Are You Married to a Culture or a Spouse?

16 Jul

By Nwanatifu Nwaco

This post was motivated by a question posed on a social media forum whether the opinion of parents on the ethnic origin of ones choice of spouse does matter in the modern world? So I decided to put my self within the mind set and time consideration of a typical Cameroonian parent so as to get a social picture of what and how they thought and used to judge the pre-agreed notion of their initial disapproval or influence on their kids choice of spouse based on ethnic origin geography and social anthropology.

 Our parents are not totally wrong when they ask about the ethnicity of our spouse to be i must say. Sometimes it’s not just prejudice that motivates them, it’s also a matter of experience from social observation and interaction with these other cultures that exposes them to some negativity or positiveness towards another ethnic group. Before one gets married, love is always blind to every other social judgment and consideration but once married, cultural dynamics kick in hard.
  Parents usually want their future in-laws to be within geographical proximity and linguistic similarity. In my own travels within and out of Cameroon,  I have come across certain cultures  which though they thrill me, they do not resonate well with me to   see my child wedded in them. In certain cultures the way women are treated distastes me to ever see my daughter wedded in them. In others, the concept of the husband is so different from mind in such a way I doubt if a son of mine given his up bringing within my own cultural interpretation can ‘survive’ in it. The inconvenient truth is that in our cultures, marriage is not just an issue between two individuals but it is more of a ritual which unites two extended family structures and everything that follows and brings with it.
  Sometimes parents preference for intra-tribal to inter-tribal marriage is in the fear of the unknown or simply to maintain their cultural identity which is fast being eroded by modernity.  I have heard people from the same village deny their child’s choice of spouse for reasons like: 
– Their grand parent was accused or a popular practitioner of witch-craft!
– Too many deaths in that family!
– Their men are polygamous and celebrated cheats!
– They chased us or seized our farmland!
– They’re uneducated, non-working treasure seekers.
 – We used to be one family with them before we separated due to this or that quarrel!
– You’re related to each other (your mother’s cousin’s sister’s nephew’s uncle’s niece’s step sister)
 – Their women are reputed for infidelity
– Their customs and traditions are too or not too strong as ours!
 – They are warlike in nature and character!…

Now an easy way out all depends on the agency of the two lovebirds in question. What can they do or should they do as individuals with full functioning faculties or do as adults according state law regarding the age of maturity? In the post-modern context, they’re supposed to subscribe them self to the family law definition of the state to which they are nationals. But again given our culturally conservative reality as Africans whereby the family is our social assurance, how do we go about it! It is far easier to singularly arrive at the decision to marry while living abroad despite parental disapproval to whomever one choses to marry in some cases, than to arrive at this same decision when living in Cameroon where there is the direct influence and access to family relations to ones private space and emotional decision.

Grand parents are not comfortable when they’re obliged to speak English or French to their grand children instead of their mother tongue. Given the strong matriarchal or patriarchal traditions that reign in most of our village origins, it means that in times of social activities such as funerals and marriage ceremonies the dynamics of rites and spacial distances ache many parents. As such the natural convenience is to stay within the ethnic group, the tribe, the clan or the village.
   In the diaspora, Cameroon though a nation of several ethnicities becomes a homogeneous sample pool from which children born and raised abroad by Cameroonian expatriates are encouraged to marry from, the prejudices we hear at the national level about certain ethnic stocks are here shifted to other African countries: such as Ethiopians, Zambians or Nigerians are this or that, meanwhile in Nigeria you also have sub-national ethno-linguistic groups. Not to mention the reactions some parents project when their child marries a non-African race – White or Asian. This is viewed as a typical worse case scenario for the culturally conservative. In a summary, the fears are no of a racists character but are more a matter of cultural insecurities towards unknown as well as known cultural attributes and expressions of others.

Even those who have defied parental sanctions and proceeded with purely a civil marriage still face the possibility of being ostracized by their families and communities as long as they didn’t perform a customary law marriage rite to seek the consent, appeasement and union of the bridal and groom families. Exceptions or tolerance only comes in when the points raised in objection to their marriage don’t materialize and in that situation there is a change of stance but still they must seek parental approval or do a traditional wedding, even if their children have become grown ups. More often, the fear of being disowned by ones own family is enough to obtain submission or bring to obedience of the family will, a love-crazed defiant person. However, this doesn’t rule out the known reality that there are exceptions and culturally liberal families. Tribalism might as well be the seed of nationhood just as it is the seed of national segregation, it is the default reality of many Cameroonians as expressed in their names, social associations, political parties and pressure groups, types of commercial activity and even in the configuration of the administrative and political hierarchy of the state.

Despite all these cultural judgments, ethnic fixations, prejudices and stereotypes, the fact is that as our rural communities become more urbanized and digitalized, our comfort zones of cultural sensitivities and securities are bound to be weathered and eroded so as to give way to new and liberal social codes of ethics as we strive towards a heterogeneous urban collective or common definition of nationhood. However, the dystopian reality is that all over the world, Africa and Cameroon, the greater majority of people still marry within their race, nationality, ethnic group and village of origin.


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