In our every day conversation some issues are off the table. And that’s because Africans have a long list of taboos and superstitions. Death, for instance, is not a subject most of us are comfortable with even though, as humans, it crosses our minds. Death is inevitable, yet we loathe talking about it. It is not a subject we liberally and willingly discuss. The fear, I would guess, is that if we speak about it, it will either come to pass or haunt us in our dreams. What is it about death that makes people fearful?
In Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, death is everywhere: on the high seas, in the deserts, in refugee camps, on the door steps of clinics and hospitals, on our streets and homes and everywhere in between. Death is common in our society, so much so one would think Africans don’t value life. In some parts of the continent, it is better to be dead than to be alive. Everywhere you look, you get the feeling death is cheap: high infant mortality, high incidence of death from starvation, disease and political crimes. Life, on the other hand, is quite expensive. Millions of Africans still scavenge food from the dumpsters.
Except in one or two African countries, there is no middle-class. There are mostly two extremes: very rich or very poor. In some other countries, you have the miserable and the poor (with less than 0.05% in the “well-off” section.
Within the last two decades or so, contracting political assassination has become as common as swatting a housefly or thumping a cockroach. Death is cheap! Killing is free! If you don’t lose your life in the hands of your political opponents, some wayward police officer or the rampaging Nigerian army will do the job. If you escape all these, the environmental conditions will do the trick. Consider for instance the number of people in the Niger Delta region who loses their lives as a result of the environmental degradation brought about by the activities of Shell, Chevron and other oil multinational corporation. Sadly, when people die, most will attribute it to witches or the will of God.
Aside from death, sex is another matter Africans don’t like talking about. But you see sex is everywhere. One way or the other, once or a thousand times in one’s lifetime, we’ll all engage in it. Yet, you most likely will not find or hear an African having an open debate in all matters concerning sex. Not even in the privacy of their homes will some Nigerians talk about it. They’ll engage in it; but will not speak about it. Some even hide the fact that they engage in it. They act as though sex is bad; as though speaking about it is heretical — an act likely to incur the wrath of God.
In recent years, the born- again phenomenon has been putting fear of damnation in the hearts and minds of the unschooled. Any mention of sex is considered sinful, hence the generation of Africans who marry without understanding the nitty-gritty of sex and sexuality. To speak about sex is to be thought of as perverse. To write about sex is to be though of as a porn-dealer and a peddler of immorality. To liberally speak, write and crave sex is to lay oneself open to ridicule and reprimand from some Nigerians who parade their selves as paragon of morality. A few even claim to know what was intended for mankind in all matters sex.
The aforementioned oddities remind me of something in the USA: Every now and then, grownups in America will chastise adults for using profanity in the presence of children. I find their reprimands dumb and supercilious. Isn’t this the same society, where, at any given time of the day, one will find dozens of suggestive commercials, sex-laden TV shows, and violence of every imaginable degree? This is a society where women are allowed to bare their 38C or 44C breasts so long as their tiny nipples are covered; yet, “fuck you,” or “screw you” or the word “cum” or “dick” can not be spoken in public without being frowned upon.
And you know: pornographic movies and magazines routinely outsell mainstream movies and magazines. Ultra-violent music and movies also routinely outsell their mainstream competitions. Before most Americans turn 19, they would have smoked marijuana, drank or gotten drunk on alcohol, engage in oral or full-blown sex, or mimic scenes in adult movies. The more I think about these contradictions, the more I wonder about both societies.