Cross cultural relationships: How couples make it work

Esther and Timoth say they have learnt to accept that they are from different cultures and appreciate each other for who they are. PHOTOs/courtesy

What you need to know:

For an intermarriage to work, couples must learn to accept each other’s culture and traditions. These couples are married and although they are from different cultures, they are making it work. They discuss their journey so far

Not long ago, interracial marriages were discouraged in most places. Now that the law is no longer against marrying people from other races, interracial marriages are on the rise. Couples from different cultures are getting together to celebrate their love.

The real question is, why have people become eager to intermarry? Are there any particular factors responsible for intermarriage?

Esther and Timothy

Esther Nansubuga is a Muganda from Kitende, Entebbe Road. She introduced Timothy Edward Light from the United Kingdom on March 24, 2016.

Timothy says he had always loved the cultural practices of the Baganda and since he loves adventure, he looked forward to kwanjula (introduction ceremony).

“I had never attended any cultural ceremony and was surprised by most of the requirements listed. However, since I was madly in love with Esther, I was happy to abide and buy all the requirements,” he says.

Timothy could not personally pick out the requirements which prompted him to give all the required money to his fiancé to do the shopping.

“I gladly selected gomesis (traditional dress) and kanzus (traditional robe for men) plus other gifts, including the bride price. This allowed for me to make individual tastes and choices for my family members something I found easy since I knew their preferences,” Esther says.

His only discomfort at the ceremony was his urge to smoke a cigarette, which was unacceptable for a Muko (son-in-law) especially in the presence of cultural elders and family, unlike in the United Kingdom.

With a better understanding of her fiancé’s needs, Esther improvised some whiskey which Timothy kept sipping in order to relax and be comfortable.

 On March 26, 2016, the couple tied the knot in a simple but elegant ceremony at Sheraton Hotel in Kampala presided over by a court lawyer.

“Timothy was not interested in a church wedding which I was okay with. Since I had been raised by a family from Norway, where this is common, I easily found his suggestion of a civil wedding acceptable,” Esther shares.

Faith and Robert

Faith Osire, an Itesot from Tororo Town in eastern Uganda, welcomed her fiancé Robert Tusiime to her family home for their introduction ceremony on December 11, 2021. On the day, Robert, a Mutoro, put into great consideration the requirements and expectations from Faith’s culture.

To start, someone was appointed by Faith’s family to pick the sticks from the guests on arrival which were to be returned back to them at end of the visit. According to Faith, this symbolised that they have been identified as visitors and are welcome.

“I showed up with a map and photo of the Teso king, ajono (a local brew), and straws as required by Faith’s family,” Robert says.

The local brew is then poured into a pot and mixed with hot water ready to be shared by the father of the home and one of the elders.

Among the Batoro, the groom is expected to carry a necklace (Omwenda) made of pearls which he gives to the woman he intends to marry to separate her from the rest.

Rachael and Michael

Rachael and Michael

Rachael Mahisa is a Ugandan living in Stockholm, Sweden. She met her husband Michael Kalu, a Nigerian in Europe.

Despite their African origin, the couple has learnt and developed acceptance for foreign culture over the years.

According to Rachael, the two have also learnt to compromise whenever they are faced with cultural differences that they find hard to navigate.

The couple sealed the deal by getting married on November 13, 2018 at Nicosia court in Cyprus.

“Nigerians share a number of customs with Ugandans. For example, their ceremonies always have large numbers of people characterised by a lot of food, drinks and dancing. They also symbolically honour parents through greetings where the groom lies flat on ground with face down as a sign of respect while greeting. Similarly, Ugandans usually kneel down as a sign of respect while greeting,” Michael says.

The Nigerians also have specific bridal outfits known as the Gele and Fila for the bride and groom respectively. This is also the case in Uganda where the woman wears a gomesi while the man puts on a kanzu.

Regardless of the African similarities in how marriage ceremonies are conducted, Rachael and Michael decided to go with simplicity, which is common in the Swedish culture of civil marriages.

We believe our relationship is thriving because we have the same values and shared vision for the future. We do not see different ethnicities. Instead, we see each other as partners who should work hard to make our marriage work.

Vivvian and Baker

Vivian and Baker

Being a Meru from Kenya, Vivian Mwenda found the act of kneeling down to greet elders rather ridiculous. To her, it seemed like turning men into gods.

However, her then-fiancé, Baker Matovu, a Muganda from Masaka encouraged her to adjust to the practise.

“Baker would help me spot out which elders in the family required to be greeted while kneeling down,” she recalls.

The introduction preparations she shares were quiet lengthy as Kenyans usually set up three to five negotiation meetings to agree on bride price.

According to Vivian, bride price is strictly accepted in form of cash, which is in Kenyan shillings as requested by the bride’s family.

“We prepared Kenyan dishes for the guests such as boiled maize mixed with greens (Mukimoo and Kitheri), which my husband failed to eat, instead opting for the usual chicken.

The Kenyan official dress code for guests is usually suits and dresses. Among the Meru, the bride usually wears a descent dress and is not seen much at the ceremony except while greeting the guests.

For her big day, Vivian wore a Kitengi to meet the Ugandan standards of a cultural outfit as opposed to wearing a gomesi.

“I knew I would not be comfortable in gomesi and opted for an African outfit which was simple and descent,” she says.

Our marriage works because being Christians, we put God at the centre of everything we do. Regardless of our differences, we love each other unconditionally just as Christ loves us all.