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 rather than 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 Men’s Stories of Nigerian 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 Men’s Stories of Nigerian 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.