George Kinyera and Olive Uwamariya have been married for two years and seven months. Their life as a couple from different countries and cultures has been rosy and a typical story of … they lived happily ever after. Kinyera is an Acholi from Uganda, born and raised in Kenya, where as Uwamariya was born to Rwandan parents.
The two met through a friend who attended university with Uwamariya in Kenya and was also Kinyera’s neighbour in Nairobi.
“When I got a job here in 2010, I told a friend that I was relocating, he immediately told me that he knows someone he met at campus and she could show me around since I was new in town,” Kinyera says.
The friend introduced them to each other on Facebook and they started communicating.
However, when Kinyera finally got to Rwanda, they didn’t meet until four months later.
“We just chatted on Facebook but every time we made plans to meet, something always came up,” Uwamariya says.
But as fate would have it, they eventually met and started dating in 2011. Once they were sure that they wanted to be together, it was time to tell their parents. The love birds got the blessings of their parents.
“My family is very liberal. I just went and told them and that was the end of discussion. There was no discomfort or eyebrow raising questions. My mum actually told me that if it brings me happiness, then it’s fine,” Kinyera says.
For Uwamariya her family was a bit skeptical about the idea, but when they met Kinyera in person, they welcomed him and got comfortable with him.
At their wedding in 2012, people travelled from all over to attend. To them, they viewed this as cultures merging. The couple has one child.
Culture has been labeled one of the greatest marriage barriers since time immemorial. In traditional Africa, anyone who dared to marry outside their tribe was disowned by their kin.
In Rwanda, like most societies, elders have always urged the young generation to marry within their own cultural bounds for reasons ranging from preserving culture, gaining acceptance from society, overcoming language barriers and sustaining certain traditional norms.
However, all that is changing now. Rwanda is full of people who were raised from different backgrounds and have adopted various cultural norms.
But for Sandrine Kamahoro, things were anything but rosy.
Kamahoro studied at Strathmore University Nairobi for her undergraduate offering Computer Science. After spending almost four years there, Nairobi felt like home, and so the idea of finding a mate crossed her mind.
“I met someone and we started dating and to be honest, he made me feel special. As time went by, I felt like he was my soul mate. I graduated and had to come back home but we continued dating,” she recalls.
Kamahoro and her boyfriend, Felix Chitundu, didn’t let the distance get in-between their love.
“I got a good job here in Rwanda at a design company and my mother started hinting about marriage. Little did she know I was about to bring her a Kenyan man,” she says and adds, “The moment I told her, she almost fainted.”
Kamahoro’s mother swore never to let her first daughter get married to a foreigner, who even lived in another country.
“Marriage became a daily topic at our home and it made my life hard. My mother brought all kinds of relatives to talk me out of it. My grandmother didn’t approve of it but at the end of the day, they didn’t do much to change my mind. I loved Felix and he soon proposed,” she says.
Kamahoro did not reveal the battle with her family to Chitundu. She didn’t know how he would react if he found out what her family thought of their relationship and at some point, she felt like this was going to ruin her relationship.
“I remember bringing him to a family prayer day one time and everyone looked at me like I had committed a crime. The mood changed and everyone seemed to be sullen. Luckily, he didn’t notice but for me, it was a rude welcome,” she says.
Kamahoro’s family talked about how she was disrespecting them but she went ahead to stand by the love of her life.
Eventually, the introduction ceremony happened, even when Kamahoro was scared of getting into a marriage that her relatives didn’t approve.
“To be honest, my mother and I were really close. But I had to build my own life with the man I love. I know it isn’t normal in our culture to marry “an outsider” but it’s more about love,” she says.
The road was hard for Kamahoro and Chitundu, but challenges weren’t going to stand in their way.
“In my family, it wasn’t a big deal that I married a Rwandan lady. A man isn’t judged by the choices he makes concerning a wife, and elders are less concerned. But it’s a little different when it comes to the women in our culture; elders are also as protective,” Chitundu says.
Uwamariya says, “Society is slowly evolving to embrace diversity because of the history of our country and the development that is taking place amidst globalisation.”
“The different cultures have rubbed off on other people, so in a way it has become easy to mingle with people from other cultures. Secondly, as a country that’s developing, we have opened up our boarders to various people and so when they come to work, some of them end up marrying a Rwandan man or woman. Slowly, we are getting there,” she adds.
On whether it matters where someone is from before marrying them, Uwamariya says it’s a 50/50 situation. “On one side, it matters because some people are really staunch when it comes to their culture. Imagine someone from Saudi Arabia marrying another person with a Christian liberal background, they will definitely clash.”
Asked how they are raising the child since both parents come from different cultures, they say that they try to teach the child both cultures and will let her decide where she wants to belong when she grows up.
“For example, when Kella was born, Kinyera’s family suggested names for the baby and I didn’t know. But we later sat down and decided that however much their actions were in good faith, we were going to decide what to name our child. Our child has three names,” Uwamariya says.
Their child has one Kinyarwanda name, one Ugandan name and an English name. They have also taken her to visit the parent’s villages as a way of trying to get her used to different cultures when it’s still early.
The couple offered some advice to people who are planning to get married and are from different cultures.
Kinyera says, “People usually fear to lose their identity but that’s not true. You can intermarry and still maintain your culture. Secondly, it’s a good thing because it’s a process of learning different cultures; lastly one needs to know what they want.”
Uwamariya also agrees with her husband that both parties need to know what they want and are willing to work towards it.
“People need to understand that if you don’t build the relationship yourself, no one will. I would also like to add that when they face resistance from parents, they shouldn’t complain and shut them out. Try to understand them from their perspective, at times there might be some truth to what they are saying,” Uwamariya concludes.
83-year-old Dancilla Muhimpundu says there is already too much cultural erosion among the young generation.
“Young parents these days raise their children with very little concern for cultural preservation.
Language, norms and even manners have been lost. What will the Rwanda of tomorrow look like? If we already have this huge loss, how about if we have our children marry people from different cultures? We are losing our identity as Rwandans,” she says.
She goes ahead to say that intermarriages cause children to grow up not knowing what their culture really is; they grow up in a mixture of cultures, languages and behaviours and end up losing both, only to choose the western culture.
She urges young parents to appreciate the value of what our ancestors left for us and to nurture it, not break it.
Pastor Rosemary Happiness Uwase, the head of Divine Hope Church, says Christians don’t segregate when it comes to tribe but more when it comes to religion.
“In 2 Corinthians 6:14 says - Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? And that is the basis from which Christians are supposed to choose their partners,” Uwase says.
The pastor adds that there is no point in marrying someone of your tribe when you aren’t happy. There is more to marriage than having someone that your parents want for you.
Everyone is supposed to find the person God has planned for them, irrespective of tribe.
I support intermarriages as long as the parties concerned are willing to adjust to each other’s’ differences. Since they are from different backgrounds; there is always worry about which side or language their children will take up. But if it can be well settled, then intermarriages are a good option.
Intermarriage is difficult because people don’t share the same culture, language or religious beliefs. I find it somewhat impossible to have a common culture with all those differences in place. Such differences will always be a challenge to the marriage.
In this era, what matters most is love. People who love each other tend to put their differences aside and embrace the union. Love can conquer any impossibility that comes with cultural or racial differences.
Intermarriages give children cultural diversity. I support intermarriage since it helps you learn a lot of things about your partner’s background and you get to socialise with other people.
Intermarriages bring confusion to the children, especially when it comes to languages and religious beliefs. People from different backgrounds behave differently, thus it would be hard for the children to adapt to a certain religion or language and that’s the worst part. Children are left wondering which side to take.
The world has become a global village, today you might be here and tomorrow, in another country with people of a different race. So, intermarriage can be a good option since it lays the foundation for cultural diversity.
Compiled by Dennis Agaba