Feature Article of Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Columnist: Kumassah, Akushika

Our Tribal Prejudice, The Reason I Didn't Marry Him!

I met a dashing young man when I arrived in Kumasi to start a four year degree course at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. I would say fate played a hand in the way we met. He was the first person I met at the S.T.C yard when I got off my bus. I asked him where I could get a taxi to the University Campus and he offered to take me as he was heading there too. I couldn't accept a lift from a total stranger so I insisted that he showed me the taxi rank. He did and helped with my luggage.

I got to my hall of residence, settled down and went to look for something to eat and there he was again, sitting in the canteen having lunch. I waved at him, gave him a wink and went on to grab my lunch. A couple of days later, I went to my department for my first lecture and there he was again sitting right at the entrance of the lecture hall. He signalled me there was an empty chair by him, I went and sat by him and the rest is history. We hit it off from then on really and became very good friends.

Our friendship became so strong and intense we couldn't live without each other. I agreed to become his 'inte'(a term used for students in relation with fellow student on campus).We became the hottest couple on campus, inseparable. We would travel outside Kumasi for weekends just so we could spend some quality time together after a hectic academic work. He would put love songs on repeat and sing them back to me passionately with his croaky voice. My favourite one was always Keith Whitley's " When you say nothing at all". He didn't pretend to be a great singer, but he was my own Lionel Richie!

We travelled to Accra on one of such weekends and i took the opportunity to introduce him to my parents. My mother took to him straight away but my dad didn't seem interested after the normal questions about himself and his family background. I was curious to know what dad thought of him later. He said to me "You have no idea what you are getting into, the earlier you end it, the better for us all". I was shocked to hear my dad say that. I couldn't just understand why he would say that when he had only just met him!

I was head over heels in love with Naasei and to hear my dad say that was very hurtful. I turned to my mother and she said," It's probably because he's an Ashanti, but don't worry he'll get over it with time". "He is an Ashanti and so what? Does it matter?" I retorted. My father replied in Ewe "Ashantiawo me bu na mi Eweawo" meaning the Ashanti's do not respect us the Ewe's. I swear to God i would have walked out on him but for the respect i had for him. Up until that point, i didn't think that tribes of people in a loving relationship mattered.

I was born in Ghana, but left for England at the age of 9 with my family when my dad went for further studies. I had my primary and secondary education there. During my entire stay in England, i was exposed to a lot of different races and cultures, but not once did i experience racism or less tribalism. I had a very shielded life. I probably grew up in a bubble thinking we were all same but with differences. So it was shocking to hear my dad, a medical doctor of high repute, who had lived the better part of his years in England and very exposed, say that to me. I pressed upon him to tell me it was just a joke. But with a stern look he said to me "I didn't bring up a confident young lady to be looked down upon by anyone because of her tribe, I didn't give you private education in England to end up socialising with local chaps"! Wow, that is rich coming from you, a farmer's son, I thought to myself. I said to him " I hope you are not insinuating he is of a lower class, are you?" "AkuShika, you are being too naive, don't jump to a hasty conclusion, let's just wait and see what the future holds." he said.

I was determined to prove him wrong. I so much believed in the love we shared that I knew we could conquer every mountain that came our way. I didn't say a word to my Naasei about my dad's doubts and we continued our relationship as though nothing had happened. My dad never mentioned him again. My relationship almost became a taboo subject in our house. We couldn't talk about him when dad was present. Naasei made me very happy and that was all that mattered to me.

Even though he lived in Kumasi with his family, anytime I went home with him, he'd ask that I stay in the car whiles he quickly dashed in and out of his house like the speed of lightening. I assumed it might be due to his strict Christian upbringing, probably not wanting to upset his parents. I had however met his brothers and other close relations who occasionally visited him on campus.

Naasei loved me and literally worshipped the ground i stood on but when the question of when we were going home for lunch or dinner came up, he always found one convenient excuse or the other. I started getting worried when we got to our 4th year and he still hadn't taken me home. I said to him one morning after we had spent the night studying together, to take me home and properly introduce me to his parents if he was serious about me or i'll end it. A threat he didn't take lightly. He knew he could lose me so he decided that we go that weekend. I was so excited even though I didn't know what to expect. But just before we left for his house, he held my hand and gently squeezed it and said "Promise me AkuShika on your life that, you won't leave me regardless of whatever happens at my parent's house." I looked at him a bit confused and asked what was going to happen and why he would think that something out of the ordinary might happen.

His response was that his family was very inquisitorial, very skeptical of Ewe's and might pass funny comments, but I should just disregard it. "I love you too much to let anything come between us." He said. I thought to myself, "I haven't just heard you mention the 'T' word, or have i? God, please prove my dad wrong." So that explains why he hadn't taken me home till now! Poor soul, he didn't want them to ruin our relationship! I went through series of emotions i just couldn't explain. The joy of wanting to meet my prospective in-laws quickly disappeared and nerves took over. I put on a brave face and the journey to his house was the longest ever. We hardly spoke on the way and as hard as he tried to reassure me of his undying love, i just was hoping everything turns out well.

We got there in the end, I was given a really warm reception. The had prepared us lunch and we had a great time eating it.Then the conversation soon turned into an inquisition like he predicted. After the usual ' where do you come from', my parents occupation, etc ,His mum asked if my parents were Roman Catholics to which I answered "yes, you guessed right." She continued, "why do most Ayigbe people like the Roman Catholic Church? Is it because it allows them to practice their traditional 'ekpe le kpe dzi?" I just gave her a smile and put it down to ignorance. And then his dad chipped in "eih ayigbefuo di3 omu p3 n'duro Paa"! Meaning that the Ewe's like juju. From then on, they launched a tirade of attacks, misguided ones at that on Ewe's. I could see the embarrassment written all over my Naasei's face but he didn't say a word in defence or otherwise. After what seemed like a very long and humiliating night, we decided to head back to campus. He put the song "I'll stand by you" on repeat. The message he wanted to pass on to me was clear so I held his hand and assured him nothing will change. He whispered into my ears, "I love you so much, i wont let anybody hurt you! " "But you just did!", I thought to myself.

We were both determined to make the relationship work, I knew he was the ONE! Naasei infact was my Soulmate! But the harder i tried to ignore his families disrespect for my tribe and constant snidey comments the more unbearable it became! I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, but if we were ever going to get married, then I would have to learn to deal with such comments, but deep down in my heart,i knew I couldn't! I was just like a ticking bomb waiting to explode.

He confessed that he prior to his meeting me, had his own prejudices against Ewe's. He blamed it on misconception and ignorance and hoped that maybe just one day, his parents might see the 'light'.

Our relationship became stronger in the light of the difficulties, but after our final semester exams, I went as a matter of curtesy, to say Good-bye to his family . His mum wasn't home but his dad was. He wished me luck and said that he hoped that I find a man of my own tribe who would make me happy as my chances of ever marrying his son is nil! I felt the ground underneath me shook. I felt humiliated. His words hit me like lightening, it was as though someone had just ripped my heart out of my chest! That was the last straw. I couldn't take anymore.

I cried my eyes out on my way back to campus and the days after . Naasei felt helpless and could only apologise. He suggested we elope to the U.K and secretly get married, live there and be happy without any of his family's interference. It was the most absurd thing he had ever said. My family values were way too important to me to run to the U.K as though we were fugitives. But how wrong he was, only if he could read my mind he would have known that, the last straw had broken the camel's back and there was no turning back.

I left Kumasi for Accra a couple of days later and promised to see him on our graduation day which was a couple of months away. But as a matter of fact, my mind was made up. I had booked a one way ticket to The U.K never to return to Ghana. I didn't want my dad singing I told you so, I said to him things just didn't work out between Naasei and myself so am moving on. He was indifferent.

It has been 10years long years since I left Ghana. Naasei tried to contact me several times but i was determined not to let him. He has a way with words that always make me weak at the knee. My heart was broken and it took the better part of 5years to heal. I endured physical, emotional and psychological pain by the reason of the decision I took. If only Cheryl Cole had sang her song "fight for this love" a lot earlier, probably, I would have fought for my love!

I'm now married to an English man with two beautiful girls and he's married too, to an Ashanti. But I haven't at any point stopped loving him. From hindsight, I should have swallowed my pride/values and run away with him. I miss him so much every single day. His Facebook page is the first I go to anytime I log on. I look at his family photos and think, it should have been me and not her. My future with him was destroyed and a part of me taken away the day tribe became the deciding factor in my relationship.

I'm sure there are thousand of Ewe's married to Ashanti's with no problems whatsoever, but there might be others going through hell living in such unions. My story might be familiar or unfamiliar to theirs, but there are prejudices on tribal lines whether we admit or not. Tribalism is very real in Ghana, it hurts and destroys! I bet my dad preferred a foreigner to his own country man of a different tribe.

Just take a tour of some of the Ghanaian news websites and even the social networking sites and the commentaries on tribal issues are just shocking. The hostile language people use against each other's tribe is just appalling. Let us stop playing the ostrich, pretending there are no problems, we are all fine and good and yet in our closets secretly hating and abusing each other. Let's openly discuss what we think about one another's tribe, let's discuss our fears, conceptions and misconceptions. Keeping quiet about is not doing Ghana our mother land any favours. God bless us All! We are One Nation, One People!

P.S: Naasei, if you happen to read this, please know that I don't intend any harm!

Author: Akushika Kumassah

Email: akusaah@gmail.com