I have always been a bookworm, and the first books I read were Mills & Boons. I started reading these romance novels that belonged to my older aunties when I was in primary school – and I enjoyed them – through to when I was in university, when it struck me after all those years that all the romance novels I had been reading only had white characters. I found that I could not enjoy stories that all featured pale-skinned women with long flowing hair as much as I did before; I wanted to read stories with characters that had skin like sienna and onyx, and further down the line as my interest in African histories grew I craved historical romances set on the continent.
The quest to find a romance novel that has black female protagonists in African countries can be daunting a one. By chance when visiting Accra in 2010, I came across Naa Shalman’s New Dawn, a historical romance novel set in the days when Ghana was the Gold Coast. I read that book in a state of near disbelief and immediately wanted more. When discussing the book with my friends, we agreed on the importance of such books.
Whether you believe romance is frivolous or not, such historical pieces of fiction are a good means through which to question our perceptions of African history and improve on the disdain most of us seem to have for pre- and colonial Africa. Some years after first reading Naa Shalman, I then came across Kiru Taye, a Nigerian novelist who writes historical romances set in Igboland. I asked her some questions about the importance of West Africa historical romance novels and pre-colonial sexuality among Africans.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
Hiya. My name is Kiru. I’m an author of multicultural romances, entrepreneur of a small run-from-home business, wife to a generous man, mother to three wonderful kids, sister to four sometimes hilarious siblings, daughter to two patient parents and hopefully friend to a few beautiful souls. Okay, I ran out of labels. LOL
How did you get introduced to romance? If you grew up in Nigeria, I am guessing you had access to the many Mills & Boon prints; did that have an influence on you?
Yes, I confess, I was one of those bookworms. I had my face stuck in books at every opportunity. I discovered Mills & Boons as a teenager and would spend hours after ‘lights out’ in boarding school reading under the blanket with a torch.
Was there a point when you decided that you could/would write romance with Nigerian characters?
Although I wrote a few stories as a teenager, I never really thought about becoming an author until a few years ago when I decided I wanted an alternative career to my then corporate job. I had read a romance novel that I greatly enjoyed and I wondered why there weren’t any stories about Africans falling in love. There and then I decided I would write romance novels with African characters.
Is there a particular process that got you to writing historical romances?
Africans are short-changed when it comes to historical fiction. If you read the books out there you’d think we didn’t exist until the Arabs or Caucasians arrived on our shores because that seems to be the only time we get noted in a lot of historical novels. But you and I know that pre-colonial Africa, and West Africa especially, was rich and diverse with kingdoms like Nri, Benin, Oyo, Ashanti, Aro, Nok, just to mention a few. I’m not a history teacher but I want to redress the imbalance and showcase our beautiful heritage through my historical romances.
What kind of research goes into the historical romances that you write?
As I said I’m not a history teacher but I’m fast becoming a history student. I read a lot of books and articles/references online. But most of my stories have been based on anecdotes by my grandmother. I’m lucky to still have her with us and she’s always happy to help me out.
What has been the reaction to your historical romances?
My historical romance Men of Valor series has been well received and is continuing to gain readers. Several fans of the series have written to ask when the next book in the series will be out. They all seem to be keen to read Nonye’s story and find out if and how she redeems herself. As it happens, I have to finish Oma and Jide’s story whom you first met in Her Protector.
I remember when His Treasure was released, there were a few Nigerian netizens who were sceptical about the sex scenes, if I recall correctly, especially the oral sex scene. Do you believe your books can change modern Nigerian impressions of how their ancestors lived and loved?
Absolutely. I’m hoping to convert the thinking of a lot of people including Africans about our ancient practices, especially with regards to relationships and sex. A lot of African behaviour was altered with the introduction of Christianity and some things that are seen as taboo today were not in the past.
Here’s a thought. One of the Igbo words for describing sexual intercourse is the term, ‘ilacha’ which means ‘to lick’. Think of that what you may.