By Victor Lugala
Romance. That is the syrup and love poetry which flows in Indian movies and Latin American soap operas.
Romance is the pleasant feeling, experience, or excitement brought about by love removed from ordinary life of drudgery and boredom. It is the music of the soul, the fragrant perfume which tickles and arouses the delicate senses.
Let me risk saying this: one of the reasons why South Sudanese marriages break up in the diaspora – in America, Australia, and Canada is because of lack of romance. That is what women who found new love dare say on social media.
Social media nowadays is a tinderbox awash with wounding comments from young ladies who accuse South Sudanese men of being cold, inconsiderate, and unromantic.
They say the men are either romancing with the bottle in bars or watching football and wrestling on TV, or sitting idly with their legs raised on stools as they talk politics.
Whether the accused men disagree with such complains, blunt accusations, and sentiments, surely, let us be honest. Isn’t the South Sudanese man, young or old, a troubled and burdened creature? Poor thing!
Most of the men who resettled in America, Canada, or Australia are carrying many troubles in their heads. They also carry multiple scars in their hearts.
Moreover, in the name of culture, they carry the whole village in their heads. But, above all, their heads are battlefields of our divisive local politics. So, instead of being assimilated into Western culture in their adopted countries, they are still nostalgic of their past which they ran away from – the smoke-filled cattle camps, granaries, local beer parties to appease the gods and ancestors, drumbeats and dance.
On the other hand, the South Sudanese lady, even one who was recently fished from the rural area, learns and absorbs modern western lifestyle faster than her male counterpart. She is curious. She wants to be modern. She wants to be in vogue by wearing stilettos and all the bling-bling she can lay her hands on.
South Sudanese ladies in America, Canada, or Australia, watch a lot of soap operas on TV, and go on shopping sprees in malls. Even if they were deprived of schooling, they would learn to speak in broken English with a smattering of foreign accent or twang.
They expect their men who still carry the village or all of the troubles of South Sudan in their head, to walk the pet dog, or take them out for candlelight dinner, to hold hands, and kiss. That is how costly culture shock is!
Let me attempt to debunk the myth that the village-minded diaspora men are not romantic. If they are not romantic blame it on their tight tongues or trauma.
The village folks we know, even if they didn’t watch romantic Indian movies before, they are somehow romantic in their own way, at least during courtship.
It must be noted that each village or hamlet has a composer, musician, or spoken word poet. These village artists entertain fellow villagers during festivals and traditional dances. Some of them are so popular that a dance would not be a dance without them gracing the arena. The stars among them were often carried shoulder-high to amplify their vocals. They were also offered free booze. And the pretty girls wanted a piece of the star musician.
Unfortunately, this generated a stereotype that musicians were womanisers, smokers of weed, and drunks. And therefore, parents loathed the idea if their sons wanted to become musicians. But perceptions have since changed when popular music raised the status of music to celebrity levels, and money and luxury cars followed.
Traditional musicians compose and sing about love, mostly – lost love or new love. They are good in the use of romantic language and village ladies find it irresistible to fall in love with them.
In their lyrics, the composers and musicians will sing about a woman’s beauty, her bright eyes, her white teeth, or the gap in her upper front row teeth, her height, or the way she walks with grace.
As far as music and romance are concerned – and no second guessing about the conclusion – the Congolese who were/are influenced by French culture are accomplished in this area. They idolise women in music, song and dance.
Among the pastoralists the Mundari are a romantic lot in their own right. The isolation of the collective cattle camp offers an idyllic environment for love to flourish among eligible young people.
Young people in pairs can be seen romancing in the open grassland. Scantily clad, a young man and a girl may stand for a long time talking in low tones and having a nice time.
While engrossed in animated conversation, the pair could be seen exercising social distancing to build trust between them. At this point, age-old traditions and taboos keep the male member in check, not allowing it to show signs of agitated desire. This demonstrates what the gospels say, Love is patient!
Transparency in romancing at the cattle camp is a way of fighting off male competitors for the same lady. And to ensure that the pair is not up to some mischief which could result in some penalties.
Those who are gifted with words will compose love songs to the girl of his heart.
The Mundari like other pastoralist communities, compose songs for their favourite bull or cow. They therefore use the same technique to woo girls to show adoration and love.
Therefore, the best poet/singer who may or may not be endowed with enough cattle as surety for a bride price wins the heart of the girl.
In marriage life may not be the same. But some pet names may stick to keep the fire of love burning. Sharing memories, a joke, or conversing animatedly and laughing together, or in fact being closer to each other is part of the game.
Lack of trust, misunderstanding, cheating, and domestic violence are the enemies of romance.
Commoditisation of women in marriage is part of the problem which kills romance. Once a man has paid a fortune as bride price, he thinks the woman is only a factory for bearing children, cooking and washing and hoeing the field. Sweet words, courtesy, pet words seem to escape the relationship which is supposed to cement marriage or love.
South Sudanese men seem to take the macho stance, where humility seems to be frowned upon.
Most of our families are extremely large within confined space, depriving couples the ideal environment or freedom to relate to each other romantically.
Frustrated of being denied the romantic space, some men will seek it elsewhere with other women who are very romantic. Before the crisis and the resultant economic meltdown, the river front in Juba was a place where men and women romanced. But, mind you, resources like money and luxury cars were a factor in the romantic affairs by the riverside.
Most South Sudanese men are products of rural life, therefore, they are not exposed to modern romantic lifestyle which makes every day a Valentine’s day as some would say. Some of them think it is a burden. And the mere thought of buying flowers or a special gift to a wife or girlfriend seems alien.
Yet some men are increasingly practicing discriminatory love. In the false name of being romantic, they will buy expensive gifts like smartphones to a girlfriend, while his wife at home strains her ears on an old mobile phone which was manufactured in the last century.
With urban life and exposure to romantic movies and soap operas, and influential social media, women, especially young women, are demanding to be treated humanely, warmly, and showered with abundant love. They want marriage to be a perpetual bed of roses. Some of them are drastically discouraging crowded extended families to give them space to relate well.
Instead of discarding their old, unromantic ways, or purging themselves of war trauma, South Sudanese men are stuck in a vortex, hurting their love life, costing some marriages with break ups, estrangement, and court battles.
One of our international female supermodels who is having a hot affair with a west African dude who is said to be a rapper is giving South Sudanese young men a good run for their money.
Contemporary young women are saying to their male counterparts, ‘keep your V8, your cartons of dollars, or boring conversation about plots and property, please, please, give us romantic love or we will look for men outside the borders!’
This must be the turning point in our lives as South Sudanese, a people who have been at wars for a long time. We are so traumatised that we seem to lack a love story. We are belligerent even at home. Because we are busy fighting wars or resolving conflicts, we have deprived our tongues of the lyrics of romantic love.
In the process of sharpening swords to avenge for a brother in a circle of violence hedonism has escaped us.
Our literature is a continuous flow of wounded narrative about suffering, war, revenge, bloodbath. We should turn the page and instead write about pierced hearts bleeding from cupid’s arrows of love. Or else the modern South Sudanese young lady will go berserk to look for romance elsewhere in swimming pools, Jacuzzis, or romantic warm arms of men in five-star hotels outside our country, where guitars and saxophones have replaced the Ak47.