We are used to thinking of love letters as very private things. After all, it’s the expression of one person’s love (an emotional and, therefore, a subjective state) to another. But can love letters also tell us something broader about a society? For instance, the sexual practices of teenagers in the Gold Coast?
Have you ever looked at elderly people, like octogenarians, and wondered whether they could ever have been sexual beings? I have. I’ve wondered whether old people forget how freaky they were in their youth. Maybe it’s the frailty and vulnerability of old age that imbues them with so much air of piety, of innocence. It seems to me almost sinful to imagine them to have been any other thing but celibate. And not without reason: the commonest advice young people are likely to hear an older person is to be ‘morally upright’, which almost inevitably translates into, ‘Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t have sex.’ Especially don’t have sex. Also, we tend to think of the past through rustic lenses: as an ideal time cocooned in authentic culture, a period when the youth obeyed their elders and didn’t have premarital sex.
Imagine, then, my reaction upon finding this love letter written in the 1930s Gold Coast: I was seized first by surprise, then extreme fascination. I wondered, ‘Were they using the word “fuck” back then?’ You can see in the letter that the writer struggles with the spelling, actually settling on the homophone ‘fork.’ But I guess it’s pretty clear that it was a word in common usage so that even though he couldn’t spell it, both he and his lover both knew what it meant. The lady had apparently used the word in a previous letter, because in this letter, he tries to assure her that it wasn’t true that ‘I have taken my love from you by reason of forken (sic) you twice’.
We can guess the age of the writer to be about 17 (add/subtract 3 years). I arrive at this conclusion because he states in the letter that he’s in secondary school. The lady is likely to be a few years younger. What has happened, I guess, is that the lady had visited him when he had returned home for vacation, and they’d had sex twice. The deed was done at his place; he had stated in the letter that she shouldn’t be afraid to visit him in his house. What’s hard to tell is whether he actually had a house, or whether he was referring to a room in his parent’s house. But since the wealthy folks in this period owned many houses, it’s possible that he was living alone in one of his father’s numerous houses.
It’s not clear whether the lady had initially objected to having sex. What is clear, though, is that she was pretty uneasy about it afterwards. In the letter, he warns her never to say that he’d stopped loving her because he slept with her twice. She might have felt ‘cheapened’ or ‘used’ by him, simply by virtue of having slept with him twice. Here, we can see the different ways in which social values, expectations and biases produce different reactions in the lovers towards the same act of lovemaking. Whereas the woman is evidently feeling guilty and fears that the act might have reduced her worth in the eyes of her lover, the man is blissfully dismissive of this concern. In fact, he tells her that ‘don’t be afraid to come to my house, because every time I want to do it, I’ll inform you first.’ Whereas the woman is concerned about the consequence of having ‘forked twice’ on the quality of their relationship, he wants it ‘a thousand times’ because that’s what strengthens his love for her.
The issues of sexual pleasure: although the lady was concerned that having had sex with her boyfriend had ‘turned his love from her,’ it’s not clear whether she actually did enjoy the sexual act. Unfortunately, there’s no indication from this letter, or the other letters I’ve come across, which can help us to answer this specific question. But there’s evidence in a previous letter he wrote to her which indicates that they did kiss often and that she did enjoyed it. We can also draw on circumstantial evidence to get closer to an understanding. Every reader of this blog knows that female desire is a real, if oft denied/repressed, drive. In fact, recent research in sexuality suggests that female desire might be even more potent than male’s. Of course, female’s sexual desire is layered over with all kinds of social strictures, sometimes transforming a pleasurable act into, at worst, a deeply traumatising experience.
There were other themes in this letter which I also found interesting. For instance, condom use: they probably used it at least once, and he assured her that he had more. Actually, enough ‘rubber’ to allow them to ‘do it say about thousand times… without conception taking place.’ I also found it interesting that he kept referring to the bible or Christian principles. Even more interesting is the fact that he thought ‘abolition’ (abortion) was an evil ‘against God’s great commandment’ but not sex before marriage; funny, because I remember the bible explicitly condemns fornication but I don’t remember explicitly reading about abortion in the bible. Then there’s the theme of abusive relationships, which deserves a whole article on its own.
But maybe you’ll say that this is a specific case, an isolated incident that concerned only two lovers. On the contrary, I think there’s evidence from just this letter that this was a widespread phenomenon, at least in the coastal towns during this period, and probably even earlier. For instance, it is clear that condom use was general among the youth of the period. Note that his reference to condom in the letter was written with the assumption that she had knew what ‘a rubber’ was and what its function was. In another letter, one parent complains to another that his son had impregnated her daughter but that he wants to keep quiet about the situation until the boy finishes his secondary education so they can arrange a marriage.
I guess it’s just a sign of how hypocritical we are about sex (and other issues) that I should find this letter surprising or even remarkable. And next time an octogenarian advises me about sex, I guess I’ll just listen quietly and nod slowly with mischief.
25 comments On ‘The Sexual Practices of Teenagers in the Gold Coast’ by Guest Contributor Agyaakoo
Very interesting article Agyaakoo. several questions before I can comment: where was the letter sourced from? How did they know it was written in 1938 (is it because of the date on top of the letter?). i’m no caligrapher but i read that they used fountain pens in the 30s so why are there no ink smudges & that characteristic ‘pointed’ lettering that comes from using fountain pens? I’ve also read that people started school quite late in the early 1900s (my own parents who were born in the ’40s were in their 20s when they were in secondary school) so is there the possibility that he wasnt a teenager but an adult? Finally, how did this letter writer get access to condoms? i read a BBC article on the history of condoms that although the latex/ rubber condom was invented in the 30s, it was exported throughout the world and sold to the masses after world war II (started with the soldiers in world war II to keep them getting diseases from prostitutes they met when they travelled to fight). so how did this ghanaian dude acquire a condom in ’38? hmmm , so many questions!
@Ekuba, thanks for your interesting questions. I got this letter from the national archive in Accra, from the private papers of Tufuhin George Moore. I should note, however, that this letter wasn’t written by him. Probably his son or a dependent. (Please see my longer response to some of the questions you raised.)
@ Agyaakoo: Thank you for taking time to answer my questions thoroughly! And I hope your research is going well. Now I can comment thoroughly! What a naughty naughty young man! lol. To be quite honest, I don’t doubt the authenticity of this letter at all & neither am I shocked by its contents because my conversations with my 87 year old granny (my series on her will be launched here very soon, yayie!) have informed me that Ghanaians in the early 1900s were chilling paa! lol. I think my only question (which I wish I could ask the National Archives folks) is on what basis they claim that it was written in 1938. I would easily believe that it was written post World-War II because I know that was when ball-point pens & condoms were sold commercially (from what I read, although both were invented by 1938, they were sold commercially for the first time post World War II). Is it possible that the ‘horny’ dude meant to write ’58 instead of ’38? Once again, very interesting article!
Actually, the archivists only wrote made the read inscriptions for record-keeping purposes. It’s very possible that the writer mis-wrote the date. I have other letters of his, though, closely following on this one, so I’m a bit more certain of the date
I think the rubber condom was in use as far back as 1844.
aaa @ Agyaakoo, that explains it. eiii, look at all the naughty stuff that our grandpas were doing in their younger days! I think after reading this letter I’ll never look at an 80 year old dude again now that I know that they were ‘forking’ each other several times hahaha! Hmm, charley i had the same shock with my granny o! she used to switch off the tv whenever they’d talk about sex so imagine my shock when i later discovered that she married 6/7/8 men (my mom couldn’t even tell the exact no, eii, my naughty granny!)& that lots of guys in our hometown were chasing her- she was hot cake! And get this- apparently, she even had a tantalizing/ scandalous romance with a married man! hmmm, like I said, my next bunch of stories here will be about her. so you’re absolutely right, our grandpas & grannies dont want us to ‘fork’ like they did in their old days but maybe it’s because they regretted some of their sexcapades. I know I regret most of my sexcapades. I always tell my niece to wait till like forever before she even thinks about having sex cos I wish I hadnt slept with all those people i did. am sure one day she’ll discover my scandalous past and be shocked lol.
I look forward to the stories of your granny; will really make for interesting reading. I think age naturally breeds conservatism. Take Ghanaian music, for instance. Every older generation condemns the younger generation for producing “immoral and worthless” music, and as far back as we look, that problem has always persisted. But then once anything (song, dance, moral standard etc) gets accepted, it suddenly seems to have been always in existence. Imagine my utter surprise then, when I learnt that kpanlogo was only invented in the 1960s, and that by the intervention of no other person than Kwame Nkrumah!
The age question is a bit more tricky. Social maturity came early during this period; meaning by their early 20s, folks will fending for themselves. The writer of this letter was obviously still depending on his father for subsistence. It’s very possible that he started school late, and he might just have started secondary school. But I’m merely speculating on this particular head.
Ekuba, the condom might have been lambskin, no? I mean even though he called it rubber.
All I am thinking on seeing this is ‘What beautiful handwriting!”
@ Nana Darkoa & Malaka: singing the 3rd stanza of the tired song entitled: ‘you should sooo write that adventurers from bedrooms of african women book’ *** This article is exactly why we need a book about the sexual activities of African women from times past till now. It seems like 2/3rds of the world have documented the sexual activities of their women & their ancestors- except Africans. I’m an educated African woman, but until reading this blog, i had no idea whether all African women engaged in heterosexual sex or there were African women who registered as lesbians/bi, to what extent African women engaged in/ loved oral sex, what different sex positions African women engaged in, the prevalence of sex abuse in the African society etc. THIS is why we need a book on the subject. Like I said, I’m ready to be your producer if you ever decide to write the book 🙂
I Seriously doubt the authenticity of this letter for two reasons,1. the type of English being used and 2. This was clearly written with a BIC pen (completely ball point) and the paper doesn’t look 1938 preserved..this was probably written by a young literature student in the late 70’s or very early 80’s …even with that its questionable because local cape coasters still write like this…so maybe early 90’s…our generation therefore remains grotesquely immoral.
@Jojo, this letter is coming straight from the national archive of Ghana (please see my longer response further down).
@Jojo, from this and other comments you have made (including an op ed I wrote for another website) ‘morality’ is clearly important to you. Which makes me wonder, why do you visit this site at all?
Ink wells, bic pens, smudges… You people are all focusing on the wrong thing! Did you read the raps?
“Why should you die of love whilst I am still alive?”
Of course he forked her twice. Probably butter knifed her too!
hahaha Malaka you’re too funny! lol, you’re right, boring woman like me: how could I not have seen the ‘forking’ in the story. Your sense of humor is the reason why (let’s all say it together)you & Nana D should write that book (yes I know I’m a pest). My next course of action is to go to change.com to pressure you both to write it. yoo!
Lol @Ekuba – I have assured you that the Adventures book will come. When it will come is another matter. I have to finish my short story collection first. On the other hand I think you can give us a date for when ‘Sex conversations with my Granny’ series will start. See I already have a title for it 🙂
@ Nana Darkoa touché! Here I am going on & on about how you and Malaka should publish a book but I’ve not been able to write one single story that I’ve been ‘moaning’ about writing for ages (I swear that by now, all adventurers are fed up with this ‘my story about my grandma’ that I keep claiming i will write but I have never written about). ‘Yoo mah-te’. I have heard you. Deadline for commencement of the series on my granny is 31st August 2013! i promise on my honor…
@Ekuba – I have noted the date o. All Adventurers are witnesses 🙂
Looking forward to the series!! 🙂
‘Talking Sex with Granny’. No?
Howling @butterknifed her too! I know Im crazy but your crazy is of a higher level.
The authenticity of this letter is doubtful.
On the authenticity of the letter: this is coming straight from the national archives of Ghana. The red inscriptions at the top are meaningful. The SC stands for special collection. The SC series includes papers of historical figures like Edmund Bannerman, John & John Mensah Sarbah, Ghartey etc. The papers of Tufuhin George Moore are #18 in the series, hence the classification SC 18; 309 means this is the three hundred and ninth item in this particular collection.
This and other love letters from the collection SC 18 are entered in the search aid of the archive in Accra. If this letter is false, it means that someone NOT ONLY wrote it up recently and slipped it into the collection, but the person also put in an entry of this fake letter in the archive catalogue. Moreover, the person should have altered the entire number system of the papers subsequent to this letter in this particular collection. It’s theoretically possible for this to happen, but I think its quite implausible. There are questions too about the type of ink and the writing style. To these, I’ll only say that I’ve come across similar documents in this and other collections at the archive.
Was it possible that condoms were in use during this period? I have no doubt about it. Gold Coasters living in the coastal towns in the 18th and early 19th century were transnational consumers, a fact which may seem amazing at the moment. My research is actually into the political and mercantile activities of the elite of this period, and it’s clear that they were the conduit by which all many of things flowed from international centres such as London, Frankfurt, Paris, New York etc into the Gold Coast. They were actually ordering stuff straight from the factories in England, Manchester and Liverpool.
It is, therefore, not historically accurate that goods arrived in the Gold Coast long after they’ve been introduced in Europe and America.
@Agyakoo – Thanks for sharing this valuable document with us. I am particularly interested in our history so coming across letters like these is always interesting. I enjoyed reading your blog post, and I was interested in the letter that accompanied it as separate documents. If I was to put the two documents together I would have come to different conclusions than you did. For me the letter read like this man was trying to con the woman. Somehow I also felt that she hadn’t fully consented to sex in his description of having taken from her. Or they did have sex and his attitude towards her changed. A part of me fancies writing back to him in her voice…kinda like what Nnenna did to my piece on ‘It started with a Facebook message’ (https://adventuresfrom.com/2013/01/27/it-started-with-a-facebook-message.html)
Thanks for the comment, Nana. In this particular letter, I’m pretty sure they’ve moved beyond the conning stage. I think the relationship has been ongoing for a while, but had taken a turn for the worse recently; a state of affairs which necessitated this letter. When he tries to assure her that he’s ‘not taken away his love from her’, we can assume that there was a time when it was understood between them that she had his love.
I’ll agree with you about the possibility that the sex was nonconsensual. From this letter, it’s pretty clear that he was a kind of bully-lover (and the same tendency shows in other of his letters).
Your last point has set me thinking: what effect does sex have on a relationship? If a man has sex with his girlfriend, does his love and respect for her wane? That’ll be the subject of an interesting blog post… and I look forward to your ‘reply’ to the letter.
What astonishes me is that people are (genuinely) surprised that Oldies have been getting their groove on… Why you “figAr” say you wey invent TheTing, anaa??? Maybe its cause of the kinda family I’m from with tons of marriages and remarriages -Hell, I’m Father Ross’ 16th and last (I guess) child from his 6th woman – and I don’t believe my folks have super powers where they get preggers or get people preggers just by looking at them.
I try not to envision people having sex, especially when they are significantly older or younger, kinda like how we know everyone takes a dump but I don’t expect we take time to envisage people doing that.
It’s a generational thing, I guess. I haven’t hit 30 yet and I have people in my age group lamenting about “kiddies of nowadays” and how “dem no dey ‘pect”, I have to look at some of them and literally ShakeMeHead. So if we think they are hypocrites, having chilled yet trying to stifle ours, then we are even bigger hypos thinking them and those after us didn’t/wont…
Ekuba, you commit your bodie give date. If you fail to deliver, (in my best Liam Neeson Impression) we will look for you, we will find you and we will spoon you.
lol @ Mr. Scrooge’s ‘we will find you and spoon you’ bit…..hahahhahaaa, but seriously @ekuba, medi3ma, after reading 50 shades of black, i am waiting so expectantly for those write-ups.
And back to this post, it’s amazing,lol, i kinda even wonder how my siblings and i happened on this earth sometimes…lol, till recently, i used to see my parents with that halo atop their heads…lol, funny me. The ‘friend request’ changed it all though…. 🙂
It’s kinda interesting tho, that topic sounded so familiar, my bf is doing a similar research currently with the UNDP and keeps hitting roadbloacks, most people he talks to are unwilling to give information or have the most interesting disposition to the whole questioning process leading him to several frustrating pauses and making it almost impossible to complete that particular topic.
The topic ‘Sexual practices among the youth in West Africa: the norms and deviations’
Apparently people were toppling over eachother in some of the other countries to get questioned,lol, but not Ghana, nobody wants to talk… and if the do, they give half and half info only, though they are told that it is completely anonymous, it is not recorded and ur identity (if u give it out) remains completely safe.
Mr. Scrooge, hypos do abound, but why?? what makes a person wanna pretend they never touched something they so enjoy?? what makes a person want to ‘prevent’ another from enjoying too?? and many more questions koraa…..
But seriously @ ekuba and most peeps here, I’m sure he’d come into a wealth of information interviewing you. What say thee??