LOVE WITHOUT LANGUAGE was one movie in the early days of NOLLYWOOD that many people outrightly fell in love with. It featured Sandra Achums and Tarila Thompson, who had some nice Kung Fu in there too for his “detractors”, amongst the other mostly hilarious characters. The movie was about how the duo above managed to concoct a relationship even though neither spoke nor understood each others’ language, and it showed that love has the ability to transcend barriers, even that of language though towards the end, she learnt to speak English and that smoothened their relationship.

Nigeria is made up of scores of ethnic groups, and with that numerous languages, but gladly when it comes to a common language, English (or its bastardized/street form – the “Pidgin”) is the unifying factor, yet language (backed by ethnicity) remains a formidable barrier in contracting marriages between two lovebirds (who can speak the English and/or pidgin fluently, but share different mother tongues/languages) even before religion comes up for consideration. I have seen and heard even preachers in Christendom dissuade their parishioners from having as spouses, people of a different ethnic group and language, that’s beside sternly warning against marrying (being equally yoked with)people of a different religion (more so with the Islamic religion where it is worse than anathema for a female Muslim to marry a Christian man, though not vice versa).

Despite all the warnings, Nigerians of different ethnic groups and languages are meeting up and getting married, as many other people do elsewhere in the world, joined by a common language but separated by different mother tongues. The problem with the Nigerian situation however, of which I am familiar with (maybe so with other climes), is the stereotype that is held of one ethnic group by the other groups. These unsalutory stereotypes and prejudices are held so strongly that some parents would only allow their children marry as close to their (ancestral) home as possible, hence you will often hear parents question a prospective son-in-law about his roots, only getting comfortable when they know the parents or distraught when his name or roots don’t ring a bell to them, though many times, affluence on the part of the suitor also helps to smoothen the path for the one asking the hand of a girl in marriage (sometimes even vice versa, when a young man brings a much older but wealthy woman, even of another tribe or language, home to his parents as his intended).

Todays’ youths appear to have found a way to surmount these premarital hurdles, especially when the parents become desperate over the seeming lack of their children (mostly the females) to get hitched, and the latter blackmailing them with the choice of spouse as either him/her or nothing, and not wanting to throw away the chance of having their grandchild(-ren) eventually acquiesce to their demand. It is upon this kind of foundation (though not exclusively) that many intertribal/inter-language marriages are forged, with the belief that the love between the parties involved will see them through, as even marrying from the same ethnic group, ancestral hometown, similar languages and nuances is no guarantee that marriages will be spared the vagaries therein or eventual divorce.

The battle within the intertribal marriage thus contracted, makes the premarital challenges brought by tribal and language differences Childs play, because if opponents had sparred gloved before, they will now go ungloved and it will take a lot of grace, especially trust amongst the couple for the swim against the tide towards rest ‘pon the shore to be possible. This is because, if the couples are not careful their relationship may soon be akin to that between a cat and a dog,


as even the minutiae of challenges that couples should normally encounter is given heavy colouration when words get out to the families involved. Traditional African marriages involve not just the couples but even their families and many times the families play a very huge role in the survival or not of a marriage. The man or woman may find the mate the most wonderful human being in the world, only to discover well into married life, that s/he is a rose from concrete, or a diamond from dirt or the light shining out of the obscurity in the ones’ family of origin, not always necessarily because of status or financial standing in society, but as related to their way of life which may not be agreeable to the prospective son- or daughter-in-law. The one who ignores the need to take into cognizance the family s/he is about to become part of by marriage, just because of the love s/he has for the fiancé/e does so at his/her peril as more often than not the family present in their crudest form once the honeymoon is over, and it will take tact especially for the one that was adequately prepared to navigate the landmines from that part, should the in-laws’ constitute any during the life of the marriage.

In our day, where the world is a global village, travelling far from view of family avails nothing, without cutting off electronic communications by phone, social media and other means of communications these days. As long as vestiges of these remain, and contact maintained continually, the tendency that families on both sides would like to know about the welfare of their ward in the marriage, to ensure that s/he isn’t getting the short end of the stick in the marriage is ever present. Unfortunately, for intertribal marriages where there are native language differences, though the language of communication may be the one the couples share, like English, it is not unusual that when either of the couples speak with relatives, they will converse in the native tongue. And situations where either of them speak with such a relative (like the mother) for several minutes, with exclamations, sadness, laughter and other forms of emotions expressed during the duration of the call, only to tell the spouse that “Mama sends her greetings”, without as much as hinting at even the minutest of what they might have discussed could spark off some suspicion from the one that has been so blindsided, especially if the relationship that the one has with the in-laws is frosty, superficial or even mildly put, just platonic.

Some suspicious spouses go ahead to make notes of certain words they heard during conversations like that made in the native tongue, then go meet other people who speak similar languages at work for instance, to find meanings into the words they heard in relation to words that describe the husband or wife, as the case may be, without necessarily understanding the context in which these words had been used. Sometimes, these families may have sinister motives, though their thoughts in following these up may be in their attempt to protect their own from situations they had either experienced (the basis of their prejudice and stereotypes in the first place) or heard about others in similar situations, interpreting even “innocent” actions (like the husband/wife frequenting his/her village often, alone) taken by the in-law as confirmation of what they’ve always thought, feared and known of the people from where s/he comes, and helping their ward engage the spouse sometimes in ways that aren’t always non-violent and non-confrontational, to nip in the bud that activity (to ensure that he doesn’t go have another family in his village, which he doesn’t want his wife to know about, or the wife building a house for her parents in the village at the expense of the family finances, especially in patriarchal families in Africa, where even if the man earns more than the woman the man is under some kind of unwritten obligations to provide for her every needs, while at the same time catering to the family he’s made with her, his, as well as her relatives for which he can then be considered a good man).

As before the wedding when members of families of the parties involved in marriage go to find information about the other party and his/her family, afterwards the pack can be unleashed upon a spouse that is suspected of philandering or cheating in the marriage, and the ones with a large and expansive network of cousins scattered even across the country can bring this to bear should there arise a reason for suspicion, sometimes even when there is none. You could tell the part of the couple that will most intently carry out such a thing with the number of family members that grace the occasion of the wedding, most times not out of having nowhere else to be on the wedding day, but because it is good for family members to see their in-law, take pictures with same and even demand a copy, for as they say in local pidgin parlance, “in case of incasity”, as they may be required as spies tomorrow if the occasion demands it. The large numbers too may just also be an INTIMIDATION TACTIC especially when it comes from the female side to impress upon the man the fact that their daughter couldn’t be a punching bag in their home. My attention was a few months back drawn to the issue of a man whose in-laws had come to give him the beating of his life because in his anger at his wife a few days before, he had raised his hands against his wife, whose mother on learning of this subsequently mobilized macho members of her family to teach the man what happens to any one (husband or not) who attempts to create spots or scars on the body of her hitherto spotless fair pulchritude.

No one needs to be told that marriage isn’t a bed of roses, many who are in it presently wish to be rid of it while the many outside of it are filled with longing for it. It is difficult for members of families related by blood to get along talk more people from different families, cultures, traditions, then languages, but this institution (regardless of whatever definition and colouration it now bears) preceded us, is now and will most likely outlast us all, and if people have managed to make it work, there’s no reason why ours shouldn’t work, however in a world where divorce is gradually ceasing to be taboo, and even frequently abused, it has become pertinent that those intending to walk that path do the utmost needful to ensure that they stay within it, paying less attention to the distractions but rather rekindling the fire of the love they share and emphasizing on a frequent basis the things that unite them over that which divide them. The language that should subsist in marriage beyond even love should be TRUST, and some will say if there truly was, and there is still love, then trust is sure to be somewhere in the detail.




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