In African culture generally, virginity is associated with innocence from sexuality; it is ascribed the position of the pride of every woman and considered never to be trivialised. It is a symbol of communal glory and pride as it is usually related to marriage. In some African settings, any woman who marries a virgin gets to enjoy social benefits of reward from the husband, his family and sometimes, the bride’s family also gets rewarded for proper child upbringing. Among the Yorubas in Nigeria, the joy of the husband is publicly displayed by presenting the blood stained white cloth that proves the virginity status of the new bride. The bride is given payment for her virginity through money, clothing and accessories or even a specially made food delicacy for the bride. Any bride whose husband cannot show a proof of his bride’s virginity becomes a laughing stock in the community. Sometimes, at the absence of blood-proof as a virgin upon marriage, the husband is free to return the bride to her father’s house and also allowed to express his anger and disappointment along with his family. Should she not be returned, she is left to a marriage absent of joy. To avoid this, the entire community will join hands in ensuring that their daughters were not ‘spoilt’ (deflowered) as only damaged (spoilt) goods are returned to the seller.
However, there is a digression from this collective view on virginity protection in the present day Nigeria and extensively Africa, as the reputational value in virginity has gone through a decline. A common factor to this revealed that this retrogression in value among Africans is as a result of the various changes occurring in social practices such that virginity became a considered stigma of backwardness and being antisocial. Various studies in this regard pointed that virginity has lost its significance due to sexual revolution, technology and cogent changes in social-cultural relations. One of such changes is attributed to education, the prevalence of civilisation through exposure to the television and films, increases in adolescent sexuality and a generally slacked sexual behaviour in the society. Hence, there is an emerged redefining of virginity as a shift from its original interpretation and the cultural purpose of its existence.
In the film Narrow Path by Tunde Kelani, an auteur indigenous filmmaker in Nigeria, virginity was depicted as a priceless pride belonging to the female gender which should only be given out on a marital bed. Awero, the heroine of the story was tantalised by the various gifts she got from Dauda, a city boy. Awero was robbed of her irreplaceable gift (virginity) to her would-be husband, Odejimi, as a result of meeting Dauda in the dark to collect a city gift. She didn’t inform anyone of this predicament as it was a shameful thing to her, her family and their entire community. On the night of marital consummation, the expectant Odejimi had no blood stained cloth to proof his bride’s chastity. Awero was returned to her father’s house while the unmarried ladies in her village lamented at their misfortune of probably not getting a husband because of Awero’s shame. This shame was Awero’s because of her desire to cultivate the lifestyle of ‘city/modern girls’ and Dauda treated her just as a ‘city/modern girl’ would have been treated. According to Nnazor & Robinson (2016) in ‘Virginity Rituals and National Development: Harnessing a Traditional Virtue to Address Modern Challenges in Africa’, this interchange is said to be influenced among the Yorubas by the infiltration of the British colonisation that introduced western liberalism, individualism and sexual freedom. This invariably reduced the pride attached to virginity, as pre-marital sex and pregnancy during courtship became the order of the day.
Regardless, it is to be noted that not all African women are victims of this infiltration scenario as some still jealously guard it regardless of being ‘city girls’. This is also adequately depicted in three of Tunde Kelani’s films, Arugba, Magun and Campus Queen with Adetutu, Ngozi and Bimpe playing the heroines respectively. As compared with Awero in Narrow Path, these other three women were such to keep their chastity even when in the midst of men who were willing to offer them ‘the whole world’. All they simply needed to do was receive the extended hands of these men. A king with many wives sought to make Adetutu his queen which she bluntly refused as she was the chosen purity symbol for the Osun River’s goddess amongst other girls in the entire town. Ngozi, though Igbo, got married to her Yoruba husband as a virgin in spite of having many suitors during her higher education days in school and her compulsory one year service to the country. Bimpe was a student-activist who sought to eradicate corruption in the society with other students. She was on an undercover mission to live with a corrupted military officer in his house as a pretend lover. She fulfilled and completed her mission with her virginity intact.
These three movies attest that despite the fact that African societies have embraced a way of life totally different from the indigenous cultural African systems, it is still possible to embrace westernisation and not stay aloof to the African indigenous way of life. Westernisation may be a lure from the cultural, spiritual and indigenous identity of the African woman and her virginity, it is still incapable of dislocating this identity in its entirety.