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Reviewed by:
  • Love in Africa
  • Julie Parle
Love in Africa. Edited by Jennifer Cole and Lynn M. Thomas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. 280 pp. $23.00).

With chapters representing diverse regions of the African continent –Madagascar, Niger, South Africa, Kenya, Zanzibar, and Nigeria – the collection Love in Africa is an important volume for at least two reasons. For Africanists, the very subject matter is a welcome introduction to new scholarship that places that complex of feelings, actions and imaginings called ‘love’ firmly at the heart of histories of our continent. For, as Cole and Thomas remind us in their erudite Introduction, “… emotions are embedded in historically situated words, cultural practices, and material conditions that constitute certain kinds of [End Page 277] subjects and enable particular kinds of relationships.”[3] Love and its “affective practices and discourses emerge out of the particular convergence of political, economic, and cultural processes.”[29] In the African context as elsewhere, therefore, emotions such as love, hate, fear, anger, pride, and shame must be studied with a regard for the tension between universal human expressions of affect and historically constituted relationships. For the new generation of academic studies of emotion and modernity, on the other hand, these case studies offer much by way of introducing the modern history of Africa, and extending our understanding of the ways in which Christianity, capitalism, literacy, popular media and consumerism have reshaped ideas and practices of romantic love, gender, individuality, intimacy and respectability in a continent which has largely been typified as unchanging and uncivilized, and, perhaps particularly hostile to the experience of love.

The reasons why Africa has been regarded as being stony ground for the development of emotionally close, mutually supportive and physically rewarding relationships have ranged from colonial misconstructions of polygyny and family relations; to crude racial stereotypes, such as that of ‘the African’ as being simultaneously hyper-sexualized and emotionally facile; and structural factors such as migrant labour, poverty and short life spans. Even if less obviously articulated today, the shadow of moralistic attitudes still shades both popular opinion and much scholarship which continues to regard intimate exchanges in Africa only in the desperate contexts of war, privation, and now especially HIV/AIDS, and the authors have had to strive to establish conceptual and analytical distance between their work and this new twist on the old orthodoxy that crudely equates human relationships across the continent with casual sex and/or with emotional poverty. Rather, and as the chapters cumulatively show, “we cannot understand sex or intimacy without understanding ideologies of emotional attachment.” [p. 4.]

The introduction provides an overview of the literature, historiography and main themes whilst also establishing the volume’s parameters, pointing out that the relationships described in the following chapter are for the most part heterosexual and that issues of gay, bisexual, queer, or other forms of ‘transgressive’ love are hardly explored. Four intersecting threads (‘the modernization of love’; ‘love and the media’; and ‘conundrums of love and money’; and ‘reproducing and contesting gendered inequality through romantic love’) are highlighted here and then woven through the rest of the book’s eight chapters.

In the first of these, Lynn M. Thomas engagingly analyses discussions of intimacy, gender, love and modernity in early twentieth century Southern Africa by diverse people: Western-trained anthropologists, African Christians, and in the pages of Bantu World, the first regional publication to offer women’s pages and advice on love for the ‘modern girl’ (and man). Laura Fair then gives us a fascinating and multi-layered exploration of the reception of Hindi films by Muslim Zanzibari audiences in the 1950s and 1960s. Read across much of English-speaking colonial Africa from the 1960s to the 1980s, the famous Drum magazine’s popular column “Dear Dolly” gave sometimes flippant sometimes serious advice for young men and women on topics such as courtship, sex and love (including same-sex attractions). As Kenda Mutongi describes in chapter 3, “Dolly” (in reality, the publication’s black, male, editors) evidenced much of the universal sexual double standard. Interestingly, these columns, however, [End Page 278] were received in different, gendered, ways. New identity and relationship configurations as portrayed in the print and television...


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pp. 277-280
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