Oh, I've waited so long to voice my opinions on this one! Yes, it's the issue of tribalism. If you're African, you may understand what I'm talking about. If not, I'll try and explain. In Nigeria, we have many tribes that speak different languages and have different traditions. I happen to be from the Igbo tribe. My parents, especially my dad, want me to marry an Igbo person. Something he never mentioned until I told him I was dating a Yoruba guy. He wasn't happy. I was surprised. Apparently I should have just known that it wasn't OK. But I didn't get it. 'What's the big deal? You should be pleased the guy's Nigerian at least', I thought to myself, having correctly assumed that bringing home someone with skin other than black wouldn't have gone down so well. Turns out that anyone that isn't Igbo is a big deal. Why?
'They're too fetish; always looking for babalawo!'
Yes, some tribes are more fetish than others but did you hear about the state governor (who happened to be from my state I might add) that was caught visiting a native doctor, blood dripping all over his head and all?
'If you don't have children, and even if you do, they'll secretly marry another wife for him in the village and you'll never know...'
That actually happened to someone I know except both her and her husband were Igbo!
I really don't get it. I think it's something to do with the Biafran war, and different tribes fighting each other or something (I obviously know very little about my country's history) but I still don't see why I should let that affect my choice of husband. It is even more frustrating when you have someone like my dad who would not like just any Igbo person, but someone from the same state, capital, Local Government Area, and if possible, village. Basically, my brother. Seriously, where am I supposed to meet this guy? And why bother sending me abroad to study if there is virtually no chance of my meeting my husband there? Not that you go to school to meet your spouse but you get my drift.
The hypocrisy of some parents (and other people I guess) is what baffles me the most. How can a Yoruba person be close friends with an Igbo person but not let their child marry someone that is Igbo? What exactly is the friendship based on? As for me, if my child/relative can't marry your 'kind', then I can't be your friend. It's that simple. Or shouldn't it be?
What saddens me most is when we bring this mentality into the Church. I know so-called Christian parents that would rather die than see their child marry someone from outside their tribe. All in the name of tradition. (I heard of a dad that actually went and scattered his own daughter's wedding, just because she was marrying someone from a different tribe!) When I raise my concerns on this issue, I'm often quoted this proverb (not sure which tribe to attribute it to) that says (paraphrasing), 'what an old man can see sitting down, a child cannot see standing up'. It basically means that there are certain things that old people know and understand that young people would never understand and so should just accept. I agree with that up to a point, but I also believe that times have changed. And I like to keep things simple. And tradition seems to complicate things. Maybe I'm too young to understand but I'm pretty sure it says somewhere in the Bible that we're all one in Christ, neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, slave nor free. We're all saved by grace. Basically, God couldn't care less what tribe you're from as long as you belong to Him.
I can't help but see tribalism as a form of racism because what's the difference between discriminating against someone because of their skin colour and discriminating against someone because they speak a different language and have different traditions? Why can't we all just get along? (that's got to be the lyric to a song surely!). We all know that being married to an Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Efik, white, black or even someone with the same faith is no guarantee for a successful marriage. It takes a lot more than speaking the same language and having similar cultures.
Now before any 'pro-native language' or 'culture-conservationists' (I just made that word up!) start screaming about me and future generations losing our identities, let me ask you a few questions. What makes you who you are? When you look at yourself in the mirror what do you see? If you were to describe yourself, how would you start? If I were to describe myself, 'Igbo' is not one of the first words that comes to mind. Or the second or the third. Don't get me wrong, I'm not ashamed to be Igbo. But then again I'm not 'anything' to be Igbo. I just happen to be from that tribe. It hasn't given me any special favours that I'm aware of. Like Paul said, 'I am what I am by the grace of God.'
So I've decided that when people ask me where I'm from, I'll give them my current home address. Or take an advice from a much admired pastor of mine, 'I'm a citizen of the Kingdom.' And when that most privileged man comes along, I'll go ahead and marry him. Red or yellow, black or white.