Tuesday, 22 February 2011

I need an Igbo husband...apparently.

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.


  1. Very good writing, Renny. I totally agree! If we call ourselves Christians, the Bible should be the final authority in our lives not 'culture' or babalawo for that matter.lol. Sometimes, it is up to us to respectfully enlighten our families, because if you let them make you do things their way, and not God's way, it is you who will have to live with the consequences. Besides, I think children from 'mixed parentage' get a broader perspective on life and learn to be more accepting of others. May God help us all. Nothing is impossible for God. Let's keep praying for changed hearts and progress in Africa. "United we stand, divided we fall".

    - Niki O.

  2. So true Niki, so true. I'm trying to 'respectfully enlighten' my parents, but the thing is that many from that generation are set in their ways and it's so difficult! I also like your point about children from mixed parentage- they get to learn and appreciate different cultures. So help us God indeed! :)

  3. HEAR HEAR! now urenna, i totally agree with everything u say, and i believe it is well said. However i think you are also looking at it a bit too black and white? just put yourself in your parents' shoes. Yes relationships can work or not work regardless of what tribe, colour, race, height, whatever whatever the individuals are-but the obstacles you have to face as a couple are generally greater if you are from different backgrounds. Now you are obviously not particularly igbo, but that is not the case for everybody. Your father is probably very traditional in the sense that he has certain igbo characteristics (even little things) like the way a dish is cooked, or the way your weddings are done. Its the little things in life that count and all the little things that create problems. Imagine marrying somebody that doesn't understand your ways-and isn't even interested in understanding it. (hopefully the man you fall in love with will be alot ore open-minded than that, but it really is not that easy to find). Now all your parents want at the end of the day is to maintain their traditions-and alot of the time it is fear that their traditions and ways will be lost. Now believe me i out of all people know exactly what you mean (given that at the rate i am going have an extremely low chance of marrying a gambian let alone a nice mandingo man), however i also understand the point of our elders. When i go back to my village at home i absolutely adore the fact that they have maintained their culture and their traditions (fair enough some i totally disagree with) but i believe the only way inter-racial relationships work is if people are open-minded whilst at the same time maintaining their own identity (and not getting totally lost in the others identity). If this is possible than the world would be a greater place i say. Which is why i am trying to master the skill now, (because lets face it-i doubt i will be marrying a kunta kinteh!). Now the only way to get our parents to see this is through living example-some ppl may have to suffer unfortunately but once the barrier is broken i think it will be so worth it. Love is everything right?

  4. It is true that people from different cultures/races will have extra issues to work through, but it is so much easier if the man and woman and left alone to do so. It is the interfering in-laws, who think things must be done in a certain way, that make things difficult for couples, because generally, people who are in love with each other will happily compromise on little things, especially if their spouse from a different tribe/culture shows them how pointless the tradition is! LOL

    It's only natural to argue about some things as a newly married couple, especially if you have not lived together before getting married (So worth the wait, I must say!). That's because you have both had different mothers and lived in different homes, even if you are from the same state. It's just sad that when these problems happen in an 'inter-cultural marriage', parents quickly blame it on the fact that the spouse is not from 'their place'. We definitely need to be more objective in our thinking if we must move forward in Africa. I've never heard of a girl from Liverpool wondering whether to date a man from Leeds! LOL

    - Niki O

  5. @lioness!: Thank you very much for your comments! I do try to see things from my parents' point of view, really, but I disagree with some of the stuff you wrote. First, I don't agree that couples from different backgrounds have greater obstacles, because like Niki rightly pointed out, marriage is about two people from different backgrounds anyway, so they will always have differences. Also, I believe if a couple is willing to work at their relationship and learn about each other's cultures, then they should be ok.

    Secondly, whilst I agree that it's the little things in life that can cause problems, I think that most sensible people that get married and want their marriage to work will try to learn and understand what pleases their partner. If you really love someone, then you'll be interested in knowing how they like things done, and that includes their native foods, etc.

    Thirdly, I don't disrespect tradition at all, and I think they have their place. But, marrying someone from a different tribe does not mean you forget your own culture. But I do agree that it would only work if one is open-minded and can still identify with one's 'own people'

    LOL at Kunta Kinte!

    Lastly, I totally agree that perhaps the only way to prove to our parents is by having a successful marriage after all. We seriously need to break this cycle! And I think Love + Wisdom = everything! :)

    @Niki: Are you sure we weren't separated at birth?! :) I totally agree that many marriages would've survived, different tribes or not, if the in-laws did not interfere. I really just want people to face up to the fact that when there's trouble in a marriage, it's for many reasons, one of which is that two people who started off at complete strangers (in majority of cases), are now learning to live together in the most intimate relationship that ever existed, so it's only normal that they have their share of problems!

    As for your Liverpool/Leeds comment, don't people from western countries have it so easy!:)

    p.s. If I ever want to marry a non-Igbo guy, will you come help me talk to my folks? ;)

  6. very, very, very interesting; two great sides to the topic; but i honestly believe that God rules, and like that verse says, there's neither jew nor gentile in Christ, and i think i'll take God's will for me anyday.

  7. Thanks Chisom! that was basically the point I was trying to make with the last statement of my blog post-when the time comes, I'll go ahead and marry whoever I believe is God's will for me! :)

  8. Sweet...I was actually thinking of Galatians 3:28 too while reading. Sadly, your obstacle isn't an uncommon one for 3rd culture Christian kids.

    Something my own mom once told me (and I have to add that my parents have been absolutely phenomenal in their support of my interracial marriage!) is that while it's "true" that "opposites attract", to a certain extent "birds of a feather flock together". What that means is that while we can be different/complimentary in certain things, a couple HAS to agree on the most important stuff/foundational stuff. Said foundational stuff may vary by individual. Whether that be on the centrality of Christ in a relationship, whether Kellogs is better than Post cereals, or whether being Igbo/Zulu/Maori etc is a foundational part of your identity.

    And I totally think that's true.

    One of your friends put it well in mentioning how it comes down to eventually convincing your parents that you're mature and responsible enough to make decisions.

    I always like pulling out stories such as Hosea being asked by God to marry a prostitute, or the Orthodox Jew Peter (the apostle) being asked to eat ceremonially "unclean" meat. God's will for us sometimes radically departs from the "norm" as defined by us :D

  9. Well said, Srimal, and totally true too. I like your points about 'birds of a feather' and also about agreeing on the foundational stuff. The things is that I believe most responsible, sensible, etc. etc. couples that have decided to get married do agree on the fundamentals, otherwise, I don't think they'd be considering marriage in the first place. The sad thing is I don't think it always comes down to proving your maturity (I believe I've done that in so many other ways), sometimes one just has to hope and pray that whilst some parents may never be in full support, they'd at least be gracious enough not to get in the way...

  10. I agree with everyone above. I think at the heart of the matter is deep-seated cultural beliefs. It happens in the west too, believe that. I know a guy whose Italian-American grandparents didnt like the fact that their son (his dad that is) was getting married to an Irish-American girl (his mum). My own family has a similar African story. Like Nigeria, Uganda has several tribes. My brother's wife is from a different tribe and that initially brought issues with my parents. My dad is deeply traditional, but they've not had any negative relationship with my brother's wife or her family. I dont know. Maybe its because she grew up in the region our tribe is from and even speaks the language way better than I do myself !!!

  11. Thanks Wendal! I agree with you that it is definitely deep-seated beliefs, and unfortunately they're hard to change! About your brother's wife, I think speaking your language was definitely to her advantage if Uganda is anything like Nigeria. So many people told me that if I wanted to marry a Yoruba guy, I had better start learning the language, which I did, but I couldn't keep it up! The truth is that the right family would accept you whether you can speak the language or not!

  12. Renny, being a Yoruba woman myself, I have heard many people (even non-Nigerians) raise the issue of "fetishness" of Yorubas, as if it is peculiar to that one tribe. I won't even deny it, but it is not peculiar to one tribe. I would call it an African thing.

    I have heard that proverb you referred to quoted with respect to this marriage issue, but then again, just about any proverb (even the word of God) can be twisted to get a self-centered point across.

    I agree with you though on tribalism being a form of racism, and a lot of people don't realize how difficult (like you mentioned) it can be to meet and marry a person from your own tribe (if that's what your preference is), if you live in the diaspora. At the end of the day though, you need to make your own choice and make sure God approves.

  13. Relentless! you really came way back didn't you! Yes, I have seen/heard the word of God twisted to benefit someone else's view point, too many times to mention, unfortunately! :)
    I think tribalism in Africa is such a deep-seated issue it truly saddens my heart when I think about it. Maybe I don't understand it all but I've definitely reached the age, sorry, point in my life where I don't let it bother me anymore! ;)