You can tell from my name that I am in an intertribal marriage.
You may not know it but I am also a product of an intertribal marriage. My father was from Abeokuta and my mother was from Jos (I still can’t get over using past tense for both of them…) My siblings and I were not raised to defer to any particular culture. It was a very weirdly cosmopolitan upbringing despite the fact that we all grew up living in one place and not travelling up and down.
We did not speak Yoruba. We called each other by name. We did not drop curtsies, go on the knees or ‘dobale’ to our parents. We did not speak Berom as well. But we spoke Hausa which was the normal street language.
It did not take long for us to discover that this placed us at a disadvantage. We were from everywhere and nowhere. We were called ‘Yoruba abroad’ and we were never regarded as Berom. I remember going to Ogun State Liason office for an indigene certificate and I could not prove to them that I was Yoruba even after I showed them my original birth certificate. I called my father and he spoke to them in Yoruba before they gave me a proper scolding and eventually the certificate.
Interestingly, my father took us home constantly. We knew where we were from. I grew up not liking Yoruba people in the west because of the disdain they showed when they realised that I couldn’t speak the language.
I remember walking through the ‘Adire’ markets with my mother. They would pull us from every side
“Mummy, e wa ra…”
And when we politely declined and they realised that we had northern accents, their tones would change drastically complete with sneers.
“Mtchewww Hausa ni yen…”
You are Hausa sef.
They would throw it at us as though that meant that we were a lower class of human beings, beneath them. My mother learnt how to speak Yoruba but she would wait for them to speak first. They would give themselves away. Like the time aunties came to welcome us from Jos in our house at Ita Oshin. They dropped on their knees enthusiastically, generous with hugs and smiles. Then they muttered about how their brother was still with the Hausa woman. My mum listened to them. She then told them in fluent but accented Yoruba that she had heard them. They shouted a lot of ‘Ah Ah… ema binu mummy…’ She was more amused than angry and this didn’t make her bitter.
But it made me bitter and resentful. How dare you insult a woman right to her face because she is a different tribe?
This was not all. Whenever Yorubas that did not grow up in the North visited, they were extremely condescending.
“Which school do you have in the North sef?”
“What do Northerners know?”
“We have Great Ife, we have UI, we have Wole Soyinka…”
You know how it irritates us that some white people assume Africans live in huts. It irritates Northerners when people from the South West assume they are dumb. You can tell that I was always put off by this know-it-all attitude. Northern Yoruba kids were fine. Those based at ‘home’ were not. This was my conclusion growing up. I felt more like a ‘Jos’ girl but my heavily Yoruba laden name gave no room for doubt about where I originated from.
As I grew older, I realised that it wasn’t just the Yoruba tribe that acted superior to others. Almost every tribe felt better than the others. It was not just ‘Tribal Pride’ it was ‘Tribal Superiority’. It is the reason why I would go to a market and ask a Yoruba woman selling tomatoes and peppers if she had yellow pepper and she would sneer and say “I nor be Igbo.” Or the reason why I ask an Igbo woman selling avocado pear if her pear was the sort that would go from unripe to rotten and she would answer me and say: “I nor dey sell Yoruba Pear” I had to ask her, “pear dey speak Yoruba?” It is the reason why a Hausa man would say “Yoruba da kazanta…” that means “Yoruba people do disgusting things.” And the Yoruba would say that the Hausas “No get brain.”
I got married to an Igbo man. My biggest shock with the Igbo culture was how subjugated women were. How they are supposed to completely embrace the place that their husbands are from as though they did not come from somewhere. I would be filling a form in the hospital and the nurse on seeing my last name would say excitedly “So you are our wife?” And then she would proceed to scold me for writing my state of origin as Ogun State because “You are now from Imo State.”
I also cannot understand how the supposedly higher value of having a son over a daughter has lasted this long. I learnt that when I say ‘my first son’ it doesn’t just mean the son I had first to an Igbo man. It means the carrier of my name, the continuity of lineage, my successor… For someone that was not brought up to revere any particular tribe or culture, this has me twisted up in knots.
My neighbour told me of how her kid brother kicked her older sister out of a shop she was using because it belonged to him by virtue of being the first son. Even her mother could not stop this because she is a woman. He kicked her out and rented out the shop. Women were not supposed to inherit property. I asked my neighbour why women were not fighting it. Every Igbo woman should be a feminist for the sake of their daughters. We talked a lot and I realised for the first time that while I was not brought up to be traditionally aware of a Yoruba Culture, I had not escaped its influence. I have a stake in my father’s property even though I am married into another home. The first child of my father, a female, is the head of our home.
Then my heart skipped for my boys.
I don’t want my first son to be over-privileged and entitled because he came first by virtue of nothing that he had done in particular. Just because a tradition was handed down to us doesn’t mean we cannot tweak it as we go on. It should be tweaked to fit into what our lives are like right now.
Western culture is not superior to ours and at the same time our own cultures are not superior to each other and should not be followed to the last letter for the singular reason that ‘it has always been done that way.’ I am exasperated with cultures. Sometimes they hold us back and down for no reason.
There are no superior tribes just like there is no superior race. People are people. I don’t know why people fight to preserve some aspects of cultures when they should be relics of the past. Known but not lived by. Culture should be motile. It should be fluid and adjustable. I have no problems with the aspects of culture that influence how we dress, our music and what we eat. I think that makes us more interesting. I am more concerned about those parts that are steeped in sexism and chauvinism. The ones that stigmatise widows and single women. The ones that clearly state that men are superior to women. The ones that when exploited strip children of their inheritance. Clear wishful thinking on my part.
So long as someone benefits from a culture, the person will cling to it for as long as possible. If culture gives a man or woman an edge, they will protect it. My point is some things are not practicable because the dynamics surrounding us are not the same as they were in our distant past. Some of these traditional practices have no place anymore.
Can we let go?
I look forward to a day that people will not ask you where you are from so that they can prejudge you.
Wishful thinking again.
I recently heard a silly argument about writers considered better than other writers because of their tribes. I don’t know if anyone actually does that. But really, what has that got to do with anything? Our influences (the things, the places, the people we have been exposed to) colour how we see things. No matter how faint, it is there. We understand a bit better than others far off. But to read a name and begin to imagine what the person’s influences are is ridiculous.
Like my name.
You would say that I am Yoruba. You would not be wrong. But I am also Berom. I lived in the north for the first 3 decades of my life. I speak no Yoruba. What category would I fall under? Would you call me a South West writer or a Northern writer?
Why can’t we all just be people? Being judged based on our individual merits?
May never happen.
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