Nigeria’s conservative north is full of aphrodisiacs

BBESIDE THE Food vendors at a street market in Abuja, a man in a flowing white kaftan holds a brown leather bag in one hand. In the other, well, is a baby crocodile, which he hands to a potential client. “Do you want to touch it?” he asks in Hausa, a language spoken in northern Nigeria and neighboring countries, before offering much more than a caress to a ferocious reptile: medicine for the common cold; for chest pain; for back pain; and to improve sexual performance.

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Prolonged haggling ensues. Details are discussed. Instructions are issued. Money changes hands, as do powdered herbs wrapped in paper. The trade in aphrodisiacs in northern Nigeria is ancient and ubiquitous. Herbs are sold in markets, shops, mosque grounds and now on social media. So bizzare. It is an area considered culturally and religiously conservative. States apply sharia to the Muslim majority. The women here, who are often dressed in long hijabs, are seen as sexually repressed.

In films and literature from the region, mostly in Hausa, physical contact between men and women is frowned upon. Two popular television shows have been banned by the government of Kano, the northern most populous state, over a scene in which three men held a woman in an auto-rickshaw. Since they weren’t married, the scene offended “the norms, culture, values ​​and religion” of the region, the head of the censorship board said. (The fact that the men were trying to abduct the woman seems to have been less of a concern.)

But this apparent modesty does not extend to the marriage bed, perhaps because people believe that God would like them to procreate more. Imams can preach against adultery. But when the call to prayer ends on Friday, a voice echoes over another set of speakers announcing a little more earthly elevation.

“It’s everywhere now,” says customer Muhammadu Sani. “Even Islamic medicine practitioners are selling it now.” Some derive their formula from the recommendations of Islamic texts and the practices of early Muslim scholars. Their shops are often neat, with shelves filled with bottles of herbs and concoctions.

Women are not forgotten. The trade of kayan mata (literally “women’s things” in Hausa) is ancient, although it has been clogged in recent times with claims that goron tula (the “snot apple” fruit) boosts libido and fertility. Among those promoting her powers is Hauwa Saidu Mohammed, popularly known as Jaruma, an entrepreneur and sexologist who boasts that her clients include the wives of government ministers and state governors. By offering home delivery and smooth service, it has helped transform kayan mata into a major export from the north to southern cities like Lagos, the commercial capital.

Over a million people follow Jaruma on social media. Many women are there for the scandals. In some posts, she shamed politicians who she says bought her property but failed to pay. In others, she offers salacious gossip about celebrities whose marriages were consummated (or destroyed) using her potions. Others just want to buy him tonics, including: “Divorce is not my part” (500,000 naira, or $1,200); “Love me like crazy” (N250,000); and Ecstacy9 (65,000 naira). In a country where many people earn no more than the minimum wage of 30,000 naira a month, such awards can spark passions, even if the products themselves do not.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “Potions for prudes”

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