Of love locked with a padlock…
In 2015, the city of Paris started removing padlocks from the Pont Des Arts bridge, effectively ending the tourist tradition of attaching ‘love locks’ with sentimental messages in symbolic acts of affection. After locking the padlocks the lovers would seal their oaths by throwing the keys into Seine River below.
While it has not gained as much popularity as the Pont Des Arts bridge of love padlocks, the Love Padlocks at Kilifi Bridge are steadily mounting with more lovers sealing their affections and throwing the keys into the ocean.
It has become an attractive photo spot for travellers and tourists traversing the rich coastal county. However, there are those who believe these symbolic affections are more than meets the eye.
Esther Masha, a social worker recalls how she and her lover made an oath at the bridge to never separate. While she might not have believed in the impacts of such practices at the time, today she testifies that it pulled them back together and into marriage.
A harmless oath?
“We met in 2016 while he was a student at Pwani University and fell deeply in love. The real challenge started when he got a job opportunity in South Africa and he did not want to leave me,” shares the 26-six year-old.
In trying to provide a solution, one of her close friends advised on taking blood oaths, but Esther was afraid that it sounded eerie. The padlocks of love made second cut, and harmless, so they settled for it. They locked their padlock and he travelled out.
“I knew it was harmless. In fact, I even moved on a year after he left, because I knew he had moved on as well. We did all this while we stayed in touch. He came back in 2020 and although I was already dating someone, there was not a single day that I wasn’t thinking about him. It was interfering with a lot of my daily routine. My ego was stopping me from speaking up so, I kept it to myself until one day he texted asking if we could go unlock the padlock or cut it because it was haunting him. So, we planned to meet, but the padlocks had rusted and we couldn’t tell ours from the rest,” she narrates.
Unable to break their love oath, they resorted to keeping it and she married her lover last year in December.
Twenty-three year-old Nairobi-based travel blogger Nana Apiya believes that padlocks of love portrays a lot of creativity and makes for a good travelling destination.
“I know about the Paris bridge where lovers put locks. Let’s just agree that a lot of people travelled to be part of that love locking and to take photos while at it. Love is a big thing. People love love. I have not been to Paris yet, but Kilifi provides an option. I would definitely travel to Kilifi and take a lot of photos to show off. It is a spontaneous fun spot, new and good for the gram,” she shares.
Oaths can be easily described as a sacred or solemn voluntary promise usually involving the penalty of divine retribution for intentional falsity (often used in legal procedures). While it is not certain that the oath was always considered a religious act, ancient people including Africans swore by such things such as blood. These were seen to be invoking a symbol of the power of deities as a guarantee of their trustworthiness.
But while a lot of people believe that taking such oaths have spiritual and cultural repercussions, Mijikenda elder, John Baya believes that it is all fantasy and harmless.
Prisoner of love
Mzee Baya shares that he is aware of the narrative that started the love padlock trend in Kilifi. “The love locks started as a mere fantasy around 1977, a young couple interested in marrying each other made oaths that they would never be separated and it became the most popular talk in Bofa, Kilifi. Alot of young people started copying it,” shares Baya.
While the spot at the beach, which became popular for the lovers oaths was the same where the local Church conducted their baptism, he believes there was nothing much to it.
“I don’t believe the church was aware of these things young people were doing at the beach, where they also carried out baptism. Teenage lovers making promises of unending love— it is just fantasy. There are those who broke them and moved on. It has no cultural or spiritual significance,” he says.
On the other hand, Pastor Jolline Katama believes that while it might be sweet to the eye, such oaths should be left to married couples.
“The locks are a clear symbol of covenant. So one imprisons himself or herself to something they do not understand, especially where God wasn’t involved in the relationship in the first place. I’d advice it to be a thing for married couples, not dating individuals,” argues Pastor Jolline.