By Tafi Mhaka

I have never been much of a hugger.

As a keenly observant young man, still at primary school, I quickly grasped that most people around me, like my classmates, my friends, my teachers, my family members, didn’t hug other people. My parents didn’t hug each other. They certainly didn’t hug me. Nor did they hug my elder brother or younger sisters. On the one or two occasions when I did see people hugging, it was usually a close or distant relative hugging someone at a wedding ceremony or a birthday party, and I must say, it looked and felt quite awkward from a distance, and often caused guests to blush and giggle in hushed tones.

I can recall the few occasions when I witnessed young black couples kissing. It was usually a hilariously snappy affair at an engagement party, for example, a quick loud smooch, a noisy smacking of the lips that pierced the festive air, but barely lasted about half a second – then a round of hearty applause sounded, followed by muted exclamations of, “Oh, she must be shy”. Public displays of warm affection are not exactly frowned upon in traditional African cultures, but they are hardly the kind of thing older and conservative African folks warm up to dearly.

So it wasn’t quite unexpected when I read that a Nigerian actress has had to issue an apology for hugging a man in a music video. Rahama Sadau has had to apologise for an “offensive hug” she gave to Nigerian pop star Classiq in his video for the song I love you. Sadau has also been banned from appearing in Kannywood films by The Motion Pictures Practitioners Association. They say she violated the association’s code of ethics. Her banning further serves as a warning to other actresses and actors, they add, who “are expected to be good ambassadors of the society they represent”.

Silly me for me growing up under the fuzzy illusion hugs and smiles are the sort of things you give or receive freely without necessarily stirring a hornet’s nest. A big, tight hug can mean a lot, I’m sure, but if it is brief and somewhat innocuous, it is no great show of salacious intent. African traditionalists might want to find a way to deal with this hugging thing.

As times move, cultural norms are changing, and long-established African norms are being challenged and, slowly but surely, transformed. They are absorbing certain Eurocentric practices and beliefs that may have been taboos in the past. And, since young black Africans appear most at ease with public expressions of love, a seemingly warm and friendly hug should not get Sadua, or anyone else for that matter, fired.