You probably know by now that Nigeria's diverse ethnicity intrigues me. Just recently I was having a chat with Tee and we wondered what the different cultures and ethnic groups would have been like, had there been no alamalgation and creation of the country Nigeria. Our cultures are so different, yet so similar! I remember back in high school, marvelling at the fact that one word could have the same meaning across several Nigerian languages. These days, I often see more of a fusion.
Despite these vast differences, when people genuinely look past it and form genuine friendships or relationships, I think it's worth applauding. And when it's a relationship or marriage, I think such parties deserve a double round of applause.
So while I wish that could be the case, I'm obviously not naive. A lot of relationships have failed because of the difference in culture. Perhaps more have failed than succeeded. But does it have to be this way? Are there lessons to learn?
Three people have agreed to share their stories anonymously. I hope it challenges us to free ourselves (as much as possible) and be more open to tolerance for one another! Love doesn't and shouldn't come in a box.
1. Best Six Months of My Life, But My Mum Hated Him
First, I think I have to tell you that I'm a product of an inter-ethnic marriage. My mum is Yoruba and my dad is Ijaw. However, this marriage hasn't been a happy one, and both of them, especially my mum blames it on the fact that they don't have the same culture. She believes that he doesn't have family values and respect because he wasn't taught them growing up. For example, my dad doesn't talk to his in-laws, her parents or any of her family members and he sees nothing wrong with that. He also doesn't call me by my Yoruba name - he says its a 'bush' name, even though it's my second name and is on all my official documents. He even asked me to replace it with my ijaw name severally.
So, from as early as I can remember, my mum kept telling me that I should marry a Yoruba man, that he would treat me right.
However, I met this Delta guy from Asaba through a mutual friend. We started chatting regularly on Black Berry Messenger (BBM) and we became close. I was having relationship crisis at that time with one Yoruba boy (all this time, as per my mother's request, I was dating only Yoruba boys) and he was there for me. So when he asked me out sometime later, I thought, maybe this could work - and decided to give it a try.
We dated for about 6 months, but it was the best six months I have ever had with anyone. We were serious and good together. We worked! Sure we had issues normal for couples, but it got serious pretty fast, and we knew that it was very possible we ended up married.
When my mum found out, she threw a fit. She reported me to anyone who would care to listen - from her friends to my pastor - that I was going the wrong path. And they accordingly spoke to me, filling me up with stories of people they knew who had married men from South south and ended up regretting it. I started to get confused. Because truthfully, I had noticed some disparity in the way we approached issues based on the differences in our upbringing. But I thought everyone had those, I didn't think it was a function of tribe.
The pressure got really intense from my mum, and it didn't help that we started fighting over little things either. No surprises, I started thinking that maybe we should break up. But before I could, the unexpected happened. I went to his place and found another girl there. I was shocked and it felt as though they were right to warn me, that it was true what they were saying. To make matters worse, he, instead of apologizing, made excuses and then broke up with me, saying that he didn't want to be in a relationship with me anymore.
Later though, he would come back to beg me and ask to be friends. He explain that he knew we were getting serious (we actually use to match our clothes many times!) and he wasn't sure he wanted to be married into my family. Apparently, he had concerns about the ethnic differences too and about my parents marriage. According to him, he didn't like how my parents were to each other and he felt like it was because of ethnicity. He thought it wouldn't work out between us because even though I'm mixed, I was raised Yoruba.
We are still good friends today because on the inside, all those ethnic labels aside, we actually like each other as people but we allowed other people's lives and opinions ruin that.
My advice for people in inter-ethnic relationships is to focus on the relationship and on yourselves. Do not allow external influence ruin something good. There will always be differences because you were not brought up the same way, but you should celebrate those differences, find a way to move past them and learn from each other. This way, you can produce a new culture and way of doing things that works for you both specifically.
2. His Mum Won't Let Him Date Me, although I'm more or less Yoruba!
So I had this guy I really liked. We were hanging out, having so much fun and we never stopped laughing with each other. Everything was fine and so I thought that even though he hadn't popped the 'be my girlfriend' question, we were there. He had met my cousins who I was staying with at the time. One day, we finally kissed. I took the bold step and asked him why he hadn't asked me out.
And then he kept quiet for a while and stopped kissing me. On one hand, I was happy that he took the hint and on the other hand I was curious about his next action. Soon enough, he started to withdraw. He then called me one day that we needed to talk. He looked all sad and then dropped the bombshell. He said he couldn't date me because he can't marry me. And he can't marry me because I'm from Kogi state.
Mind you he's Yoruba and lots of people even see Kogi indigenes as Yoruba. I explained all the these to him and he said I have to be proper Yoruba, like from Osun, Oyo or Ogun state etc. This isn't the first time I've been avoided because I'm from Kogi. It's funny, painful and yet eye opening at the same time. Ironical, because I was born in Lagos, I speak yoruba fluently and my only other name is such a common Yoruba name. Kogi state was formed from Kwara State which is largely Yoruba.
Guess what? His reason for not dating non Yoruba was that his mum won't let him. It's something they've been told from childhood, so it's hard to change the opinion.
I'm dating a fine ass Delta man now and his family loves Kogi women. So I guess not everyone thinks this way. Nevertheless, tribalism is killing us in Nigeria and I don't think we should have been merged as one country.
3. Perfect Match! But my Dad cut me off because he was Hausa!
We were both undergraduates at the time, in different schools & we met through mutual friends on BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). A friend had used my picture as their display picture. He saw it and asked for my contact details.
I was actually intrigued by the fact that he was Hausa, I’m Yoruba and apart from my neighbors in my parent’s house, I was not really familiar with Hausa people. So being the inquisitive person that I am, I wanted to know more. It almost felt like I was like taking up a challenge - and that was a huge attraction for me.
We got talking and it didn’t hurt that he was cute too! Another bonus was that because he was a
Christian, I felt it won’t be that bad. It was a “perfect match” because we got along so well despite the cultural differences. His mum & siblings liked me a lot too and I even learned to speak some Hausa language. My mum actually liked him too.
The problem started the day my dad heard my mum trying to speak Hausa to him. After he had left my house, my dad asked me where he was from (this was after like 6 months of dating or so). I responded and my dad plainly let me know that never in his life would he let me get married outside our region (South West).
I took it as a joke but my dad didn’t speak to me for about two months and I didn’t get any allowance too! He actually got so deep that he accused me of aiding terrorists by giving my money to my northern terrorist boyfriend to help in their missions.
My mum was supportive. She told me not toworry about it that his daughter’s happiness would always be a priority & since we were not any way close to getting married then there was
still time. My dad kept pointing to my friends who were dating Yoruba guys and asked if they had “two heads”.
After about 3 years of dating, the end drew near. I was already working at the time, there were so many issues we couldn’t deal with. It didn't help that he had cheated on me as well. Also, the fact that my dad didn’t like him made his mum silently withdraw her support for the relationship too.
I figured there was no way I could change my dad’s mind and I honestly couldn’t see myself marrying a Hausa guy when I was constantly lost in the midst of his family discussions. Most times I knew they were talking about me & discussing how I was a nice girl but if it’s really worth it.
We broke up because of other issues and primarily because I wasn’t in love with him anymore. But, I really wasn’t up to fighting with my dad and no doubt that was a major factor!
These three stories have such a similar thread running through them.And of course, I have a million questions to ask! But it's a long post already, so I'll let you share your thoughts and we can discuss in the comments. But one thing is clear - our parents continue to have a huge influence on these matters - and it's understandable perhaps. Many of these parents now lived through the civil war or have had terrible experiences.
But how about our generation. Are we more open? Less biased? Or are we simply just going to carry on this way?
I received a few more stories, so I'll share the concluding ones in a later post. For now, please share your thoughts and any similar experiences you may have (or better still, some good news!)
You should also read:
- East Meets West || Six Questions we get asked often on our Inter-Ethnic Marriage
- Nigerian Inter-Ethnic Love Stories || Dr N's amazing story of Love, Faith & Triumph!
- Nigerian Inter-Ethnic Love Stories || Vivian, Olive, Lamide & Sogie Share Their Experience of Growing up Mixed
- Nigerian Inter-Ethnic Love Stories || Kunle & Flora Ogunlusi