Battle of Cultures
The concept of war has existed among mankind since the creation of the universe; constantly having to fight battles with self and all other types of living and non-living things, individually and collectively. Those who tend to lead a spiritual life would agree that there is an endless battle with the soul while political enthusiasts may also easily relate to ‘battles’ in many other forms. However, the varying types have become a critical part of our existence as a species – hence, the inevitability of man’s need to survive. Needless to say, we find ourselves fighting all types of battles for various reasons, which (un)surprisingly includes one’s choice of spouse.
You would think that when you get to a certain age (or range of ages), the right to make decisions which directly concern you as an individual becomes exclusive (to you and you alone). Unfortunately, as we find ourselves in a society of too many diverse groups with very varying values (or customs), the more we are expected to identify with the group to which we really belong; else you will be ‘omo ale’ – (bastard) of the land. It is for this reason that an average Nigerian cannot exactly wear two ‘tribal caps’. You cannot be half-Yoruba, half-Igbo even if your parents belonged to different ethnic groups. Your ethnicity is ONE, nothing like half-this-half-that (in my opinion).
Therefore, when our parents have struggled with us through defining our identity, teaching us the ‘mother tongue’ to which we owe an inevitable knowledge of and reverence for, instilling in us the right values and beliefs, and ensuring we uphold these customs which have strongly held together our societies since before our great grandparents’ great grandparents, we do more than owe them, to at least maintain the status quo in order to avoid the extinction of the tribes to which we belong. Isn’t this the reason we reproduce in the first place – to annihilate the possibility of the extinction of the human race?
Remember Aunty Kemi, with whom you have known Uncle Emeka since your primary school days? And you’re wondering, after your four plus two years in Uni (because strike), why both of them are still doing boyfriend and girlfriend? Why Aunty Kemi has become the new ‘lord of the rings’ (because engagement is now 10 years and counting)? Well, the piece to the puzzle is that her Yoruba mum would die, than have her marry an Ibo man. Omo Ibo? Iro (Ibo man? Impossible!). Yet, Aunty Kemi cannot seem to relocate her heart from where it currently resides.
The truth is, all Ibo men (and Hausa) are the same, like all men are. And Ibos are bad people. They cheat, they are stingy and greedy, and are pathological liars. Hausa men on the other hand, will marry fourteen other wives whether or not you piss them off, and if you do, they’ll chop off your hand (or left breast) with a dagger. Well, Aunty Kemi’s mother’s thoughts (and her Yoruba cabal).
Oh wait, it’s not far from home. You and Abdul are about 3 years now. How could you think that Ijebu and Ibadan would ever get married? Ijebu? Ibadan? Haba. They may be Yoruba, but they do not exist concurrently on the continuum of ‘Yorubanness’. Besides, ‘Ijebus’ are too diabolical and stingy, and they would rather spend lavishly on a burial ceremony even if it means begging and borrowing, than they would on hospital bills. Your mother’s exact words.
But Ibadans, ah ah, his mother says, rhymes too much with Satan. You don’t think? You are so bad that the English language has no appropriate adjectives to describe you. Long story short babes, a decent lady like you, from Ibadan, CANNOT, NEVER, EVER, marry a Yoruba man, who well is from Ijebu, or Ilorin, or Ekiti, let alone an Ibo man, or Edo or God forbid, Hausa. All these bad people. Innit?
My sister, Tayo, who had the ‘balls’ to bring her 3-month old relationship with that Hausa boy to our folks is only joking. I have told her to add another 3 or 4 years to her singlehood, well while she enjoys the years-long collection of gifts and affection. Since her Yoruba self is only entitled to a Yoruba demon, who also has to be their type of Yoruba.
Sadly, these stories are as numerous as our blood cells. Our societies are deeply rooted in stereotypes long held among generations such that love is shared based on the tribe you belong to. Unfortunately, stereotypes and labels are at the core of discords within our societies. We are so blinded by our customs, that we are only tolerant of those who belong to same tribes, than we are of have those with whom we share genders. It is such an irony for a nation rich in culture and tradition, that our supposed strength is our major problem. Moreover, institutions such as marriage, which should serve as the fabric of unity have become the very victim of these labels. While largely untrue, these stereotypes and unnecessary labelling account for a great number of heartbreaks and broken homes for many, and has led to untimely death for some.
Although times are changing, parents still vehemently refuse to accede to their children’s attempts at engaging in inter-tribal marriages. Those who have successfully overcome family-posed hardship and even threats against all odds have become a point of reference and reverence for many, while some remain cocooned and miserable in custom-created cul de sac, as there is little or nothing they are able to do to undo ‘cupid’s archery’.
I must mention though, that indeed, there are cases in which differences in tribes, customs and values have been the cause of failed relationships and marriages. My mum’s classic is always the Ijebus’ expectation of guests against Ibadans’ expectations. Where an Ijebu host serves you five pieces of meat, you are expected to finish the meal, or at least eat a large portion of the food. This supposedly shows that you enjoyed the meal and are a good guest to have. For an Ibadan host however, if you finish five pieces of meat, then you must be a glutton, and their son would be advised against marrying such ‘hungry’, greedy wife. Yes!
No, we cannot entirely rule out these differences, but we should also be careful in holding on too strongly to traditions or customs that are susceptible to change. We should be wary of causing avoidable and unnecessary pain, especially when these differences may be surmountable, even if difficult at the beginning – as I’m sure it has been for even those who (came and) have conquered.
Interestingly, recent studies show that 50 years from now, the world’s largest population would be mixed race. Not Nigerian, Black American, British nor Pakistani, but MIXED-RACE (or mixed-tribe, which could be Yoruba-Nigerian, Ibo-French. Dear Parents, start bracing for and embracing more ‘inter-national’ marriages soon :p).
Having said these, it is important to know if our parents’ aim is to preserve the tradition – ‘our ways’ of doing things – which shall remain so, or if there have been so horrible experiences which have formed the basis for their decisions and more importantly, conclusions. Equally important, do ladies (in particular) have these discussions with their folks before going into relationships (men have this problem too)? Or do they simply assume their parents are too cool for the culture hassle? Have you been in a similar situation or do you know anyone who has, how did they manage it?
P.s ‘Inter-national’ marriages among Nigerians is a topic for another day (or year).