Although many Kenyans claim not to believe in love charms let alone magic, there is a growing interest in love potions in the country. Some Churches are even said to be preaching on what they term immorality perpetuated by Nigerian home videos screened in this East African nation of 34 million people. OGOVA ONDEGO reports.
“Have you taken your insurance?” Mary asks Fiona of her new love life. “No, what do you mean?” Fiona feigns ignorance.”Every one in love is doing it. Charms help love grow,” Mary shoots back, winking wickedly. “And no one gets hurt when charms are used,” Jane chimes in, to which Mary adds: “You only get the guarantee that the honeymoon lasts forever.” “Then it isn’t love if it needs to be helped by charms,” Fiona counters. And John, entering the room, says, “Use charms only when you have confirmed it is the right person or else you could remain captive to a woman-eating monster.” Undeterred, May quips triumphantly, “Even if it isn’t the right man charms make him right.” Laughter rings in the entire house.
“If you love a man enough and care about him you should do all you can to hold onto him,” Mama Mariam, who has been following the banter quietly, says. And this talk on the administration of love charms or love potions could be taking place anywhere in Africa. Charms go by various names depending on location and language. Referred to variously as the elixir of love, insurance, juju, kagwira, kamuti, kababa, and dawa ya mapenzi, these items have, and will continue to–provided themes for songs, poems, and films all over Africa as long as men and women are born and have passion for the opposite sex.
Although many modern people we have talked to claim not to believe in dawa ya mapenzi, yet almost everyone knows about love charms and dance to popular songs and watch movies crafted around them. When a woman meets a man of her dreams, the first thing she is likely to do is visit a mganga or medicine-man to ‘treat’ the man for her to ensure he does not leave her. On the other hand, the first thing a mother who learns that her son who lives far in a city like Nairobi, Lagos, or Johannesburg has fallen in love with a girl is to visit a medicine-man to ensure whatever spell the girl may have cast on her son is ‘removed’ or ‘neutralised.’ And make no mistake. Even well educated, urbane cultured, religious people are not immune to this trend.
One of Samba Mapangala’s most popular songs in Kiswahili-speaking East Africa is Hakuna dawa ya mapenzi duniani (There is nothing like Love potions in the world). But perhaps the musician whose views on love charms have left a greater mark on East Africans is the Bukoba-born Tanzanian lark, Saida Karoli. In her lovely, poetic love song, Mapenzi kizunguzungu (love is like dizziness or a whirlwind that sweeps one off one’s feet), Karoli contends that love “does not depend on charms, potions or medicine of any kind; that love is an art that, once it has sprouted, can’t be uprooted; it is like an illness that cannot be prevented or cured. One can love or be loved without the help or administration of charms. But has this stopped people from believing in the potency of charms? Hardly. A visit to any town in Kenya reveals sign posts written: Mganga wa waganga. Hutibu magonjwa na matatizo yote, kama vile matatizo ya mapenzi, bwana asiyekaa nyumbani.” (The expert of all medicinemen. Cures all ailments and problems, ranging from marital problems to taming husbands with roving eyes).
Many scorned a woman has been lured by such proclamations to spend fortunes on luring and taming men of their dreams. Those well versed in love matters define a love potion as a magic drink that makes the person who drinks it to fall in love with the person from whom it is received. But do such portions work? Tales abound of women who, desperate to tame their husbands, have lost them after administering love charms on them. While some have died, others have been turned into vegetables while others are said to have turned violent or mad with devastating results.
One such a case is one documented by Nigerian Elechi Amadi in his 1966-published novel, The Concubine. In the book, Amadi talks about young, naïve, temperamental and desperate Ahurole who is persuaded by her mother to administer charms on mother’s boy Ekwueme in the hope of distracting him from his obsession with mature, sophisticated and charming widow, Ihuoma. Incompatible and unable to meet each other’s expectations, Ekwueme turns to the mature, soothing and loving Ihuoma as Ihuoma desperately tries to hang onto him using the magic of a love portion without realizing that it will drive him further away from her and drive him deeper into the bosom of Ihuoma. Recently, several medicinemen”but who were derisively referred to as witchdoctors by KTN reporter Catherine Wambua”in Ukambani boasted they can and indeed do treat men and prevent them from straying.
One even said he does the same to wives who can’t resist pulling off their panties for any Wafula, Mutiso, John, Omar and Shah they fancy. A sociologist at the University of Nairobi explains that the administration of love potions is more prevalent among the less educated rural communities. She says: “there is a direct correlation between the belief in love potions and the level of one’s education.” Only a fraction of educated professional women, she says, believe they can tame their men with concoctions.
“To the professional woman, especially that who has attained higher education, say at university level, the issue of love potion does not arise. If she finds that she has lost control of her man, she would seek divorce; her rural, less educated counterpart is likely to reach out to the village mganga for charms.” However the example of the Ukambani medicinemen interviewed on KTN’s news differs with this assertion as they say all kinds of women, including those who are materially endowed and live in Nairobi, seek their service and pay them handsomely for it. What drives a woman to love portions? The university sociologist cited above notes: “Usually no woman will administer love potion to her husband with the intention of harming him but only to save her marriage. She may, however, find herself in a more precarious position than she imagined.” Charms, experts say, come in various forms and modes of administration. Traditionally, the waganga give love potion in liquid form with a prescribed dosage. Others give items that wives should hide in some specific places, say under beddings, bedroom, the man’s clothes or the gate where he man passes on his way to “have a good time” with her rivals.
That love potion more often than not backfires leading to fatal consequences is an issue well documented in The Concubine in which Ahurole’s love potion backfires, transforming her hitherto outgoing husband into a violent man who cannot stand her but craves Ihuoma, love even more. So wives are advised to follow Karoli and Mapangala’s advice: Love is an art that is learnt. It does not depend on magic concoctions of medicinemen or witchdoctors.