With an estimated 250 ethnic groups, interethnic marriage in Nigeria has been on the rise, as newer generations of less traditional young people pay little attention to clans and cultural connections. Yet, amidst talks of unity and true nationhood, many still question the wisdom of marrying someone from a different ethnicity. When it comes to choosing a life partner, many Nigerians, regardless of educational and social exposure, are still guided by ethnic affiliations. There are still families who frown at or vehemently oppose inter-ethnic marriage, believing that marriage is challenging enough without the added stress of language and cultural differences.
In reality, these differences sometimes prove to be an insurmountable barrier in inter-ethnic marriages. Wives who marry into a different tribe from theirs have been known to suffer emotional abuse and injustice, especially upon their husband’s death. In spite of all this, there are many couples in inter-ethnic marriages that enjoy a long and peaceful married life. Are opponents of inter-ethnic marriage being unrealistic to disregard passion in favour of cultural and ethnic ties? Or is there a price to pay for ignoring what may just be the voice of reason?
The truth is that we cannot decide who we are attracted to, or dictate who we fall in love with. Consequently, while we may acknowledge the cons, we may just not be ready to let go of that special person we’ve found. So here are a few tips to help you on your way.
1. Do your best to make the introductory meeting as pleasant and enjoyable as possible. First impressions are hard to erase.
2. Make sure you brief your fiancé/fiancée beforehand on the aspects of your culture that are most important, especially the ones your family holds dear. For example, some cultures require actual kneeling or prostration when greeting elders, while a simple curtsy or bow would do for others.
3. Do your best to discourage stereotypes, and emphasise that each person is an individual and should be regarded as such. Sweeping statements like “Igbo people are usually very…” or “Yoruba people always…” should be avoided. If you accept the positive generalisations you will also be expected to accept negative ones.
4. Develop an interest in the history and culture of your intended’s ethnic group. If you are not familiar with their cuisine, be ready to learn how to prepare and enjoy at least your intended’s favourite dishes.
5. Accept the fact that marrying someone whose language you do not understand may make it difficult for you to bond with their family, and you may not be able to bear people talking around you, and maybe about you, without understanding what they are saying.
6. Always do your best to include your intended in conversations with your family. If they refuse to speak English, or are more comfortable carrying on lengthy conversations in your own language, be ready to interpret.
7. Know that if a wife does not understand her husband’s language the children may never learn it. Be open to the possibility of this and make peace with it.
8. Know that you may face intense opposition from members of your family, so you must embrace patience and make sure that what you and your partner share is strong enough to weather the storm.
9. Frustrations will arise—don’t take them out on your beloved. Always remind yourself why you chose this person.
10. Don’t lose your essence in a bid to prove that you will make a son-in-law or daughter-in-law. If trying to become a part of this family is changing you, and you don’t like who you are becoming, it may be time to call it quits. Marriage is a lifetime commitment and forever is a long time to be unhappy.
Joy Ehonwa is a writer specialising in documentary scripts. She is passionate about self development and relationships.
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