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Tribal considerations in choosing a spouse

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Culture has always been an important part of the Nigerian society. It governs the way people live their lives. Culture encompasses many aspects of life such as language, food, religion and ways of life. Nigeria is known as the most populous African country with over 300 tribes. It is little wonder that it is referred to as the Giant of Africa.

Every Nigerian citizen belongs to a tribe and members of that tribe incorporate parts of their tribal aspects in their lives including marriage. Marriage is one of the oldest institutions in the world and it involves the coming together of a man and a woman to become one. This means that the two people come together to merge not only themselves but everything relating to them plus their cultures.

It is not uncommon in Nigeria to see families insisting that their children marry from their tribes.

A psychologist at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Dr. Val Eze, said in the past, especially during the pre-colonial era, ethnic affiliation rooted in traditional, cultural and religious ethos, directed how people selected their partners.

He explained that such was important at the time because the fact that somebody came from a certain tribe had some socio-cultural implications.

Eze stated, “The way a certain group of people behave is determined by their culture, traditions and their social ways of living. If that is the case, it means that an ethnic group is known for certain deviant or anti-social behaviour. It was believed in those times that if a person was chosen from that tribe, he or she might have those traits.’’

He added that these cultural tenets were no longer as they used to be due to globalisation and modernity.

“These days, people can meet each other and decide to get married, regardless of tribe, even if their parents refuse,” he said.

An Igbo lady, Ada Okoli, who is set to marry a Yoruba man this year, told SUNDAY PUNCH that tribe or ethnicity could not be a factor for her in selecting a partner.

“I’ve never really cared about that. I’m more interested in who my partner is as opposed to where he comes from,” she stated.

Also, a man in his early twenties, Omari Oghene, believed ethnicity should not be a priority when choosing a life partner.

He added, “Relationship should not be about tribe. Love and understanding should be the first priority.’’

However, a Yoruba woman, Opeyemi Oni, married to a Benin man, said tribe should be considered when choosing a mate.

She noted that before she married, while she didn’t search for somebody from a different tribe, she knew that there were certain tribes she did not want to be married into because she could not deal with their traditions.

Oni said it wasn’t necessarily the person to marry she was concerned with but more so the traditions they practise.

Eze, however, said there were some benefits attached to marrying somebody from one’s tribe.

He added, “Those from the same tribe behave alike and their worldview is similar because they are from the same environment. It is easier to dig out some behavioural tendencies of the person you want to marry because of proximity.

“It is easier to know who to ask in order to find out more about the family one intends to marry into because marriage is not between two people alone; it is between two families. When people are from the same tribe, they have similar values and ideals and these provide an advantage for them.’’

Language is a factor when one marries outside one’s tribe as Okoli noted. She said language had proven a bit of a hurdle in her relationship with her fiancé and his family.

She added, “I would say that the language barrier is a bit of a challenge especially as I do not speak or really understand Yoruba and he does not understand Igbo. We both communicate in English but then, when our friends and/or relatives are around us, we are expected to sometimes communicate with them in our local dialect which kind of keeps the other in the dark at the time.”

Oni experiences same in her marriage. She stated, “When they start to speak their language and you know the conversation is about you, it can be very annoying.”

Eze was of the belief that language barrier could also be beneficial to those who married outside their tribes.

The don said, “Language is a means of communication and when you marry from a different tribe, it is most likely that your children will be able to speak the language of both tribes. This is very important. There is nothing as good as being able to speak two or more languages because when you go to areas where the languages are spoken, you will be able to blend in.

“There is an adage that says ‘a traveller is more knowledgeable than the grey-haired man’ and so as one is marrying into another tribe, one is being exposed alongside the children. This is a great advantage.”

A woman in her early twenties, Rizi Okoye, said tribal consideration in choosing a partner should be a thing of the past.

“Tribal issues shouldn’t be considered at this period. Modernity plays an important role in a person’s life. So, why would you exclude somebody from marriage because of his or her tribe?” she stated.

Okechuckwu, who is in his mid-twenties, also supports inter-tribal marriage as long as the necessary conditions are met.

He stated, “It is okay to have an inter-tribal marriage as long as the partners love each other, share the same beliefs and their parents give their consent. This third condition is the most important in my opinion because your partner is someone you want your parents to be happy with. Most times in life, it is not just your decision that counts. It is also how those decisions affect people who are dear to you.

“Some parents are not happy with the idea for some reasons known to them. They can never be happy with someone who is from another tribe no matter how the foreigner tries to please them. So, in such a case, it is better to avoid problems with your family and look for someone within your tribe. However, if everyone is okay with it, it is fine.”

On her part, a clinical and relationship counsellor, Dr. Tolulope Oko-Igaire, said though the language of marriage could not be said to be one’s mother tongue, at the same time, one could not rule out the impact of culture on people’s behaviours.

She stated, “People are shaped by their backgrounds, their culture, upbringing and that is going to affect the way they do things. So, if people are coming from different backgrounds, it is just possible that they might have different opinions and different perspectives to certain situations. So, because of that, you cannot rule out the fact that one needs to consider culture.’’

Oko-Igaire noted that it didn’t mean that marrying from different cultures would make one’s marriage good or marrying from the same culture could make it better as there were other things responsible for successful marriages.

“As a matchmaker, I could tell you that the top opportunity cost of most people is culture and tribe. It is just logical that if you speak the same language and come from the same culture as your partner, it is easier to understand each other. There are some cultures and ethnicities that one might not be able to comprehend the way they respond to certain things,” she said.

According to her, one may feel uncomfortable with one’s in-laws when one cannot comprehend what they are saying unlike if one speaks their language.

Eze also advised people to research into the traditions and cultures of persons and families they intend to marry.