beyond their conscious control. The “love syndrome” is more about exaggeration in the perception and behavior of a lover than about deviation. These are inherent symptoms of passionate love. The overwhelming power of love can be conceived as an external or internal force. Anyway, they limit people’s ability to perceive and behave appropriately (Rasmussen, 1992; Regis, 1995).

One can see the parallels between the social restrictions that these societies place on expressing anger, pain, grief, and affection for children and the cultural constraints on romantic and passionate love. Both groups of feelings are normal emotional experiences when they are in moderation.

When People Indulge Emotions Excessively and Obsessively

Otherwise, when men and women indulge in emotions excessively and act compulsively, the tyranny of emotion can cause a psychological disturbance in both men and women. This internal imbalance prevents them from fully participating in the daily lives of their family and community.

The Muted Love of the Fulbe People

The Fulbe, also called Fulani, are a large group of people who live in several countries in West Africa and the north of Central Africa. Many of them live in communities of herders and nomads. They speak the Fula language and share some cultural traditions and practices. Almost all of them are Muslims. Their mindset and emotional lives are significantly impacted by their Islamic religious culture.

Let’s look at the Fulbe culture of interpersonal relations in Africa. In their field studies in Burkina Faso and North Cameroon in the 1970s and 1990s, Paul Riesman, an anthropologist from Carleton College, and Helen Regis, an anthropologist from Louisiana State University, observed their social life and relations (Regis, 1995; Riesman, 1971).

What did the Fulbe people think, feel, and how did they express their emotions in the context of interpersonal relationships? (see more in Karandashev, 2017).

Communal Interdependence in Fulbe Social Relations

The traditional culture of the Fulbe people is of a collectivistic, communal type, with strong ties of interdependence in tribes and families.

The Fulbe interpersonal relationships with the community emphasize that one should be available to fellow villagers. He or she should respect other people’s status and power and show reverence through formal greetings, body postures, and gestures. People demonstrate their deference to elders in many other Fulbe cultural norms and practices of interpersonal relations. They strive to maintain both the egalitarian and the hierarchical tenets of the social order.

Love Seems Culturally Unsuitable in Fulbe Relations

In the context of such social interdependence between people, an individual’s passionate relationships in a dyad put them at risk of disrupting the social structure of their community. Strong relationships in a couple compete with many other relationships in the community. When a man or woman is in love with someone, this amorous relationship detaches them from the community’s power. Their passionate emotions and societal obligations have a fundamentally antagonistic relationship. Because of this, the family and other people publicly deprecate men and women who fall in love.

Hidden Love of the Fulbe Men and Women

In the Fulbe culture, love is viewed as a defiant emotion. Regis (1995) frequently overheard remarks made about couples who publicly showed their affection for each other in their romantic or marital relationships. Criticism was largely directed at those who behaved inappropriately.

For instance, a man was supposed to avoid spending too much time around or at a woman’s home throughout the day. He was instead expected to spend that time out in the community mingling with other men

If a woman was emotionally attached to her husband, she usually denied these feelings in her daily conversations with their neighbors. Their relations with other female relatives in the family were more important.

Couples in the Fulbe community who were in love but behaved properly were not the targets of nasty rumors. People did not gossip and did not scold those couples who were cautious and did not express their affectionate feelings openly in public.

What Would Happen if the Fulbe Love Was Too Passionate?

Other men and women who couldn’t hide their feelings were called sick or socially inept. They were told they loved their partner too much.

For instance, a man who loves his wife often stays home in the afternoon or evening, even though he is supposed to meet his friends. This goes against the cultural rule that men should be open to their peers and neighbors.

When a woman is in love, she doesn’t care what her parents say about who she should marry. She is very jealous. She pays less attention to her work.

If a woman in love is already married, she might be tempted by infidelity to her husband in the limited social space of the village. This kind of situation can be hard and risky.

In Conclusion

In short, in the Fulbe culture, men and women should not take their feelings and emotions passionately and obsessively. There is no way for strong emotions and passions to take over a person’s personality. Love is among those dangerous passions that must be repressed by a man or a woman.

The Fulbe Culture of Emotional Moderation

The Fulbe (or Fulani) people are a large ethnic group living in several countries in West Africa and the northern part of Central Africa. Many of them live in pastoral and nomadic communities. They speak their own Fula language and follow their cultural traditions and practices. They are mostly Muslims. The Islamic religious culture substantially affects their way of life, thoughts, and emotions.

This article is about the Fulbe of North Cameroon. Let us look at cultural ideas and social expectations about emotions that were prevalent in the 1990s among the Fulbe people. We’ll learn what Fulbe people think about and how they express their emotions and love in particular (see more in Karandashev, 2017).

In the early 1990s, Helen Regis, an anthropologist from Louisiana State University, wrote about her anthropological observations carried out in a Fulbe community of sedentary people in the Extreme North Province of Cameroon (Regis, 1995, p. 141).

How the Fulbe Experience and Express Emotions

The Fulbe’s cultural emphasis on restraint and self-control in their daily lives has a significant impact on their feelings and expressions of love. The Fulbe tend to control their emotions. They adhere to their norms for when and how to display emotions. They highly value the ability to be reserved.

The Fulbe believe that pain, anger, grief, and other emotions are natural parts of human existence everywhere. They try to conceal their experiences and expressions of emotions. The culture teaches children and adults to suppress these feelings. Young Fulbe boys and girls are socialized to hide their emotions. They learn from their parents to keep the injuries, pain, and suffering to themselves. They know that they must control their anger and pain. As children grow, they strive to internalize their emotional experiences.

The Fulbe people in their community naturally accept

“that one is in control of normal human emotions and above human needs is constantly taking place in [Fulani] formal behavior”

(Riesman 1975, p. 63).

Shame and fear, on the other hand, are culturally acceptable. The emotions of “semteende” (shame) are supposed to affect public behavior. The main connotations of the semteende in Fulbe culture are reverence and respect for the social group. The Fulbe men and women, anticipating the feeling of shame and the fear of being called shameless, deter them­ from the public display of romantic love.

Everything in Fulbe Life Must Be in Moderation

People do not express excessive parental love. They cannot express their grief over the death of a child beyond culturally prescribed norms. Otherwise, relatives and kin scold them.

People frowned upon excessive happiness and joy exhibited in laughter or abandoned dancing. It is thought to be a denial of death.

People also frown upon excessive passion. A person who commits a crime in the heat of passion is punished especially harshly. Loss of temper, rather than being viewed as “mitigating circumstances,” embarrasses the accused. That person is judged as mentally unstable.

The Fulbe cultural norms suggest that people should not be obsessed with any emotion. In other words, the personality should succumb to the tyranny of passionate feelings of any kind.

And love is no exception in this way. In the Fulbe culture, love is viewed as a defiant emotion.

What Is Love for the Fulbe People?

Helen Regis noticed that Cameroonians express their love in a different way than Americans.

For most Americans, love is one of the highest cultural ideals. Being in love, they enjoy their emotional experience and express their feelings openly and explicitly.

The Fulbe culture does not acknowledge love as an ideal state of being. Romantic love is not suitable for the community’s social life. In the Fulbe, men and women experience emotional states such as love. However, they prefer to avoid expressing genuine emotions in inappropriate situations. The Fulbe have a reason not to fall in love and keep their heads on straight, but sometimes they still do (Regis, 1995, p. 141).

Love and Marriage of the Igbo People

The Igbo people are an indigenous ethnic group located in southeastern Nigeria, in the regions of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo States. The large ethnic groups of the Igbo people also live in other countries in Africa, such as Gabon, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea. Their cultural practices, traditions, customs, attire, music, and dances make the Igbo culture ethnically special. Their ethnic subgroups, however, are quite diverse. What about Igbo marriage and love?

Let us look at cultural ideas and social expectations about love that were prevalent in the late 1990s in Igbo-speaking Nigeria. The focus on kinship, marriage, and fertility is particularly important in this regard (Smith, 2001).

The Igbo Marriage

Igbo culture is patrilineal, and lineage exogamy is the norm in marriage. Marriages were often arranged by families and formed alliances between neighboring towns. Although it was never wrong for either men or women to reject potential spouses, doing so was often difficult due to social pressure to live up to expectations from the wider community and extended family.

The Igbo Love for Marriage

Before the Igbo people started to agree that marriage should be based on love, love was just a cultural idea and ideal.

But girls ran away to avoid certain marriages, and men went against their parents’ wishes and married the woman they wanted. A conflict between arranged marriage and personal choice always occurred. Folklore myths and fables tell stories of men and women who did things out of love.

Modern young Igbo men and women of the 1990s in Nigeria were more likely to choose their own spouses than their parents and grandparents. Romantic love and emotional closeness were two of the most important qualities to look for in a partner. In modern Igboland, most young people choose their own spouses, and almost all of those still in school expect this to be the case.

Choosing a spouse has become more and more a matter of personal choice. Romantic ideals put a high value on courtship patterns. Christian wedding ceremonies were becoming increasingly important to both young men and women.

Few marriages were strictly arranged in those days. A young couple who were in love and wanted to get married could often outlast their parents. The vast majority of young people get married on their own. But when a man and a woman actually got married, their extended families and communities joined them.

A lot of young people were still married to their mates from their own towns. More and more marriages were happening across traditional intra-Igbo cultural lines. And these marriages became more acceptable (Smith, 2001).

The Ideals of Romantic Love Among the Igbo People of Nigeria

The cultural ideas of romantic love were emerging among Igbo young men and women in the 1990s.

For example, the Nigerian film industry recently produced the popular film Taboo, which tells the story of a young Igbo woman from a royal family who falls in love with an osu. The osu people are the descendants of ritual slaves and fit the stereotype of being polluting and dangerous. People feared and despised the osu. The descendants of osu inherited their ritual duties and stigma. Many educated young Igbos had seen Taboo and were aware of the dilemmas of osu who fell in love with diala (freeborn).

Taboo is a story about an osu-diala love affair, and the social consequences as the couple confronts entrenched prejudices. The daughter of an Igbo traditional ruler (eze) and a young osu man meet and fall in love at a university. Not surprisingly, the girl’s father vehemently rejects the idea that his daughter could marry an osu. In a twisting plot, the young osu man ends up saving the eze from a fatal palace coup engineered by one of his disgruntled wives. The osu becomes a hero, but he does not get the girl because he is killed in another valiant confrontation with evildoers, and the eze’s daughter is left to mourn her lover.”

(Smith, 2001, p.137).

According to Smith (2001), a few love affairs between osu and diala could lead to marriage in real life. However, the film represented and reinforced Igbos’ growing fascination with romantic love. People’s sympathies are with the lovers. Love does not conquer all in Taboo, but it does provide a space of freedom from traditional social conventions. The film Taboo, as well as other forms of media, promote romantic love and the individual choice of marriage.

Love in Igbo Marriage

Modern Igbo marriages welcome partnership and companionate love. An evolving concept of marriage emphasizes the intimate bonds between husband and wife. The young couple transitions from loving lovers in courtship to parents in marriage.

However, despite these transformations in modern marriage, Igbo people still rely on family and affine relationships. Marital sustainability depends on childbearing. Extended families still have a big influence at this point. Their approval and support are crucial for successful marriages.

The Importance of Fertility in Igbo Marriages

The family interests of Igbo people still focus on marriage and fertility. Successful parenting is viewed as fundamental to the full personality of the Igbo woman and man (Fortes, 1978). In Igbo-speaking Nigeria, gender relations, romantic love, and scripts of relationships have changed from traditional to modern in recent decades. (van der Vliet, 1991).

Cultural Ideals of Love for West African Men and Women in the Mid-20th Century

Miss Silva, in her “Milady’s Bower” column of the West African Pilot newspaper in the mid-20th century, also talked about gender identity and the gendering of modern love at that time. Her readers and she discussed the cultural ideals of love for West African men and women.

The main point of advice on gendered love was that women did not love the same way as men did.

The gendered nature of love, as represented in the press, was, on the one hand, due to presumed universal biological differences between men and women and, on the other hand, due to cultural gender expectations learned in a Western African social context.

The public media portrayed corresponding gender roles in love and relationships. The gendered advice on love is clear in the way a woman or man is portrayed in terms of how they act, look, and stay calm.

Here are some poetic depictions of romantic women’s love. They represent the widespread notion that women are more passionate and devoted than men:

“A woman’s love is unquenchable. It lasts while she lives. I am not sure whether she ceases to love after death”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p. 496).


“Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart.” / “Tis woman’s whole existence.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p. 496).

The reference to men’s gendered nature was coined by another phrase describing men as inconsistent and unreliable in their love affairs.

These gendered typologies of love experiences and dispositions were evident in the different advice for men and women that Miss Silva gave.

What Were the Cultural Ideals of Love for West African Men in the Mid-20th Century?

A West African idea of “gentleman” shaped the modern masculinity of Nigerian urban men. Miss Silva portrayed the modern ideal man’s appearance conventions but noted that a man should value manners over looks. She praised the men’s good attitudinal and behavioral traits. To be a true modern lover, a man must be a “gentleman” and not be pretentious (Aderinto, 2015).

Modern West African men at that time needed more than gentlemanliness to attract and keep women. A good-looking appearance was not enough to get a girlfriend. Men must go to dance parties and movies. Miss Silva believed that when meeting a girl, a man’s behavior determined their chances of her falling in love with him.

Miss Silva believed that men’s faults were the cause of many broken relationships. She said that, in general, men aren’t as emotional as women and don’t have as much depth. Men say clearly what they think and feel in a relationship (Aderinto, 2015).

What Were the Cultural Ideals of Love for West African Women in the Mid-20th Century?

“Miss Silva” advised women on their modern gender identity and the new type of femininity, different from traditional rural patriarchal society. She encouraged them to pursue what represented normative modern womanhood and girlhood at that time. “Miss Silva” suggested that modern love was still gendered, but in a modern way (Aderinto, 2015).

Educating future African women was a good way to introduce modern female ideals. Miss Silva advised that a modern woman shouldn’t sacrifice her femininity for masculine attitudes and actions. She encouraged gender equality. However, while advocating for the abandonment of gender stereotypes, she discouraged women from losing their feminine qualities.

Modern West African women follow modern social norms in life, behavior, and relationships. They should be educated, self-sufficient, and employed. They need to be reserved and confident.

Miss Silva suggested that modern women’s lifestyles and demeanors should not be too British or African. An African woman had to find a good balance between European and African cultural traditions to be a good woman in the modern world.

Good women favor a relationship with decent, respectable, and responsible men. Miss Silva believed that a modern young woman should modernize long-held roles and old-fashioned ways of forming male-female relationships. Modern women no longer have to wait for a man to ask them out on a date. They should be confident in their ability to initiate a relationship in a gentle and subtle manner.

Miss Silva suggested that the psychological consequences of such an initiative for women should be positive rather than negative. Telling a potential attractive man how she feels is more important. Miss Silva encouraged women to talk about their feelings and break free from the “captivity of love.” She believed that the conspiracy of silence caused a lot of trouble in the past and should turn to a modern culture of relationships.

“Miss Silva” told pretty young women not to make the mistake of thinking that being beautiful was enough. The beautiful can be selfish and cold-hearted, so they may look unapproachable and unloved. Miss Silva said that being “simple” was more important than being beautiful. In conversation, women must be able to listen kindly to whatever a man has to say to her. They can respectfully refuse to listen to whatever it is without being rude.

When they are married, they should follow the virtues of contemporary African womanhood. They should become involved in church and community activities (Aderinto, 2015).

How the West African “Good Girl” of the Mid-20th Century Behaved in a Relationship

Mid-20th-century Nigerian public media shaped a new image of modern West African girls and women. In particular, the “Milady’s Bower” column in the West African Pilot promoted the cultural ideal of a modern woman at that time. Its columnist, “Miss Silva,” often wrote about women and the changing roles of men and women in modern Nigeria at that time (Aderinto, 2015).

“Miss Silva” advised that modern women should be and behave in new ways. She explained that women do not experience and do not express love in the same manner as men. Women in love are more romantic and devoted than men. The gendered type of female love is due to their biological differences and certain gender expectations of Western African culture.

The Nigerian Girl’s Pride in Being a Woman

In Miss Silva’s view, the modern girl must also be willing to challenge long-held conventions and old-fashioned established practices. For example, she needs to change the ways in which gender relationships are formed.

In the “Milady’s Bower” column, they believed that a modern girl should be confident enough to ask a man out on a date. The days of waiting for a man to propose a romantic relationship are long gone. Miss Silva admitted that others might label the girl acting in this manner as a “whore.” Yet, according to Miss Silva, the social repercussions of disclosing one’s emotional intentions to a potential partner were outweighed by the need to communicate one’s feelings and break free from the “captivity of love.” She claimed that “the conspiracy of silence did untold harm and ought not to exist in these days of modern civilization.”

How the Nigerian Girl Could Win It

The “Milady’s Bower” relationship guidelines also offered instructions on how a woman ought to act when a man approaches her. A girl must courteously listen to “whatever one has to say to her and decline the same courteously without being offensive.” She must not behave with “false pride” or dig a “trench around herself”.

In her essay, “How to Win It,” Miss Silva gave suggestions on how a woman could win the heart of a man or make herself adored by him. She advised beautiful girls that they should not make the mistake of

“thinking that it is enough to be beautiful… Her loveliness may turn her into a selfish, cold hearted being, and so she has to remain unapproachable and unloved.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p. 495).

Miss Silva asserted that “simplicity” was a more valuable quality than beauty. She said that

“girls with their full share of pleasing looks may be neglected for the reserved and more simple [sic] ones.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p. 495).

What About Modern African Female Sexuality at That Time?

The “Milady’s Bower” articles discussed two stages of female sexuality and sexual relations. Miss Silva portrayed the first as a developmental stage in which a girl was “no longer a child but not yet a woman.” At this stage, a girl is still the “young damsel,” the “inexperienced girl,” going through her adolescence. Miss Silva stated that girls at this stage must be careful. They must avoid making the mistake of yielding to the pressure of sexual advances.

Another stage of female sexuality, which Milady’s Bower discussed, is a period of development when a girl is mature. It is a time when she has passed adolescence yet remains single.

Miss Silva was not straight in her opinion and gave advice about premarital sex at this stage. She did not explicitly judge premarital sex relations. However, she advised girls not to “cheapen” themselves and not to be “jolly sports” by having sex with different men:

“A reckless girl flirts, the infamous character will find out sooner or later, that she had created for herself an undesirable reputation.”

Miss Silva believed that when a girl frequently flirts and has numerous sexual relationships, these types of relationships may lower her self-esteem. These promiscuous relationships deteriorate her beauty, and men often abandon her.

Miss Silva allegorically depicted women as oranges, with sex as the juice:

“She finds herself stunned, for people after sucking the juice out of an orange will throw the remaining part away.”

Moreover, in her view, the modern girl must not engage in prostitution. First, it makes it risky to contract a disease. Second, it tarnishes the true African womanhood (Aderinto, 2015, p.495).

A “Good Girl” in Mid-20th-Century Western Africa

Midway through the 20th century in Nigeria, the West African print media played a major role in shaping a new image of what constituted normative modern womanhood and girlhood. What was a “good girl” to Western Africans?

The “Milady’s Bower” column in the West African Pilot newspaper helped establish the cultural ideal of a modern woman of that time. Its columnist, “Miss Silva,” advised women on their new urban gender identity. She suggested the new type of femininity be different from traditional patriarchal society (Aderinto, 2015).

In mid-20th-century West Africa, love was still gendered, but in a new way. The key piece of advice regarding gendered love was that women did not experience and did not express love in the same manner as men did. The common belief was that women in romantic love are more passionate and dedicated than men. Their biological differences and social gender expectations formed their female type of love.

An African girl must be a “good girl”, not a “bad girl”

The West African public media attempted to portray a dichotomy between “good” and “bad” modern girls.

A good girl would follow the path of social respectability. She’d be educated, employed, independent, and financially self-sufficient. She’d love a responsible man. Miss Silva was right when she said that girls were more likely to date respectable men if they went to school and worked for money.

For instance, one young woman, who worked as a receptionist for a “well-known department” in Lagos, wrote to Miss Silva that several men approached her for a relationship because of her social standing and education.

A modern woman should marry a decent, respectable man. Then, she should extol the virtues of modern African womanhood. She should participate in church and community activities.

A West African woman must be self-assured and reserved. She must avoid bad habits such as smoking, drinking, and wearing “charred hair.” She has to follow the modern cultural norms of socialization. At the parties, she must behave in accordance with ballroom etiquette and never engage in “nefarious,” “scandalous,” or “demoralizing [dance]… the sight of which can make a spectator shudder.”

The Girl’s Pride in African Womanhood

In her lifestyle and behavior, the modern girl must be neither too British nor too African. How Miss Silva wrote in reference to Europeans:

“We must try to emulate them. [T]hat is not a bad thing in itself, but we must do so only in things that are good and beneficial to us.”

Keeping a careful balance between combining European and African cultural traditions is required for a good contemporary girl. This path helped educate young women to be excellent African women.

“Miss Silva” and her writers attempted to achieve two distinct goals that sometimes clashed. First, they wanted the modern girl to challenge the established gender hierarchy, especially the idea that women should be at the bottom of the social, economic, and political ladders. Second, they told her to keep those “charms” and traits that made her more “feminine.”

The West African Girl’s Pride of Femininity

“Milady’s Bower” said that a modern girl shouldn’t give up her femininity for attitudes and actions that make her look like a man. Miss Silva didn’t think there was anything wrong with women working in politics, which is usually seen as a field for men. However, she didn’t want women to lose their femininity as they tried to change gender norms. This advice was clearer in one specific article that she wrote. She suggested to West African girls that they should try

“to be modest and not play the rough masculine part which spoils a great deal of feminine charm … She will realize how charming it is to be feminine instead of trying to be masculine, because a girl trying to play the latter part will not merely hurt her pride but humble her very existence into the bargain.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p.494).

In another article, ‘Masculine Girls’, she discouraged West African girls from being masculine, which, in her view, looks rather like a “bad” girl. For instance, Miss Silva argued that “only masculine girls will smoke.” She commented that smoking was a bad habit that only men and people in the West had and that modern girls shouldn’t pick it up. She disliked smoking so much that she said girls who smoked should be “eliminated from the circles of good society by all means.” (quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p.494).

Gender Expectations of West African Men in the Mid-20th Century

“Miss Silva” and her “Milady’s Bower” column shaped the new forms of urban masculinity in the mid-20th century in West Africa. That cultural image of a modern man of that time was better fitted to new city life’s realities (Aderinto, 2015).

What Being a Gentleman Meant for West African Men

The West African ethos of “gentlemanliness” was central to the new urban masculinity. Miss Silva defied the conventions regarding the physical appearance of a gentleman. She wrote that looking dandy or wearing a “shirt, collar, tie, trousers, coat, shoes, and hat did not make one a gentleman”.

Overall, a gentleman should prioritize manners over appearances. She praised men’s natural, attitudinal, and behavioral traits, like the advice that a gentleman “should not be bad-tempered.”

  • A gentleman “should try to admire others and envy none.
  • A gentleman “should be respectful and self-contained.”
  • A gentleman “should keep good company and avoid uttering evil words and bad language.” 
  • A gentleman “should be honest, truthful, and generous.”
  • A gentleman “should love others as himself.”

Miss Silva and her correspondents agreed that to be a true modern lover, a man must be a “gentleman” and not live a “pretentious life.” She thought that “gentlemanliness” was the most important thing that women liked about men:

“The most important thing that most women expect from men is that they should be gentlemen. There is only one kind of gentleman; and he is a man whose innate good breeding helps him to avoid giving pain to anyone; be that person man or woman, high or low, black or white. He never overrates his own personality, to the detriment of others; rather than commit this offence, he is always inclined to encourage others in their self-expression.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p.491).

What Else Did West African Men Need to Win the Hearts of Women?

However, to attract and keep a woman, modern West African men of that time needed something more than gentlemanliness. Living in the city and looking like a dandy or gentleman was not enough to get a girlfriend. Men must socialize in the proper places, attend dance shows, and go to movies.

Some young men felt disappointed and frustrated by urban life when they attempted to make social connections with girls for romantic and sexual relationships.

For instance, Onuigbo was one such young man who had no girlfriend five months after moving to Lagos. In his letter, he did not state explicitly what he was doing wrong.

As a rule of advice, Miss Silva believed that the way men behaved when they met a girl ultimately determined their chances of falling in love. She laid out the dos and don’ts of meeting a girl in her article “When you meet a lady” this way:

“Do not stare at her or cause her any embarrassment by walking into her way. By all means, avoid this showing that you are a gentleman, not nominally, but in practice. Do not try to create an impression by stating how great you and your achievements are. Men who show off may create a temporary amusement, but nothing more. Do not force yourself on her by proceeding to mention where you work and so on. She herself can ask for this if she is interested. Do not ask her impertinent questions, such as, Where are you going? Where do you work? Whom do you stay with? Such questions portray a shallow mind, coupled with lack of good behaviour. Do not give her your hands, even after introduction has taken place. She is the one to take the first step in this matter and not you. When you meet a lady, do not, out of prejudice, start to talk meanly of other women you know or exhibit their weaknesses. Vulgarity does not pay, rather it lowers one’s worth before others.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p.492).

Good Advice for West African Men to Fix a Relationship

Miss Silva’s belief was that men were typically to blame for broken relationships. She noted that men are generally less emotional than women and have a lack of emotional depth. Nevertheless, Miss Silva suggested that men should have the chance to voice their thoughts when women maltreat them.

For instance, Solomon Babalola wrote his letter in “Milady’s Bower” and complained that his girlfriend ended their one-and-a-half-year relationship. Babalola asserted that his girlfriend left him because he was poor. She left him for an ex-soldier who had been promised significant allowances by the government in exchange for his military service.

Babalola questioned Miss Silva with suffering in his heart if “women marry for wealth or for love”. He wrote once again to the newspaper two months later. He said that his ex-girlfriend had apologized. He consulted the other readers of “Milady’s Bower” on whether to take her back or continue with his new girlfriend.

The opinions of the readers were divided, expressing different views and suggestions (Aderinto, 2015).

What Nigerian Men and Women Wanted to Know About Sex in the 20th Century

The printed media of the mid-20th century paid much less attention to the topics of sex and sexuality compared to the questions of courtship, romantic love, gender roles, the influence of family, and marriage. What about sex?

West African editors of public media apparently opted to avoid these topics because they did not want to offend the traditional norms of Nigerian communities. In the conservative culture of that time, people would perceive it as offensive and repulsive to hear explicit references to sex. People were supposed to remain mute on such matters.

What Was Acceptable to Publish About Sex?

The authors of Nigerian newspaper articles, however, wrote about some topics associated with sex. For instance, prostitution was among them. It was discussed as a social problem that must be eliminated in West African cultures (Aderinto 2015). The authors depicted the immoral and perverted ways of life of prostitutes and suggested severely policing prostitution. The newspapers were also intended to provide moral lessons against sexual “deviancy”.

What Was Not Acceptable to Publish About Sex?

Nigerian public media commonly did not publish anything about the topics of the normal sexual lives of Nigeran men and women. In the same way, readers of newspapers usually did not write about these very personal and intimate issues. And editors did not publish the letters of ordinary people depicting their private sexual lives. They also did not publish any advice materials on how to improve one’s sexual life.

What “Milady’s Bower” Published About Sexual Life for Nigerians

However, the “Milady’s Bower” of the West African Pilot newspaper was among the rare exceptions. On a few occasions, “Miss Silva” tried to express her views on sexuality, but she did so very cautiously.

She began her column article, “Sex, secrecy, and chiding,” by commenting to readers that this subject of sex is unpopular in public media. However, she noted that the traditional silencing of sex may have a negative effect on the lives of men and women. She wrote:

“No doubt, the notion that all affairs pertaining to sex should be kept in the dark has done much havoc in the past and is still continuing to work with the same measure and full speed. Some people would make a fuss over sex discussion as if it were some ugly thing which should be erased from human thoughts as much as possible.”

(Aderinto 2015, p. 489).

“Miss Silva” also advised on the topic of premarital sex, saying that “if done at all, it should not be too much indulged in.” We don’t know what the reactions and opinions of readers to this statement were. Her correspondents were not willing to write about sex.

What About Sex Education?

Overall, few articles addressed the topic of sex education. However, Miss Silva and Dr. Azikiwe advocated that sex education should be introduced into the school curriculum. Dr. Azikiwe’s article “Sexology” offered particularly compelling arguments in support (Aderinto 2015).

Those authors suggested that during courtship, men and women should be well informed about sexual life. Then, couples would be able to enjoy their good sex life when married. Due to this, they would be strong Nigerian families.

Miss Silva and Dr. Azikiwe argued that inadequate education about human sexuality could be one of the causes of the “high” rate of divorce among Nigerian couples (Aderinto 2015).

African Cultural Attitudes Toward Kissing

Nigerian cultural norms of relations between men and women have many peculiarities. Kissing, according to some authors and readers of the West African Pilot newspaper, is un-African, a cultural practice copied from European cinema.

Here is how one author quoted the comment of a “white foreigner” about the kissing habit in love. When he saw how Nigerian lovers kissed, he said, “This country is young indeed to understand the theatrical gesture.” He considered it like something out of a European movie.

The same author, Mr. Mordi, stated in another article that kissing, like “any other enjoyment, had its one vice”.

Another reader, Ukaru, also made an argument against kissing. He claimed that kissing transmitted syphilis.

Thus, several authors and readers made a point against kissing, stating that “it is a nasty thing to kiss” and that there are no cultural reasons why Africans should follow this European habit (quoted in Aderinto, 2015, p.490).

The Pro-Kissing Arguments in West Africa

The Nigerian proponents of kissing attempted to distinguish various kinds of kissing, such as “kissing as a display of softer emotions,” “passionate kissing,” “erotic kissing,” “rascally kissing,” and “kissing with temperance.”

According to Miss Silva’s view, kissing is a good way to manifest love. Kissing could also ease conflict in a relationship. She advised, however, that a kiss needs “decency” and should not be “reckless” or “scandalous.”

The kissing debates of authors and readers in the “Milady’s Bower” of the West African Pilot touched on important facets of intimacy. They attempted to differentiate between private and public expressions of love.

Many other questions were disputed. Where and how is it acceptable to kiss? Is it acceptable to kiss in public? Can men and women show affection for each other in public without kissing? Or is it a private matter?