The Role Culture Plays In Multicultural/Interracial Relationships: Africa

African People Collage 1A few weeks ago we received a request from a Caucasian American woman about her marriage to an African man. In her email, she complained about how her husband wasn’t helping her with household chores because he felt it wasn’t a man’s job. She was beyond frustrated and was even contemplating divorce.

As beautiful and wonderful as a multicultural/interracial relationship is, it isn’t always as rosy as it may seem from the outside. From the realization that different cultures and upbringing can affect how a couple interact with one another, to realizing how majorly different we are, based on the country we grow up in, the happily ever after effect can soon turn into a nightmare.

Language, lifestyle, idioms, thought process are largely influenced by culture and/or religion. The term culture refers to a state of intellectual development or manners; social and political forces that influence the growth of a human being are also defined as culture.

While no one stops to consider these factors while falling in love (understandably so), it can either solidify the relationship or break it apart. We analyzed how the Asian culture compares to that of the Western world in our last edition, and this time we are analyzing the African culture:

African Culture

African People Collage 2With over 1 billion people, the African continent is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent. It accounts for about 14.72% of the world’s human population.

Divided into more natural geographic and cultural sub regions to include Central , East , South , North and West. Africa is not a distinct continent; culturally, there has been little unity or common history for many of the cultures and people of Africa.

Music, cuisine and the history of billions of people across the world are influenced by their African origin. Although Western philosophy and religion also plays a major role, with  45% of the population Christians, 40% Muslims and less than 15% of the traditional African religions faith, Africa is one of the few continents that is heavily culture-based.

The African culture has influenced the Western culture more than any other culture as a result of slavery!

Africa can be divided into five main areas: South Africa, East Asia, West Africa, North Africa and Central Africa:

EAST AFRICA:

  • East Africa consists of: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi – comprise the African Great Lakes region and are members of the East African Community (EAC). Burundi and Rwanda are sometimes considered part of Central Africa.
  • Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia – collectively known as the Horn of Africa.
  • Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles are small island nations in the Indian Ocean
  • Réunion and Mayotte are French overseas territories also in the Indian Ocean.

CENTRAL AFRICA:

NORTH AFRICA:

  • Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara are all countries located in North Africa. Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and often Mauritania are the Maghreb or Maghrib,
  • Egypt and Sudan are referred to as Nile Valley. Egypt is a transcontinental country by virtue of the Sinai Peninsula, which is in Asia.

SOUTH AFRICA:

  • Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are all South African countries.
  • Madagascar has close cultural ties to Southeast Asia and the islands of the Indian Ocean.
  • Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe are countries currently included in Southern Africa, but were formerly of the Central African Federation.

WEST AFRICA:

  • Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Canary Islands.
  • West Africa played a major role  during slavery, nearly one-third of its population were enslaved. A bulk of that trade occurred between nations such as the Ashanti of Ghana and the Yoruba of Nigeria.
  • The Portuguese arrived in modern-day Ghana in 1471, the first Europeans to explore the land. Though they were searching for a sea route to the Far East, the explorers began building forts along the coast and trading with inland tribes for their gold. By 1600, the Dutch and English began exploring Ghana.
  • One hundred years later, the Germans and Danes also built forts—all hoping for ivory and gold. In return, explorers brought rum, cotton, cloth, beads, and weapons to the tribesmen. Eventually the Europeans forcefully captured Ghanaians as slaves.

Ghana

The People

Ghanians come from six main ethnic groups:

  • The Akan (Ashanti and Fanti)
  • The Ewe
  • The Ga-Adangbe
  • The Mole-Dagbani
  • The Guan
  • The Gurma

Ashanti Tribe
The Ashanti tribe of the Akan are the largest tribe in Ghana and one of the few matrilineal societies in West Africa. Once renowned for its splendor and wealth of its rulers, it is most famous today for its craft work, particularly hand-carved stools and fertility dolls and the ever popular colorful kente cloth.

Western Culture

Notice how Africa is still divided into tribes. A country may have anywhere from 12 -200 tribes depending on its size. Developed countries don’t have a culture of tribes, rather each country is united by language and tradition(s).

If you’ve ever wondered why so many of the African people you know don’t all share the same language or tradtion/culture, this is why. Each tribe has its own unique language and tradition.

Clothing

Kente cloth was typically worn in the southern half of the country and reserved mainly for joyous occasions and festivals. Today they are not only used for festive occasions but also during the rituals associated with the important events of life; for example, marriage, death, and religious worship.

Kente cloth is woven in bright, narrow strips with complex patterns; it’s usually made from cotton and is always woven outdoors, exclusively by men. They also weave kente cloth, and their more geometrical patterns contain symbolic designs handed down through the ages.

Western Culture

Kente is to Ghanians what an evening gown is to a Westerner. The tradition of setting aside certain clothing type or styles has long been a part of society.

Lifestyle

African People Collage 3The village is a social as well as an economic unit. Everyone participates in the major ceremonies, the most frequent of which are funeral celebrations which typically last several days. Attendance at funerals is normally expected from everyone in the village and expenditure on funerals is a substantial part of the household budget.

The Ashantis are noted for their expertise in a variety of specialized crafts. These include weaving, wood carving, ceramics, and metallurgy. Of these crafts, only pottery making is primarily a female activity; the others are restricted to male specialists. Even in the case of pottery-making, only men are allowed to fashion pots or pipes representing anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures.

Traditions

The Ewé have over 600 deities to turn to, in times of need. Many village celebrations and ceremonies take place in honor of one or more deities. The Ewe occupy southeastern Ghana and the southern parts of neighboring Togo and Benin. Most Ewe were farmers who kept livestock, while other specialized in craft.

Cuisine

Ghanaians enjoy a rather simple, but flavorful cuisine. The majority of meals consist of thick, well-seasoned stews, usually accompanied by such staple foods as rice or boiled yams. Stews come in a variety of flavors, the most popular being okra, fish, bean leaf (or other greens), forowe (a fishy tomato stew), plava sauce (spinach stew with either fish or chicken), and groundnut (peanut), one of the country’s national dishes.

Many spices are used to prepare stews and other popular dishes. Cayenne, allspice, curry, ginger, garlic, onions, and chili peppers are the most widely used seasonings. Onions and chili peppers (along with tomatoes, palm nuts, and broth) help to make up the basis for most stews.

Certain foods that make up the Ghanaian diet vary according to which region of the country people live in. In the north, millet (a type of grain), yams, and corn are eaten most frequently, while the south and west enjoy plantains (similar to bananas), cassava, and cocoyams (a root vegetable).

The people of the dry southeastern region eat mostly corn and cassava. Rice is a staple throughout most of the country. Jollof rice , a spicy dish that includes tomato sauce and meat, is enjoyed by most of the population. Pito, a fermented beverage made from sorghum (a type of grain), is a popular drink in the north, while those living in the south prefer palm wine.

Western Culture

West African culture plays a major role in Hispanic, Caribbean, African-American and South American cuisine. Elements of cooking methods brought over by slaves are still utilized in cooking in a wide variety of dishes to date.

LESSON: It’s important in any multicultural/interracial relationship to always be sensitive to your partner’s background and culture. Keep in mind that the foods they are accustomed to, and culture are different from that of the West!

Yet as different as they may seem, there will always be similarities!

The Fanti Tribe

The Fanti tribe are mainly located in the coastal areas of Ghana. Fishing is an important profession among the Fanti tribe, and local variations in economic activities permits a great deal of trade between one community and another, carried out chiefly by women of the Fanti Tribe.

The Ga-Adangbe Tribe

The Ga-Adangbe people inhabit the Accra plains. The Adangbe are found to the East, the Ga groups to the West of the Accra coastlands. Although both languages are derived from a common proto Ga-Adangbe ancestral language, modern Ga and Adangbe are mutually unintelligible.

The modern Adangbe include the people of Shai, La, Ningo, Kpone, Osudoku, Krobo, Gbugble, and Ada, who speak different dialects. The Ga also include the Ga-Mashie groups occupying neighborhoods in the central part of Accra, and other Ga speakers who migrated from Akwamu, Anecho in Togo, Akwapim, and surrounding areas.

The Gaun Tribe
The Guan are believed to have begun to migrate from the Mossi region of modern Burkina around A.D. 1000. Moving gradually through the Volta valley in a southerly direction, they created settlements along the Black Volta, throughout the Afram Plains, in the Volta Gorge, and in the Akwapim Hills before moving farther south onto the coastal plains.

Some scholars speculate that the wide distribution of the Guan suggests that they were the Neolithic population of the region. Later migrations by other groups such as the Akan, Ewe, and Ga-Adangbe into Guan-settled areas would then have led to the development of Guan-speaking enclaves along the Volta and within the coastal plains.

Ghanian languages

The major languages spoken are Twi, Fante, Ga, Hausa, Dagbani, Ewe and Nzema. English is the official language of Ghana.

The Ashante are part of the Akan tribes who speak various dialects of Twi. The language is very rich in proverbs, the use of which is taken to be a sign of wisdom. Euphemisms are very common, especially about events connected with death.

Festivals

Ghana is a country that celebrates various festivals. There are several rites and rituals that are performed throughout the year in various parts of the country. They cover the right of passage child-birth, puberty, marriage and death. To the majority of people, these celebrations provide all that is satisfying to their communities and families.

Many festivals include thrilling durbars of chiefs, when tribal leaders and Queen Mothers process in decorated palanquins, shaded by the traditional umbrellas, and supported by drummers and warriors discharging ancient muskets.

Panafest
This festival is held every summer. It celebrates the Ghanaian origin. People from other African countries as well as the African-Americans with roots in Ghana visit the country and celebrate their heritage.

The Homowo Festival
The word “Homowo” actually means ‘making fun of hunger.’ Ghanian traditional oral history describes a time long ago when the rain stopped and the sea closed its gates.

A deadly famine spread throughout the southern Accra plains, the home of the Ga people. When the harvest finally arrived and food became plentiful, the people were so happy that they celebrated with a festival that ridiculed hunger.

Western Culture

Festivals and celebrations are an integral part of human existence. A lot of African festivals are in existence in countries like Brazil, Puerto Rico, Guyana, Jamaica, with  a few African-American still celebrating these festival in remembrance of their heritage.

LESSON: Who we are, where we come from is always evident in the things that play a major role in our lives. In your multicultural or interracial relationship, it’s important to be flexible. Fusing new with old, east with west is a great way to start a new tradition.

Kenya

The people of Kenya

Kenya is a multi-racial society, the majority of people comprise of native ethnic groups. The rest of the population are Asians, Arabs, and Europeans.

There are currently more than 40 different ethnic group in Kenya. The main groups of tribes are the Bantu who migrated from western Africa, the Nilotic people who originated from Sudan and the Hamitic group, who were mainly pastoral tribes from Ethiopia and Somalia. The other large ethnic groups include the Luo, Luhya, Kamba and Kalenjin. There is also the El Molo tribe, who form a very small population.

The main tribes are:

  • Kikuyu (21%)
  • Meru (5%)
  • Kalenjin
  • Luyha
  • Luo (14%)
  • Kisii
  • Kamba
  • Swahili
  • Masai
  • Turkana

The Kikuyu People

The Kikuyu are Bantu and actually came into Kenya during the Bantu migration. They include some families from all the surrounding people and can be identified with the Kamba, the Meru, the Embu and the Chuka.

Bantu refers to Swahili-speaking people.

Western Culture

Swahili is very popular in Western countries, and made reference to in a lot of movies and songs.  For instance, there are some Swahili references in Disney’s cartoon ‘The Lion King’. “Simba”, the main hero in the animation film, means lion, and is related to the word for “lion” in the Sanskrit language.

“Rafiki”, another word in Swahili, means “friend”, whereas the famous song “Hakuna Matata” means “No worries for the rest of our days”.

In the sequel of Lion King, most characters have Swahili names, for example Simba’s adopted son, which is named “Kovu”, meaning “scar” in the Swahili language.

There is this very beautiful and happy song, called “Baba Yetu” in Lion King, which means “Our Father”, and is in fact, the Lord’s Prayer translated in Swahili:

“Baba yetu yetu uliye (Our Father, Jesus, who art)/mbinguni yetu, Amina! (in the heavens, amin!)/baba yetu yetu uliye/Jina lako milele litukuzwe (Hallowed be thy name)/Utupe leo chakula chetu tunachohitaji (Give us our daily bread)/Utusuhamele (forgive us of)/makosa yetu, hey! (our trespasses)/kana nasi tunavy owasamele (as we forgive others)/waliotukoseo (who trespass us)/Usitutie katika majaribu lakini (Lead us not into temptation)/ Utuokoe (But)/ na yule (deliver us from evil)/milele na yule (and you are forever and ever)”.

The Kikuyu tribe was originally founded by a man named Gikuyu. Kikuyu history tells of a Kikuyu God, Ngai, who took Gikuyu to the top of Kirinyaga and told him to stay and build his home there and gave him his, Mumbi. Together, Mumbi and Gikuyu had nine daughters.

There was actually a tenth daughter but the Kikuyu considered it to be bad luck to say the number ten. When counting they used to say “full nine” instead of ten. It was from the nine daughters that the nine (occasionally a tenth) Kikuyu clans: Achera, Agachiku, Airimu, Ambui, Angare, Anjiru, Angui, Aithaga, and Aitherandu were formed.

The Maasai Tribe
Found mainly in Southern Kenya, the Massai believed that their rain God Ngai granted all cattle to them for safe keeping when the earth and sky split. The Massai worship cattle because it is their main source of economic survival as opposed to education.

Many Massai believed that education was not important for the herdsman to search for green grass to feed the cows. The Massai have not strayed far from their traditional ways of life. Farming for the trading of crops such as corn and vegetable is still a main source of income by some Massai. But the rejecting of a cash economy and refusing to settle or become farmers has made life difficult and harsh for some Maasai people.

The Massai prefer to remain nomadic herdsmen, moving as the needs necessitate. This is becoming more difficult in modern times as their open plain disappear. In the drier regions of the north, the Maasai survive on a diet of cow’s blood and milk, which they mix together and drink.

The Samburu Tribe
The Samburu are related to the Masai although they live just above the equator where the foothills of Mount Kenya merge into the northern desert. They are semi-nomadic pastoralists whose lives revolve around their cows, sheep, goats, and camels. Milk is their main diet, which is sometimes mixed with blood.

Meat is only eaten on special occasions. Generally they make soups from roots and barks and eat vegetables if living in an area where they can be grown.

Western Culture 

The influence of Swahili in the Western culture is endless:

Michael Jackson’s single called “Liberian Girl”, for instance, has an intro in Swahili: “Nakupenda pia, nakutaka pia, mpenzi wee!” meaning “I love you too, and I want you too, you my love!” The actor Gene Roddenberry played the character “Lieutenant Uhura” in Star Trek, and this name translated from Swahili means “freedom”.

Another TV series  that references Swahili is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, where, in season 7, the first watchers would speak the Swahili language. The character from The Simpsons animated series named Smithers can speak Swahili. And Marge also once bluffs on her resume, saying she speaks this exotic tongue.

LESSON: As much as slave masters influenced Africans during the slavery and colonization era, Africans too have influenced the Western culture in more ways that we would like to admit.

Swahili is spoken by more than 100 million Africans and as depicted above, has found its way into mainstream Western entertainment. The power of influence we have over one another is limitless!

Clothing

Most Samburu people dress in very traditional clothing of bright red material used like a skirt and multi-beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings, especially when living away from big cities.

The Turkana Tribe
The Turkana are the second largest group of nomadic pastoralists in Kenya who live in nothern Kenya. Numbering over 200,000, they occupy a rectangular area bordered by Lake Turkana in northern Kenya and Ethiopia on the east, Uganda on the west, Sudan on the north.

Traditional dress and ornaments is of vital importance to a Turkana man or women. Young Turkana women and warriors place great emphasis on adornment. Their neck is hidden by brightly colored beads, even the most simple and ordinary in western eye is greatly sought after as an ornament to increase their charm.

Western Culture

Is it safe to say that accessorizing started in African in ancient times? The adornment of precious gems around a wealthy individual has long been practice in African and is a custom that all rich and poor engage in today in the Western world.

LESSON: The next time you feel like someone of another race or culture is weird, think about how their ancient culture/tradition may have influence in your culture or society.

Kenyan languages

The Kenyan official language is English although Swahili is spoken countrywide. Both languages are taught throughout the country. It’s extremely useful for foreign visitors to have a working knowledge of Swahili, especially outside the urban areas and in remote parts of the country.

Kenyan Cuisine

When the Portuguese arrived in 1496 on the coast of Kenya, they introduced foods from newly discovered Brazil. Maize, bananas, pineapple, chilies, peppers, sweet potatoes, and cassava were brought in and became local staples. The Portuguese also brought oranges, lemons, and limes from China and India, as well as pigs.

When the British imported thousands of Indians for labor, they introduced curries (spicy dishes made with curry spice), chapattis (a flat, disk-shaped bread made of wheat flour, water, and salt) and chutneys (a relish made of spices, herbs, and/or fruit) which have become a staple for Kenyans of today.

Traditional Kenyan foods reflect the many different lifestyles of the various groups in the country. Most Kenyan dishes are filling and inexpensive to make. Staple foods consist mainly of corn, maize, potatoes, and beans. Ugali (a porridge made of maize) and meat are typically eaten inland, while the coastal peoples eat a more varied diet.

The Maasai, cattle-herding peoples who live in Kenya and Tanzania, eat simple foods, relying on cow and goat by-products (such as the animal’s meat and milk). The Maasai do not eat any wild game or fish, depending only on the livestock they raise for food.

The Kikuyu and Gikuyu grow corn, beans, potatoes, and greens. They mash all of these vegetables together to make irio . They roll irio into balls and dip them into meat or vegetable stews. In western Kenya, the people living near Lake Victoria (the second-largest freshwater lake in the world) mainly prepare fish stews, vegetable dishes, and rice.

Western Culture

Kenyan cuisine is heavily influenced by Indian cuisine, as a result, their food is more accepted in  Western countries than other African foods since Indian cuisine is a staple in developed countries. Again, this is another example of how one culture has influenced another.

Senegal

The Senegalese People

The Senegalese population in 2002 was estimated at about 9,8 million, of which a quarter live in the capital city of Dakar. Interestingly enough, eastern Senegal was once part of the Empire of Ghana.  The country’s population is divided into twelve ethnic groups, each with its own customs and dialect.

The largest single ethnic group is the Wolof, who make up over one-third of the population. Although Senegalese is made up of twelve tribes/ethnic groups, only ten are listed below:

  1. The Wolofs, are the most represented (35%), they make up the majority in all the regions, especially in the center, north and the coast of Dakar and Saint Louis.
  2. The Fulani tribe make up nearly 25% of the country’s population.
  3. The Pulaar (20%) consist of the Foulbes, Peuls and Toucouleurs in northern Senegal.
  4. The Lebous established fishing communities in the peninsula of Cap-Vert and in Saint Louis are related.
  5. The Fouta Toro, historical source for the propagation of Islam in Senegal, make up the cultural birthplace. They are very active in the commercial domain and are forerunners in breeding and irrigated farming. They populate the Senegalese river valley and the Ferlo region.
  6. The Sereres (17%) are less scattered out than the other ethnic groups. They can be found in the Sine-Saloum, along the Small Coast, in the centre of countries and north-west of the Gambia. The majority are Muslim, except for those along the Small Coast.
  7. The Diolas (10%) can be found in the Casamance, but also in Gambia and the Guinea-Bissau. They form the majority animist and/or Christians in the basse Casamance region (Ziguinchor, Oussouye, Cap Skiring), and musulmans in the north and east.
  8. The Mandingues tribe make up most of Eastern Senegal.
  9. The Soninkes tribe are located in the east of the country and in the zones adjacent to Mali and Mauritania.
  10. The Bassari tribe live along the Guinea border and the limit of the Niokolo-Koba national park. They live mainly by the culture of corn millet and hunting.

Senegalese languages

Although French is the official language, it is spoken only by an educated minority. Wolof has become a lingua franca in towns, markets, schools, and interethnic marriages. Wolof is the second most spoken language in Senegal, followed by Pulaar, Diola and Mandingo.

Western Influence

Although a former colony of France, Senegal still struggles with its identity. A lot of their culture is dependent on religion as the French stripped off a lot of their native traditions. Although separated from the rest of West Africa as a result of language and their French identity, Senegal and its neighbor Gambia share a unique bond.

Religion

90% of the people identify themselves as Muslims and are affiliated with one of the three principal brotherhoods: the Mourides, the Tijaniyya, or the Qadiriyya.

Each brotherhood is distinguished by slight differences in rituals and codes of conduct. Each year, wealthy and middle-class people make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Despite the small size of the Catholic community (approximately 5 percent of the population), Senegal has produced one of black Africa’s few cardinals.

Aspects of traditional religion are fused with Islam or Christianity. Many urbanized people still regard their ancestors as important spiritual leaders of everyday life, although Allah or God is worshiped formally.

Etiquette

The day starts with greetings. Young men often shake hands, and young women curtsy and often bend down slightly on one knee to greet their elders. Foul language is not tolerated in public, and people usually resort to communication or “dialogue” to diffuse hostility and aggressiveness.

People employ Kal, an institutionalized joking relationship that permits individuals within extended families, caste groups, and ethnic groups to exchange blunt comments when they meet even if they do not know one another.

Comments frequently focus on eating habits, cleanliness, and intelligence. A person’s social rating often is linked to how well he or she respects community values such as Jom (dignity or self-respect) and Ham-sa-bop (self-knowledge).

LESSON: The Senegalese people identify themselves by their religion. There are not too many differences between culture and religion for them, as a result intercultural or interracial marriages are slightly stiff in that part of Africa. 

If you are a Westerner in a relationship with a Senegalese, Gambian, Malian, Guinean, Sudanese, Ivorian, Gabonese, be prepared to face a few challenges. 

Traditions

The position of women in most ethnic groups is one of dependence: husbands, fathers, brothers, and uncles all have rights over women and much of what they produce.

In rural areas, parents often arrange marriages for their children. A young man may want a young woman, but his father ultimately decides whether she is suitable. A go-between often is appointed to investigate the woman’s family background. If the father finds the family satisfactory, he sends the go-between to deliver kola nuts to the woman’s parents.

The parents accept the kola nuts if they approve of the young man. In matrilineal ethnic groups such as the Wolof, the mother’s brother is sent on behalf of the groom to ask for the bride’s hand. Along with kola nuts, dowry is paid.

Gifts such as a television set, a sewing machine, jewelry, and fashionable clothes are required from the groom. In Muslim families, most marriages are conducted at the mosque by the imam  or religious leader. Then a civil marriage takes place at city hall or the family court.

Despite constitutional protections, women face extensive societal discrimination, especially in rural areas, where Islamic and traditional customs, including polygamy and Islamic rules of inheritance, are strong and women generally are confined to traditional roles.

About half of all women live in polygamous unions. It is estimated that only 20% of women are engaged in paid employment. Due to the fact that men are legally considered heads of the household, women pay higher taxes than men and employers pay child allowances to men and not to women.

LESSON: Reference above lesson.

Lifestyle

Although predominantly Muslim, Senegal is a tolerant secular state, whose peoples have lived together peacefully for several generations and have intermingled to some extent. Islam is a potential unifying factor. Farmers and merchants of Muslim faith play an important role in the nations economy.

The spread of education and increased economic opportunity have modified a traditional social structure based on kinship, but the majority of the people adhere to the traditional values of:

  • Kersa (respect for others)
  • Tegin (good manners)
  • Terranga (hospitality)

Senegalese Cuisine

Senegalese cuisine is made up of an amalgam of influences, from local Wolof culinary traditions to the cuisine of Morocco and cooking of former French colonizers. Many dishes that originated in Senegal have become mainstays throughout West Africa.

As a legacy of French rule, most Senegalese start their day with bread. In the capital, Dakar, there are also croissants and pastries for breakfast. Main meals often consist of rice dishes. Couscous and millet also form the basis of many dishes, with protein provided by meat, peanuts or fish.

The favorite national dish is thiéboudienne, chunks of fish stuffed with herbs, served on a bed of rice and vegetables. Another popular meal is yassa poulet (grilled chicken marinated in an onion and lemon sauce).

One of the most common drinks is bissap, which is made from hibiscus, sugar and water. Ginger juice (gingembre in French) is also popular, as is bouyi, a thick sugary drink made from the fruit of the baobab.

Western Influence

The influence of French food in Senegal is unmistakable, yet Senegalese food has a quality of its own, with dishes from many other parts of the world and other parts of Africa incorporated into the cuisine. Rice is the main starch, with the Couscous of northern Africa also being a great favorite.

Clothing

Although Senegalese clothing varies depending on the occasion, the grand boubou is usually decorated with intricate embroidery, and is worn on special religious or ceremonial occasions, for example the two Islamic Eid festivals, weddings, funerals or for attending the Mosque for Friday prayer.

It has become the formal attire for many countries in West Africa. Older robes have become family heirlooms passed on from father to son and are worn as status symbols.

The Boubou has female versions in Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and many other West African countries. There is also the alternative female formal version of the boubou called the wrapper. Boubous are usually completed with a red Fez hat, a grass hat, or a decorated woven cotton one, and leather sandals.

The grand boubou as a full formal attire consists of 3 pieces of clothing: a pair of tie-up trousers that narrow towards the ankles (known as a sokoto pronounced “shokoto” in Yoruba) and a long-sleeved shirt (known as a Dashiki in Yoruba) and a wide, open-stitched sleeveless gown worn over these.

They are generally of the same color, and historically were made from silk, but increased understanding of Islamic restrictions on clothing meant the grand boubou is now mostly made from cotton and synthetic cloths made to resemble silk.

Historically the grand boubou was historically worn by Chiefs of the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, the Dagomba tribe of Ghana, the Mandinka tribe of Gambia, the Susu tribe of Guinea and the Temnes tribe of Sierra Leone, however in modern times, it is worn widely by most West African countries.

NOTE: Of all countries in West Africa, Senegal is noted for its intricate embroidery work that has been adopted by a lot of West African countries and other countries in Africa. 

Senegal will forever rule as the founder of embroidery and boubou (men), kaftan (women).

GENERAL LESSONS:

If you are a Western wo/man you can see from the few countries we’ve examined how different each country is and how they’ve been molded and shaped by culture.

If you were to go into a relationship with someone from any of these countries it would be unrealistic to expect them to forego their culture and/or religion or adapt to the Western culture within a short amount of time. The Western culture does not place too much value on issues such as clothing, religion and traditions.

Be mindful that each relationship is unique as is each individual, so it can be self-defeating to look for some formula, but even so, the same stuff that makes into happy marriages between people of shared backgrounds also makes into marriages between people of different cultural backgrounds.

A marriage is an arrangement between two individuals, and not two groups of people.

It is often said the first few years of a marriage are often the toughest. People used to thinking just of themselves now find themselves having to think about some other person as well. Bye bye vagabond existence.

It is almost like going to college and suddenly finding, lo, you have a roommate. You have to recognize someone else exists around you. Maybe the roommate example is bad, since you do choose your marriage partner, and you are head over heels into him/her, but living together does bring in many factors not accounted for before.

People are prone to misunderstand each other. It is hard enough to maintain understandings when people actually are talking to each other, making efforts to explain themselves, taking the time to listen and ask questions so as to seek clarifications.

Communication is a tough job. We spend entire lifetimes trying to explain ourselves, understand those others around us, trying to communicate. So imagine the magnitude of misunderstandings when the communication channels are not kept open.

The very fact that a relationship is about two people as opposed to one person ensures differences will exist, starting from the differences in opinion going all the way to differences in backgrounds. And, to my mind, the healthiest ways to respect them would be to actively celebrate them.

Festivals would work great for someone like me, but plenty of personal customizations can be made. To tolerate might is not enough, to accept might be okay but still not enough. To celebrate and join in the festivities is the way to go.

When I look at my identity, at who I am, at the cultural heritages I relate to, I am happier for all that “wealth.” No amount of college courses can fill in where childhood memories occupy the shelf of identity.

That makes me think children of cross-cultural marriages would be doubly and many times over blessed and they would have more of that heritage to draw from. Bring enough of them together and the very term inter-racial marriage will look archaic to them, the way we resort to the phrase African Americans and think the term “Negro” to be rather historical and not contemporary.

Many couples that are of different culture and race from each other have the same questions as you do. To help understand common challenges that multicultural relationships face and tips for making multicultural relationships work,

Read this interview with psychologist Darryl L. Townes, Ph.D.:

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

“I have a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Louisville, completed my postdoctoral fellowship in Clinical Psychology at the University of Georgia, and completed a postdoctoral Master of Science in Clinical Psychopharmacology from Fairleigh Dickinson University.”

“I am a licensed psychologist practicing in Georgia and currently pursuing prescriptive authority and licensure in Louisiana. My area of research is in multicultural counseling, especially with regard to Black ‘” White counseling relationships, racial identity, and cultural mistrust.”

What are common challenges that multicultural relationships face?

“I find that multicultural relationships mostly face challenges that are external to the relationship, especially when issues of race are concerned. Prejudice attitudes, discrimination, and racism from the dominant culture, their community, and their families can be particularly challenging, especially if there are historical conflicts between the two cultural groups.”

“Racism, discrimination and prejudice are very different; racism comes from the dominant culture and group downward in one direction only, prejudice beliefs and discriminatory acts can come from all directions, even from your own culture or racial group.”

“The couple can face issues where each individual wants to raise their children the same ways they were raised, which could amplify cultural differences. The same would apply to issues of religion. If the individuals are of different faiths, especially those who have historically opposed each other or that have strong contrast in beliefs systems, then overcoming these challenges may require one to suppress their belief system in order to remain in the relationship.”

What type of impact can those challenges have on the multicultural relationship?

“Couples in multicultural relationships tend to experience more microaggressions toward them than same culture/race couples. Microaggressions are subtle comments, behaviors, or attitudes that on the surface may appear to be innocent, but have covert racist or prejudice connotations that causes a person of a minority group to feel uncomfortable or slighted.”

“Microaggressions have a tendency to culminate over time where the multicultural couple can pick up on social cues that people give them of their displeasure or disapproval of their relationship.”

“Then when one or both parties confronts the microaggressor, they are made to believe by the aggressor that they misunderstood or misinterpreted their behavior or comment, and the couple is just being oversensitive about their cross-cultural relationship.”

“This can cause internal conflict with the couple, especially if one of the individuals in the couple either agrees with the microaggressor that it was all a misunderstanding or mistake, or misses the microaggresion altogether.”

What are some tips you can give for making multicultural relationships work?

“The biggest challenges are the internal ones. Families that are against intercultural relationships have a long time to adjust their beliefs and behaviors, and they should and in most cases will.”

“People become less prejudice and racist when they have exposure to the group they are prejudiced or racist against, and develop an understanding of the individual, which can shatter their stereotypes and their distorted belief system. The more united you are as a couple, the better chance you have of overcoming a racist society and prejudicial community.”

What type of professional help is available for a multicultural couple that is having difficulties in their relationship makes of their culture?

“Professional psychological help is an important resource, especially professionals with doctorates in psychology because their training programs usually incorporate multicultural counseling and psychotherapy. Also, if the one member of the couple is of the dominant cultural group (white), it may be helpful to seek out a minority psychologist even if they are not of the same race or ethnicity of either couple.”

“As a African American male psychologist who received his education at predominantly white institutions, the majority of my training was with white patients, which gives me a great deal of experience with cross cultural therapeutic relationships.”

References: Africa Guide

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9 thoughts on “The Role Culture Plays In Multicultural/Interracial Relationships: Africa

  1. I’m from Kenya and you are right about a lot of what you wrote. Very lovely article. Culture is indeed important and you get to appreciate it more when you are in a relationship with someone from another culture.

  2. What a wonderful historical article! It’s true how both cultures influenced each other’s traditions and history as a result of slavery. I wonder what the world would be like if slavery didn’t exist.

  3. I love this article. Aren’t we all Africans in some way? African are the most traveled and are integrated all over the world slavery and post-slavery. Think about it. The Hispanics have a lot of their origin from there, the Aborigines, some Asian countries have African origin and physical features and the list goes on.

  4. You are right the African culture has influenced the Western culture more than any other culture as a result of slavery.

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