Why did you choose to get married on the exact same day my nephew is also getting married, ehn? I am sad that I will miss the owambe o’ A middle-aged woman chides a young female colleague as she walks into their office washroom.
A third woman also chips in ‘ Nne I have exams that day, you know UNILAG and stress, Ikegwu (tiring)’. The bride-to-be, responds in the Igbo language to both women ‘Nsogbu adiro (no problem)…’
She seemed to have accepted both their excuses good-naturedly for intending to not attend her upcoming nuptials. The two women sounded believable and apologized profusely again when she came out of a toilet room.
When they were sure she was no longer within earshot, the older woman whispered conspiratorially. ‘Hian, foolish girl, so she expects me to attend her wedding to a Yoruba man, Tufiakwa, my nephew’s wedding is on a Thursday, not Saturday. After all the things Yoruba people have done to me in this establishment, I am not interested in anything involving them. The lady that said she has exams added ‘ I didn’t have any exams, I will be at home relaxing. As beautiful as she is, she lacks self-confidence, that’s why she can’t wait for God to send her a nice Igbo man. I used to like her o…’
In many parts of Nigeria, similar sentiments are expressed by people often. When I was in university, my Edo friend told me her grandmother fervently believed Igbo people possess tails and were animals in human form.
There are three major tribes in Nigeria. The Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba and a great many other minority tribes such as the Ijaw, Kanuri, Tiv, Idoma, Ibibio, Annang, Efik, Itsekiri, Bini, Esan, Etsako, Isoko, Urhobo. Tribalism is a feeling of superiority of your tribe over other tribes. The three major tribes make up a good 70% of the population, some tribes feel like they are unseen and unheard in a country as large as Nigeria and conclude that they don’t matter. The bigger tribes compete with each other for resources, relevance and power. This is the result of over a hundred years of internal struggle has amounted to a strong lack of patriotism and unwillingness to move the country forward. People rather focus on their clan and family. Some going out of their way to allocate resources and opportunity to only their tribesmen.
Tribalism and Romance
An Edo woman who brought home an Igbo man she met in the UK and on the introduction day, her family members all wore black and sat down looking mournful, when the man’s family inquired why people were either crying or looking morose, the Edo people responded that from that day their daughter is dead to them, lost, living with animals now. The man and his people took this reply as their cue to leave.
When people from different tribes in Nigeria meet and fall in love, they are ecstatic until they get deep enough to include members of their families. While some weather the storm, others who lack the courage to withstand the conflict that involves informing their family that they love a person outside their tribe chose to end it and live with the memories of that great love.
Dami Adeyemi is in his forties, a civil engineer and a Yoruba man. He recalls how he met and fell in love with a Hausa girl from Bauchi State during his one year compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) ‘For us, it was loved at first sight. We went everywhere together during camp and we were fortunate to be posted to the same remote local government. Before coming to NYSC Camp I had plans of staying in the city, but while everyone else was miserable with a remote area posting, we were absolutely satisfied with our posting and were lucky it was to the same local government and quite happy to live in the tranquil village of Aviara in Delta State. Our NYSC programme ended, and we both knew it was going to be goodbye. Every time I cautiously tried to talk about our relationship with my family, they expressed concerns about her tribe. On her part, she never mentioned me to her family because she feared their reaction. After our NYSC ended in 2002 it was hard keeping in touch and after about a year or two, we stopped communicating. I still carry her in my heart and hope to see her one day’.
In Nigeria, tribe members usually identify with their tribe very strongly, and they feel truly connected only with people of their own beliefs. They often have set stereotypes about the other tribes, and will not be open-minded even when they do not have any personal unpleasant experience, the human tendency to norm and form makes them hold onto tribal biases.
All around Nigeria people are deeply divided along tribal lines. Nigerians, strongly believing they are better than others based on their tribe. A lot of people grew up hearing their parents talk disparaging of their neighbours and shaking off tribal bias is proving to be quite tough, even with the upper and educated class.
Useme Oliver, a 28-year-old lawyer who is Ibibio tells me ‘ my sister endured an extraordinarily difficult marriage to an Igbo man that eventually ended in an acrimonious divorce. Two years ago I met my boyfriend but he is Ibo, only an aunt here in Lagos is aware of his tribe, she does not approve I have pleaded with her to keep my boyfriend’s tribe secret for now. She has forewarned me to stop deceiving myself and consider another man, any man but an Ibo man. I know my boyfriend is a nice person, but I need strength and God to fight my family and win.
When inter-tribal marriages go wrong, families blame the marital issues on the tribe of the wife or husband. Comments like ‘Igbo men are absolutely controlling, Yoruba men are promiscuous, Calabar men are cunning, Delta men are unambitious and other negative connotations. For every local tribe, there is a decidedly unpleasant description.
Northern Nigerian woman photo credit: pixabay
The key question of where a person is from repeatedly comes up when people hear of the admirable or distressing things done by that person. Actions are evaluated based on the way people of a particular tribe are widely thought to act.
Though people live freely with outside the geographical location of their tribesmen in Nigeria, they are expected to be intentional about who to love wherever they go. Ideally, families still expect you to come home when you want to marry, to invariably make your interactions with the other tribes you live and interact with just for the business not for love. Ejike an Igbo businessman who lives in Ibadan says that wedding his wife Kike was and still is the most defiant action he has ever taken in life. ‘My mother still sees her as an outsider and remains baffled that I left all the Igbo girls and settled for a Yoruba woman. That I have resided in Ibadan for over a decade and met my wife here is, however, not a good enough reason to fall in love, according to my family. I defend her every time, though they are mostly polite to her, i know they have not accepted her as one of us. I love my wife, sometimes I wish she was the same person, but Igbo, like me.’
It is great to add that through all these people still find love and there are countless stories of inter-tribal marriages that are thriving.