Nigerian Inter-Ethnic Love Stories: YJ, Anire, Berry & Ekene Share Their Experience on Growing up 'Mixed'

Although I probably had a few around me growing up, I wasn't really conscious of kids who had parents that were from different ethnic groups in Nigeria. This was till high school - my closest friend's mum and dad were Yoruba and Igbo respectively. I was pretty intrigued. She had both Yoruba and Igbo names - although she had two of the former and one of the latter. But her first name was English. She was probably the first person to pique my interest on inter-ethnic marriage in Nigeria.

Many years later, I've come to see so many kids who grew up this way. But the curiousity remains: what was growing up like, what foods did they eat? Did they associate primarily with one culture? Do they automatically learn how to speak both languages?  

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Also, now that I'm in an inter-ethnic marriage myself - I'm curious to know the good bits from the child's perspective and obviously what doesn't work well and what to avoid! 

Today we've got YJ, Anire, Berry and Ekene sharing their experiences. 

Hope you enjoy! 


1. Yejide Runsewe

Part time lawyer, full time travel blogger, curator and lover of all things travel. Runs a blog www.naijanomads.com

Ethnicity of both Parents: Dad is Yoruba particularly from Owo in Ondo State and my Mum is Igbo, she's from Emeabiam in Imo State


1. What were the best bits of growing up in an inter ethnic home, and if applicable, the not so good bits.

Oh my where do I start! Growing up "mixed" was so much fun (Yup! I call myself mixed all the time. It doesn't have to be a black and white mix, mixed is MIXED, hahaha). I loved the road trips we took every Christmas to Owerri. My mum being a proud Ibo woman never missed spending Christmas in her village. She will take my siblings and I from Ibadan to Owerri to spend time with my grandparents, aunts, uncles cousins and distant relatives. The village life was very exciting and we all looked forward to it. I remember my sister and I being drafted to dance with all the kids from the village. We would go from house to house and do some sort of dance for the "elders" and we will be given money. After all the money had been gathered it will be shared among the dancers. My sister still tells the story of one Christmas where she was the village "belle" and lead dancer and she was given one Naira after all her effort. Hahahaha. She was soooo pissed off, because she felt she deserved so much more. Unfortunately I don't have these stories to tell on my dad's side as everyone either lived in Lagos or Ibadan so we did not visit his hometown often


2. What was your favourite food from both sides, that we should all definitely eat!

I can tell you I do not particularly love any local Yoruba dish, I never really ate them. But for the Igbo side, 'Ofe Owerri' is a MUST HAVE. If you haven't tried that then you have missed out on a very important part of life. 


3. Which of the languages can you speak & favourite word, phrase or sentence in each of the languages.

I totally blame my parents for speaking English to us through out our formative years and even adulthood. My dad has probably spoken Yoruba to me maybe like never and same goes for my mum. My mum doesn't understand one word of Yoruba and therein lies the problem! On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best level, my Yoruba is at level 5 and Igbo level 3.

So back to the question, my favorite Yoruba word has to be "Wocheeeeee!" (this is in Owo dialect) and it means "Oshey", thank you. My favorite igbo phrase has to be "Biko hapum aka!" (Please leave me alone) or "Ina nu nti" (You don't hear?)

4. Are you more or less likely to marry (or have married) from outside your ethnic group because of your growing up environment?

My parents preach love and happiness and would accepted anyone from any part of the world. They got married in the 80s so you can imagine the backlash they got from friends and family members simply because they were from two different tribes. They also have different stands about religion, my dad an unapologetic Christian, mum an unapologetic free thinker and they still make it work. I'll say my environment influenced me to making a choice irrespective of religion and ethnicity.  


5. Why do you think a lot of Nigerians are implicitly biased and what can we do to change this?

Stereotyping isn't just a Nigerian problem, its a human problem. We have all labelled or tagged a particular group of people, whether good or bad. It has eaten us so deep we don't even know when we do it sometimes. Its a way of life.  As for Nigeria or Nigerians, I think our issues were escalated after the civil war. People from various ethnic groups could no longer trust each other and this is a part of our history we have refused to deal with or talk about. Till we all sit down and trash issues like ensuring an all inclusive government or minimizing marginalization, there will always be that bias. Perhaps we are too diverse and need to go our separate ways, lol. 


6. One bias or opinion you've heard about either or both cultures that is so not true and has to be disregarded.

Yoruba people are foxes or they always have illegitimate children. Or the 'Yoruba demon' joke about yoruba men that started as an internet joke and has escalated beyond repair!. There are some Yoruba gentlemen out there. For the Igbos, Igbo people like money. I mean who doesn't like money? 


7. Do you think our strength is really in our diversity?

No I don't and I'll leave it at that. 

8. Last words on Nigerian InterEthnic marriages and raising kids?

I think parents should ensure the kids have the best of both worlds. Ensure they understand both languages and cultures. Its always to their advantage. 


2. Berry Dakara

I have a daytime job but I blog as well at www.berrydakara.com and also www.africanaturalistas.com

Ethnicity of both parents: Father is Ogoni and mother is Igbo, with some Itsekiri blood.


1. What were the best bits of growing up in an inter ethnic home, and if any, the not so good bits.

I think I would say the best part of growing up in an inter-ethnic home was that we weren't brought up seeing tribes or ethnicities. We were all the same and there was no discrimination. I would have said having two distinct villages but it just occurred to me that we only ever went to my mum's village as children - and we had so much fun! It's only in adulthood that we're seeing the fun factor of my dad's village. I guess that ties into the not so good bits - there was a lot of opposition from my dad's family so the relationship with that side of the extended family is strained. No wait, it's strained with my dad's "immediate" family. We're besties with his cousins and their families.   

What was your favourite food from both sides, that we should all definitely eat!

Is Egusi Igbo? Now I have to say this - I don't know of any particular Ogoni food. I know Rivers foods like Onunu (yam and plantain pounded together), and Native soup (yes that is the actual name of the soup; there is no native name).


3. Which of the languages can you speak & favourite word, phrase or sentence in each of the languages

I can only say 'Hello' or more like 'Good morning' in Ogoni. I tried to teach myself Ogoni as
a child but my dad always laughed it off and didn't take me seriously. As for Igbo my grandmother tried her hardest to teach us but yearly vacations to Umuahia or Owerri were not enough for it to stick. But I can count sha. And say little phrases. My mum tries to speak Igbo to me now and I just stare at her blankly because my brain pauses and waits for her to translate to English. 


4. Are you more or less likely to marry (or have married) from outside your ethnic group because of your growing up environment? 

I married outside my ethnic group - he's Urhobo and coincidentally also part Itsekiri. So did my sister - her husband is Yoruba, Ghanaian and Welsh. Fun fact - my nephew has some blonde hairs.
 

5. Why do you think a lot of Nigerians are implicitly biased and what can we do to change this?

I think the bias comes from parents and older ones. But if we're being very honest a lot of it stems from the civil war. And I may be seen as silly but it is very understandable. The horrors that Biafrans went through cannot be easily erased. 

Can the bias be changed? Ideally yes. Realistically it will take a long time. But i think some of our generation is trying to change it as we speak. I greatly admire the Nigerian travel bloggers that are making it a point to visit and experience different parts of Nigeria. If I was still back home, I would have continued my road trips, sharing them for the world to see. 


6. Do you think our strength is really in our diversity?

Strength in diversity comes when the BEST of the different groups are taken together. I hesitate a little bit because the idea of "best" is relative. What I may consider to be the best part of the Igbo or Ogoni, someone else might view differently. 


7. Last words on Nigerian InterEthnic marriages and raising kids?

I think that children should be exposed to the different cultures that make up their lives. Tell them stories, teach them history, if possible the languages as well. Giving them names from their different ethnic groups also plays a part in teaching them about their heritage. I'm very proud of all my names - I even forced my grandma to give me another Itsekiri name because nobody could remember the one given to me by my great grandmother. 

You can even buy children's books that tell about the culture or teach the language. But it's very important that they don't neglect one over the other. I never tell anyone I'm just Ogoni simply because tradition says I'm from where my father is from. I always mentioned each side of my heritage, and added more after I got married. Best believe my children will know they have Urhobo-Ogoni-Igbo-Itsekiri blood! 


2. Eyesan Anirejuoritse Omabuwa


Works in Advertising & PR … See Linkedin Profile

Ethnicity of both Parents: Dad is from Delta State (Itsekiri) & Mum is from Ekiti State (Yoruba)


1. What were the best bits of growing up in an inter ethnic home, and if any, the not so good bits.

The best bits of growing up in my inter-ethnic home was the banter; if I did something to annoy my mum she would say in Yoruba “ that’s how they behave in your fathers village", My dad would reply "Not my people oo, it’s you Ekiti villagers that behave that way, he got it from your side of the family”  The not-so-best bits was a particular culture being drowned out. So even now I feel more Yoruba than Itsekiri.    I think you then have to choose a side to connect with, and it was my mum's side for me. Even now I barely know any Itsekiri people outside my immediate family.


2. What was your favourite food from both sides, that we should all definitely eat!

It was also fun eating food from both cultures; my mum learned to make traditional Itshekiri soups, even though I like Yoruba meals better, she made sure we had Itsekiri soups every Sunday. For my favourite Yoruba meal, it was Pounded yam and efo riro, for Itshekiri I liked Starch with Obe Owo

3. Which of the languages do you speak?

I Speak Yoruba very well and it’s sad to say I can’t speak or understand Itshekiri.


4. Are you more or less likely to marry (or have married) from outside your ethnic group because of your growing up environment? 

I really do not care about ethnicity; and I think it's because of the environment I grew up in. But I still have friends who say they can’t marry outside their ethnic group and I will never understand why.

5. Why do you think a lot of Nigerians are implicitly biased and what can we do to change this?

There’s a lot of bias I guess because people just tend to be comfortable within their particular zone and not really go out and explore or understand cultural differences; if we can conquer this then we will become really strong as a people.

6. One bias or opinion you've heard about either or both cultures that is so not true and has to be disregarded.

The bias or opinion that Yoruba people are dirty is misguided, Before I moved out of my parents’ house, I could not litter or leave clothes around the house, the woman could not stand her house being rough or dirty. Then there’s the opinion that Itshekiri people are aggressive because we come from the Niger Delta that is so not true again. We are actually sweethearts.


7. Do you think our strength is really in our diversity?

I believe if we embrace our diversity; then our strength as a nation would emerge or grow, right now I still think we are too divided, it’s a good thing young people are dating outside their culture that can break stereotypes. 


4. Ekene Ohanwusi

Medical Student taking French classes and nutrition classes on the side. Did I say final year? 

Ethnicity of both parents: An Igbo Father (Delta State) and Idoma mother (Benue State). But I was born and raised in Yorubaland (Oyo State) - I guess I'm a true Nigerian!


1. What were the best bits of growing up in an inter ethnic home, and if any, the not-so-good bits.

Worst bits would be when mum's family comes visiting or dad's and they refuse to speak English (the lingua franca of the household).

Best bits would include having 2 'villages' with different cultures and different foods and different languages and getting to claim both. Another would be the fact that 'gist' was in English so my siblings and I would always eavesdrop.


2. What was your favourite food from both sides, that we should all definitely eat!

I think everyone should try Pepper Soup and Pounded Yam (seriously!). It's all shades of amazing and I don't mean from all these roadside bukas oh.

I also love love love Cornfood and Jangada (a soup made from dry okro) but Okoho(a 'draw' soup which puts a mixture of ogbono and okro to shame) takes the crown. It's so great it requires a technique to eat it.


3. Which of the languages can you speak & favourite word, phrase or sentence in each of the languages

Sadly, I can barely speak either language but my favourite Idoma words are 'ohoi' meaning 'good/fine' and 'olambi' meaning 'not good/bad.

4. Are you more or less likely to marry (or have married) from outside your ethnic group because of your growing up environment? 

I think that I'm more likely to marry outside my ethnic group. Now that I think about it, I've only ever dated outside my ethnic group- Yoruba, Ijaw, Hausa/Yoruba/Urhobo (a hybrid too).


5. Why do you think a lot of Nigerians are implicitly biased and what can we do to change this?

For the most part, we learn bias from our parents when they make remarks like 'Igbo people are greedy'... 'Yoruba people are cowardly' forgetting that the people who say these things have their own exceptions to their blanket statements. Another thing I've learnt from some of my Eastern friends living in the East is that there's still a lot of hurt about the Biafran War and how we behave like the war was not a defining moment in our country's history so we just sweep it under the rug. There's also lack of knowledge and the tendency to not want to travel to other states in Nigeria and that contributed to our ignorance of other cultures.

Travel, travel, travel is a great way to encounter other tribes. NYSC was a great way(I think it was started in part to give young people the opportunity to experience other cultures) but the sufferhead is too much and the opportunities aren't equal.

I also feel that we need to start talking about our country's history more(both the good and the bad). Not only Independence and Moremi of Ife, sometimes the whys, hows, whos and wheres of the Biafran War. If we did that, maybe Nnamdi Kanu wouldn't have as many pro-Biafra  followers.

6. One bias or opinion you've heard about either or both cultures that is so not true and has to be disregarded.

Igbo people eat hard food and a lot of green vegetables; my dad eats mush and hates green vegetables.
Igbo people are greedy; no they're not.
Igbo people are too ambitious; ambition is a good thing.
Benue people are usually domestic help; no they're not.

N.B: Stereotypes aren't always true; for instance, my best friend is an Ijebu girl and her family is the most generous ever! My boyfriend is Hausa and he is the most disinclined-to-violence person I've ever met.


7. Do you think our strength is really in our diversity?

I honestly believe that our greatest strength lies in our diversity. I mean how boring would life be if we were all the same!

8. Last words on Nigerian InterEthnic marriages and raising kids?

I think it's important that all kids speak their native language before we'd only have two people alive that speak a certain language. Not everytime English and French, sometimes Esan and Urhobo and Idoma and Igbo. And for parents from different tribes, even better; your children might just speak three languages before they're 5


Well Well. I learnt so much from these responses and it sure looks like they had such interesting childhoods! We must continue to emphasise the need to avoid stereotypes, and share our rich history and tell our stories as much as possible. 

But let me hear your thoughts! What did you think? If you grew up in a mixed home as well, what was that like for you? 

Please share!

Love, 
Kachee... Xx

ps: Check out my culture shock experience on the Yoruba kneeling culture and Dr N's incredible story when she chose to marry outside her ethnic group!

ppS: Apologies to non-Nigerian folks, there's a lot of Nigerian lingua in there, that's a bit hard to translate - but I hope you get the picture! Any questions, please ask and we'll clear the air. 

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