By Josephine Agbonkhese, Anino Aganbi & Chris Onuoha
EVERY thought of her new beau Uche had Osariemen bubbling with excitement. Uche, a 31-year-old, hails from the southeast, Anambra State precisely; while Osariemen, 26, hails from the south-south, Edo to be precise. They were practically falling head over heels for each other. Eight months into their relationship, Osariemen succumbed to Uche’s request to meet her father.
A day was arranged and, hand in hand, the two love birds meandered naively into Osariemen’s home where her father, a retired military officer, was sitting in the living room. “Who is this young man?” Osariemen’s father asked, cheerfully.
“He is my fiancé, dad. I brought him to meet you,” Osariemen replied. The question that followed was “Where is he from?” (his ethnicity) and Osariemen immediately saw an entirely different side of her dad when she mentioned that Uche was from Anambra State and hoped to marry her.
Without mincing words, the retired military man vowed to kill Uche if he came anywhere close to his daughter, even as he went on and on, reeling out the many negative perceptions about the Igbos, his worst fear being that Uche might end up using his daughter for money ritual.
There are more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria with each of these tribal leanings being rich in values, beliefs, tradition and culture. These groups each belong to a particular region with the Igbos dominating the southeast, Yorubas in the southwest and the Hausas in the north. These regional boundaries, for many years, have largely reflected in the way members of each tribe choose their spouses, due to their perception of some other tribes.
How certain tribes are perceived: Among other tribes, the Binis are believed to be promiscuous and fetish. It is also said that the Yorubas are skilled juju practitioners and very dirty. The Igbos, on their part, are generally perceived to be ritualists while some are believed to be man-eaters, like the Ijebus and Efiks. Also, while the Hausas might be regarded as generally peaceful, they are usually perceived by other tribes as irrational people who could easily get irked and become brutal at the slightest provocation. They are also perceived to be fetish.
In terms of cultural values too, while the Binis and Igbos are largely derided for being disrespectful, the Yorubas are seen as very respectful people even though they can be very skilled at exhibiting both traits simultaneously. For their acclaimed sexual and culinary prowess, the Calabar are also believed to be highly capable of keeping their lovers.
Love is blind: But love, they say, conquers all things and is blind to a multitude of sins. Hence, from being a big no-no in the days of yore, inter-tribal marriage is gradually becoming increasingly common despite challenges faced by individuals involved in the areas of language, cultural values and culinary variations among others.
Cultural differences: As Mrs Carol Ighele, an Edo-born mother of three married into an Isoko family told Woman’s Own even though her marriage is within same south-south region, “I had issues adjusting at first because I wasn’t used to some of their ways. In my husband’s place, I had to call every male in the family uncle even though I was much older than some of them. This did not go down well with me but it was something I had to learn to do. At some point it put a strain on my marriage until my husband had to put his foot down to change that part of his culture.”
Language barrier: “I also had to learn to speak my husband’s language because at a point, I felt the need to have an understanding of the language I married into. I did not like travelling with my husband to his home town because I felt alienated when they would start speaking their language.
I had to cultivate interest in his language just to help me get over that. Now, I speak the language like a native. After 30 years of marriage, I would say being married to a different tribe paid off brilliantly. It took time but I had to learn to adjust to the cultures and values of my husband’s people.”
For Opeyemi Peters, a mother of two married to an Ogoja man, it would have been a lot more difficult since their cultures are polar opposites, except that her husband isn’t one who is particular about his culture or to which culture his children are exposed.
“My husband is someone who isn’t really particular about which culture his children learn, so, I am raising them the Yoruba way. His major concern is that his children are well-mannered. In terms of language, he speaks more in English that his own dialect; except when he is with his parents and siblings. I however had to learn how to cook some of his native meals and it has been fun,” Peters said.
Religious differences: One of the biggest challenges with inter-tribal marriage happens to be the fact that certain tribes tend to belong to and practice a particular religion. Like the Etsako people of Edo State, the Hausas, some parts of Yorubaland, amongst others, who are predominantly Muslims; and the Igbos, Calabars, and others who are predominantly Christian.
Sapele-based Kehinde Mustapha, a mother of two married to a Hausa and caught in this web, said even though she is given concession to still attend church, her children are mandated by their father to go to mosque so as to be practicing Muslims.
Gains of inter-tribal marriage: The aforementioned challenges notwithstanding, many still celebrate inter-tribal marriage for what they term its many gains, their biggest argument being that it could help foster unity.
This is perhaps against the backdrop of tribalism and ethnic diversity being perceived to be one of the major factors militating against progress and development in Nigeria.
For instance, it would be recalled that the conduct of national affairs along lines of ethnic ideology caused riots, violence and war in the past and even in the present.
The Jos riots of 1945, the Kano riots (1953), the Tive eruptions (1960 to 1964) and the civil disturbances in Western Nigeria (1965) are good examples.
Also, the January 1966 coup, the May 1966 massacres in the North, the reactionary counter-coup of July 29, 1966, the wave of anti-Igbo violence in September 1966 and Nigerian civil war of 1967 to 1970 are other negative consequences of the ethnic force in the country. Thus, Mrs Omofolake Ikeji, a business woman, said “Inter-tribal marriage allows people of a tribe to get familiar with the norms, values and taboos of other tribes; it should be encouraged because it fosters good rapport among Nigerians.’
Cultural exchange: “Its impact can also be felt in the cultural exchanges and interactions between families. If the fiancé is Igbo and the fiancée is Hausa, the man from the eastern part of the country will brush himself up on Hausa culture and come to appreciate their beliefs, values and traditions and vice-versa.”
Ikeji’s sentiments are echoed by Chijioke Uwasomba, a lecturer in one of the universities. Uwasomba, a Marxist scholar who specialises in Literature, said “Inter-tribal marriage is very, very positive, especially in a country with diverse cultures such as ours.
“It encourages federalism and, beyond that, we have to see ourselves as one people. Human beings constitute a potpourri of life. Inter-tribal marriage should be encouraged because it strengthens Nigeria’s federalism and helps to foster a pan-Nigerian agenda.”
What elites say
According to Dipo Okpeseyi, SAN, Chairman, Island Club Onikan, Lagos, who told Woman’s Own he doesn’t care what tribe his children marry into because every tribe has both good and bad people, “My wife and I are from different states and different ethnic groups, so also are my in-laws and their wives. I have Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo in my family and they are fantastic people. Inter-tribal marriage is good and healthy for us here in Nigeria. The point I am making is that we should see ourselves as Nigerians, whether of Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa extraction.”
Shehu Usman, General Secretary, Mile 12 Arewa Commodity Market Association, Lagos, who is married to a Yoruba woman even though he is from the north, told Woman’s Own that such unions solidify unity and oneness and that he would also encourage his children in same direction in the future.
He said: “I would also want my children to marry from any tribe of their choice. Except for health related issues or noticeably bad behavior, I will not object to my children marrying into another tribe. For me, we are all Nigerians as far as I am concerned. In my own case, I was confronted by my family members about why I want to marry a woman from a different ethnic group. But I made them to understand that it is a matter of understanding and choice.
“Inter-tribal marriage can unite people easily. Your children will have a solid understanding of being a typical Nigerian from both end, especially when your wife is Yoruba and husband is Igbo or Hausa.
“When you belong to the two languages, it makes things easier too. He or she will belong partly to these tribes. With that alone, you can boldly call yourself a typical Nigerian.”
Need to encourage inter-tribal marriage
Drawing from the experiences above, the gains of inter-tribal marriage appears to outweigh the disadvantages, especially for the fact that such marriages will encourage unity and national cohesion which are very much needed at this point in our nation’s history.
It could help to encourage growth, social interaction, and reduce tribal and ethnic conflicts. Therefore, there is no gainsaying that there is every need to encourage such marriages if Nigerians must create the peaceful environment needed to achieve lasting peace and development.