Magesha Ngwiri: This weekend, love and let love - Beaking Kenya News

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Saturday, 13 February 2021

Magesha Ngwiri: This weekend, love and let love

 

Judging from what has become a tradition in the recent past, tomorrow, Nairobi and other major towns in Kenya will be awash in bright colours when young Romeos seek to treat their Juliets with huge bouquets of freshly cut flowers sold at exorbitant prices on street corners.

There will also be packets of expensive chocolate and lavish dinners early in the evening, and perhaps a romantic turn on the dance floor which will, alas, have to stop a few minutes before 9pm due to the curfew. How the evenings end are another matter altogether, details of which are not fit for polite society.

This is to say that tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day, an occasion when romance fills the air for the lucky few who happen to be, or wish they were, in love.

It is a day when the birds, even in the city centre which is an urban jungle, compete in making melodious mating calls, while the occasional butterfly is seen fluttering from one branch to the other on the few trees remaining.

It is the day when the mythical Roman cherub, Cupid, is supposed to flit about aiming his arrows at random, thereby filling the hearts of studs and lasses with romantic love and desire for the opposite sex.

To the majority of Kenyans, of course, such a day has no meaning whatsoever; they have more important things to worry about like how they are going to put food on the table. Indeed, throughout the years, we of the old school never knew that such happy occasions as lovers’ days existed, and in fact, Valentine’s Day is a relatively new arrival in Kenya.

However, since ours has become a truly global world, it was bound to catch on sooner or later. In any case, love is a universal emotion, and anyone who has never loved is a miserable soul in every way.

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day messages decorate the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on February 12, 2021. 

Mandel Ngan | AFP

But how and when did this Valentine’s business begin, you might ask? Here is the story—or at least one version of it. On February 14 on or about 270AD, a Roman Catholic priest later canonised as St Valentine was clubbed to death and then beheaded at the orders of Emperor Claudius II (the Cruel). 

The emperor had been enraged by the fact that the young men in his empire were falling in love and becoming too attached to their wives and families, therefore refusing to join his army. So, to stop this, he banned all engagements and marriages in Rome. Stung by this injustice, the priest secretly married off young couples, thereby signing his death sentence.

While in jail, another story goes, Valentine fell in love with his jailor’s young daughter after restoring her sight, and when the time for his execution came, he sent her a farewell letter (presumably the first-ever post card) with the legend “From Your Valentine”. There is no way to vouch for the truth of this account, and in any case, it appears there were two other priestly Valentines who were also martyred by the same Claudius around the same time. But that is besides the point.

What matters is that Valentine became the patron saint of lovers, engagements and happy marriages and is highly revered for that in most parts of the world.

But as happens with so many such things, from an innocent celebration of love, this day has become so commercialised that many a young man trembles when it comes around due to the high expectations from nubile belles who believe in the art of flawless seduction by well-heeled smooth operators.

Seemingly, the good ladies have taken to heart the lyric “no romance without finance,” which is the catchy refrain to Gwen Guthrie’s song, Ain’t Nothing’ Going’ on but the Rent. For this reason, some of these poor chaps probably wish Emperor Claudius was around to ban romantic entanglements altogether.

It would be churlish to deny young people a chance to celebrate love merely because the tradition is Western in conception and practice, just as it is ridiculous to suggest that some African customs are backward just because the early missionaries told our forefathers so while indoctrinating them into Christianity.

Some of these prohibitions like the odious female circumcision were well-meant, but we have our own rites of passage which always served us well and we  longer need to embrace Western traditions and rituals whose origin was pagan but which were later sanitised by Christianity.

We must at the same time shun those imports that make no sense at all. What on earth, for instance, is Halloween? In the next eight months, don’t be surprised to learn that some people are preparing to celebrate this mysterious day which is supposed to frighten ghosts so much that when they do come back to earth on October 31, they do not harm people.

The celebrants do this by wearing ghoulish masks, lighting bonfires and playing strange games with apples and pumpkins. Such things are totally meaningless to African societies that have their own restless souls of the dead to appease in their own ways. 

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