Public Displays of Affection – what is your take on it?
Coming to London on summer vacation as a child in the 80s, I used to get dumbfounded when I saw punks with their brightly colored hair and piercings kiss passionately on the Tube. It really grossed me out to the 3rd degree, like tufiakwa! Back in the olden days in traditional Igbo-land, men didn’t even kiss women at all. Romance started off in the cassava farm or village stream and ended up on the raffia bed of the man’s hut. Usually after dowry payment and marriage of course.
I was around 7 years old, the first time I saw an oyibo couple in affectionate embrace. It was actually close-up on the top deck of a London red bus. They boarded the bus, and came and sat directly in front of me. They were both dressed in black leather, black make-up and had rock tattoos all over their hands and necks. They played tonsil tennis for a while before lady gave the man a hickie, which turned red on the spot. I sat there open-eyed, gazing at them. The man then returned the favour by giving the lady a thick “love-bite”. I let out a whimper. The couple turned back to look at me at the same time, and grinned mischievously. I quickly crossed myself as these people looked like vampires. Even then, I knew I had seen too much for a kid. I would never kiss a tattooed girl on a public bus when I grew up.
Public displays of affection in Nigeria have traditionally been a no-no. There are cultural as well as historic and religious reasons. Even if Ekaete has only just graduated from a traditional fattening room in ancient Calabar, Akpan the randy young fisherman dare not try to kiss her in the market square in view of everyone, unless he may risk drawing the ire of Pa Nsikak, her short-tempered father who is the best hunter in the village.
Perhaps it is also for the best that Nigerians are less prone to caress and smooch each other in public or in film. I mean, who really wants to watch Rukky Sander and Kanayo O. Kanayo make out in a raunchy Nollywood love scene? Salty and gross.
I know that romantic scenes on television differ from seeing people doing the same in a public place, but trust me it is all the same where adults are involved.
There was this weird toothpaste advert that used to show on TV in the 80s. The jingle for the ad went “I wouldn’t do it till you have done it…” and showed an East African looking couple trying to kiss each other. The woman had mouth odour, so the man turned away as he held his nose. The next scene showed the couple brushing their gnashers with the magic white toothpaste, before meeting up for a date. They then decided to kiss….it was at this point that my mum always made me switch off the TV. Never mind that the soap opera “Behind the Clouds” was on at that time.
I also remember swallowing repeatedly as I watched a steamy shower scene in the movie American Werewolf in London while my uncle peeped up angrily from his Vintage People newspaper. He couldn’t take it anymore, as he barked ‘that is enough!’ and hastily ejected the tape. Somehow he didn’t believe that it was only a thriller.
I grew up thinking that there was no way my stingy uncle and his wife, my aunt could be having sex, how much more kissing. They acted like prudes. He didn’t even hold her hand on their wedding day. During the wedding reception, he also tried to catch the bouquet, as he chided her loudly for trying to waste expensive flowers.
During a visit to his house, I once asked him “Uncle, please where does a baby come out from?”
Looking very embarrassed, high defensive and boxed into a corner, he replied with a shrug “…the nyash.”
Same place as poop right? Uncle you shouldn’t have; you really shouldn’t have.
How can we talk of public displays of affection when many adults or parents cannot even get “the talk” right?
I recall the day we had sex education lessons in primary school. I was in primary five then.
The lady giving the speech was a female teacher called Ms. Ganiyu. She seemed ill at ease as she looked everywhere else but at us. She then decided to divide us into 2 separate groups of boys and girls. The girls were then taken to another classroom instead.
The headmistress stood outside the class, by the entrance and fiddled nervously with her keys. Ms. Ganiyu herself looked like Whoopi Goldberg’s character in the movie “For Colored Girls”. She said the word sex like it was a very filthy word.
Looking at her with her plain face devoid of any make-up, drab clothes and chapped lips made me want to take a vow of abstinence forever.
Then when it came to the sub-topic of the consequences of sex like aids, STDs and unwanted pregnancies, she was in her element as her face lit up. She spoke of gonorrhea and herpes like they were bosom buddies, pounding and waving her fists for emphasis. All the pupils in the class nodded nervously in agreement.
I still wanted to know where babies came from. I put up my hand to draw her attention, and before she even obliged me, I blurted out my question “Ma, please where do babies come out from?”
The whole class fell silent as all eyes when from me to Ma Ganiyu.
Her eyes squinted at me with so much venom like I had asked her to prove an impossible calculus equation. The headmistress who was still by the door had her hands over her mouth too.
Just then the ringer went off which signaled break-time (recess).
Ah, talk about the classic “saved by the bell” intervention.
Ma Ganiyu obviously had no plans of flattering my question with an answer and she dismissed the class.
Rather she looked relieved, so turned around and started wiping the chalk-board furiously in the manner a washerman scrubs very dirty clothes.
She then opened a pack of Samco milk drink, and started gorging on it to relieve her stress.
I never knew the answer to that question until I watched the movie Last American Virgin.
I was on a luxury bus to the Owerri some years back. A man who was one of those Igbo traders based in an eastern European country had come back to Nigeria for Xmas with his oyibo wife. Somewhere after Ihiala in Anambra state, she decided to sit on his lap, straddling across him. There was an Okey Bakassi Nollywood film playing as part of the on-board entertainment, but none of the passengers was laughing or watching anymore. People coughed uncomfortably as they eyed up the lady until the conductor came and asked her to take her seat if ‘she wants to continue her travel”. She would never have tried this nonsense on a trip to Zamfara.
Sometime in the early 90s, my folks dragged me to a wedding between these two 30 something year olds. At the reception, the best-man called out the bride and groom to start their couples dance. During the dance, the bride who was a voluptuous, dark-skinned lady by the name of Ijeoma, started French-kissing the groom passionately. Alarmed, the MC then shouted “Ahn, ahn, Ijeoma it is enough o. The wedding is not yet over!” Her parents looked visibly upset as they eyed her aggressively from the high table. Why do they always take it out on the woman?
So there you have it; those were people’s attitudes to the subject of sex education back then. It consequently had an effect on displays of affection especially among men-folk.
As a pre-teen, the only outward display of affection I saw among adults was when my aunt peeled big oranges for my uncle to suck on as they sat with each other on the verandah in the evening.
Today, some chaps would not even hold hands with their girls in public. There used to be a joke that when a guy holds open a car door for a girl, it is either a new girlfriend or a new car.
Some guys are averse to using affectionate terms of endearment like sweetie, baby, sugarcane, cherry etc. I know a chap who called his girl ‘my portable’ in public – don’t ask me why, she was about 5’10 and weighed over 220 pounds.
I went to Silverbird cinema to see The Takers when it first came out. I went up to the penultimate row to sit down. I ended up not hearing a word during the movie. A guy and a girl behind me were making out without a care in the world. The girl even sat on the guy’s laps, and in the process spilt his popcorn everywhere.
When the movie ended, I overheard the girl making a remark that she didn’t even ‘get’ the movie. Throughout their tryst, no one in the cinema hall even noticed or looked twice at them.
However there may be evidence that old attitudes still exist especially among the pre-civil war generation. There was a wedding in Lagos in 2009 where the bride and groom were commanded to do numerous unprintable things by the randy MC. He told them to French kiss for 10 minutes non-stop, then made the bride do a raunchy butterfly dance routine. The bride was also sat down on a chair while the groom serenaded her with a mini striptease. The groom was then instructed to use his teeth to wear a lacy pantyhose up the bride’s foot.
The older people there, including the bride’s dad decided to leave in droves, taking their blessings and kolanuts along with them.
What are your views on public display of affection in Nigeria? Would you French-kiss your partner at Murtala Mohammed airport if he/she were travelling? Do you hold hands in public places like events, malls, weddings, engagements etc? At cinemas, do you pay for two seats but use only one? What would you say is the most acceptable limit for couples on their wedding day? Do you think that they can go all out as it is their day?
You know I love you when you are loving me/
Sometimes it’s better when it’s publicly/
I’m not ashamed, I don’t care who sees/
John Legend (P.D.A, 2007)