What is love? How Nairobians painted the city red

A couples takes pictures at Uhuru Park
A couples takes pictures at Uhuru Park

The feeling was in the air on Thursday as couples treated each other to flowers, chocolates and teddy bears in a long-honoured tradition on Valentine’s Day.

But what is love?

What has it got to do with the sense of obligation to another human being? Is it a vital ingredient in the art of seduction, or a glorified excuse for primitive instincts?

Scientists in fields ranging from anthropology to neuroscience have been asking this same question for decades.

According to a team of scientists led by Dr Helen Fisher at Rutgers, romantic love can be broken down into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Each category is characterised by its own set of hormones stemming from the brain.

To quote Wikipedia: “The love of a mother differs from the love of a spouse, which differs from the love of food. Most commonly, love refers to a feeling of strong attraction and emotional attachment.

“Love can also be a virtue representing human kindness, compassion, and affection, as ‘the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another’.

“It may also describe compassionate and affectionate actions towards other humans, one’s self or animals.”

The love that lit up Kenya and indeed the world this month was largely the romantic kind. It was a day for gentlemen to express their chivalry and ladies to return their affections.

This came in the wake of a story in the Star highlighting how Kenyans are ranked the ‘least romantic’ in East Africa.

In the article, Kagweni Micheni argued that this is due to the fact that our folk tales seem focused on moralities, what is wrong and what is right, and good versus evil. There is, she said, a distinct absence of romance in the stories of our ancestors.

“By and large, our ancient myths and stories served to strengthen our values. Our stories were filled with magic and anthropomorphised animals, each with their specific vice or virtue that was meant to teach us a lesson. Even those that involved some form of amorous attachment were lacking in romance elements,“ she said.

The article concluded by urging Kenyans to “step up”. And so, the Star went out to explore if the masses had opened their hearts and obeyed the call of romance.

And even if for a day, the city did not disappoint.