Mixed marriage dynamics

What you need to know:

  • Anyone in a mixed marriage will tell you that it’s not all a bed of roses. Our writer spoke to and Asian man married to an African woman and brings you their experience

The number of interracial marriages is increasing rapidly in Kenya. Between 1998 and 2010, records at the marriage registry indicate that the number of interracial marriages grew by 85 per cent.

This trend reflects the changes in attitudes and declining social barriers between different racial groups.

This marked growth is a definite indicator of an evolving society where people are learning to open up to other cultures. The world is fast becoming a global village with the advent of the internet and cross-cultural marriages.

In Kenya, there are often mixed reactions to these unions. Some people are clearly not for them, while others approve highly. Whichever way one looks at it, when cupid’s arrow strikes, it does not matter or care about the colour of the skin.

Love does not discriminate. It is common knowledge that marriages between certain races are most likely to succeed as compared to others.

This is true of White/black marriages. The society seems to tolerate them more than Afro-Asian marriages. The most common marriages of people from two different races in Kenya are as follows:

Marriages between whites and blacks

Over the years, there has been raging debate about Black woman/white man marriages. Several opinions have been tabled about them with no viable conclusion. For quite a long time, marriage to a white man was viewed by some as a ticket to a better life.

This may be true in certain cases, whereas for others, it remains a pie in the sky promise. The largest numbers of white men who marry African women are Europeans from Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

There are a good number of marriages with men from the UK and France. Cases of white Americans and African women are on the increase, especially in the US.

The number of African men marrying white women is, however, on the decline today, and when it does occur, the vast majorities are women from the UK or Germany. All these unions face different challenges, the most common being the culture shocks that each party experiences.

African women are said to adapt quite fast and to fit in more easily to the new society than their white counterpart coming to Africa for the firat time. It is therefore logical to conclude that the most successful mixed marriages occur between African women and European men.

These unions often work out because both parties are mutually attracted to each other. One woman, married to a Belgian man says: “The European men find African women attractive. They appreciate our exotic features, find us humble and appealing, and treat us very well. They readily accept us as their wives and make us feel good about ourselves.”

Many African families readily accept these marriages and welcome the men with open arms. The two integrate and interact quite well, often pleasantly surprised to find that they have quite a lot in common in terms of certain cultural aspects.

The same cannot be said of African and Asian marriages, where one or both families are usually reluctant to admit each other’s children as their own. Many African parents find the prospect of their son or daughter getting married to an Indian to be daunting.

African and Asian marriages

The few cases of Afro-Asian unions tend to attract a lot of interest due to the fact that they are not as common as other inter-racial unions.

The courtships are often carried out secretly because the couple is usually afraid of going public, as the consequences are often dire. They include banishment from their respective communities and a lot of pressure from both sides to end the relationship.

When they decide to get married, there is often a great lack of social support from their parents and relatives. In fact the overt hostility and interference from relatives, especially, makes these relationships extremely stressful. It is little wonder then, how rare marriages between these two communities that have lived side by side ever since the Indians landed on the Kenyan shores to build the railway are.

This situation is not about to change any time soon, due to the cultural practices that forbid unions of this nature. An Asian man or woman who falls in love with an African soon finds him or herself pitted against an entire community.

The family and community will go to the extent of disinheriting and disowning their kin. For Asian women especially, they will be shipped off to foreign countries and married off in arranged unions in a bid to kill the relationship. It takes a very strong and courageous person to go against all these odds and to marry the person they love, despite the cultural differences.

Real life story:

One man, who was courageous enough to defy all societal odds, told the Saturday Magazine team his heart-rending story of love and hope, one man’s life as a lone-ranger in his quest to marry the woman he loved. He is a Kenyan of Asian descent and she, a Kenyan African.

Mohammed Rafique is a burly man in his late forties. He has a debonair aura and an easy laugh. A civil engineer by profession, he is a third generation Kenyan Asian with origins in Pakistan.

He courted and eventually married to his Kenyan sweetheart and for 18 years, they had a happy marriage with the usual ups and downs of the institution. He nostalgically describes how they first met as the happiest time of his life.

He is currently based in Kerugoya town, tucked away in Kirinyaga County where he is raising his six-year-old last born son, Anwar, single-handedly. His relationship with his wife back in the early 90’s was the stuff movies are made from.

He was a handsome young man ready to change the way society viewed inter-racial marriages, especially those between African and Asians.

When he revealed the fact that he had been dating a local girl, his bosses and colleagues, threatened to sack him. They maintained that such a scandal was bad for the organisation’s image, and asked him to choose between his job and his love life. He chose the latter.

He was in love and that was all that mattered. He had long decided that no job, boss or disapproving community was going to stop him from marrying the love of his life. When he announced his engagement to his relatives, he was not surprised at their reaction.

They informed him, in no uncertain terms, that if he went ahead and married the girl, he would be considered dead in their lives. But this did not deter him. The woman’s parents also had major misgivings about the relationship. They discouraged the girl from getting married to a ‘foreigner’.

They were surprised to learn that Rafique’s culture required the prospective bride’s parents to pay dowry to the man – a custom that is unheard of in the Kikuyu community from which the bride hailed. This was the first culture shock to hit them. There were more to follow.

They were perturbed because the man’s family had no wish or interest in knowing them. In the end, Rafique and his wife started off their married life without their prospective in-laws’ involvement whatsoever.

Once married, the couple had three children who are now aged 18, 17 and young Anwar.. Over time, the woman’s parents softened their stance slightly. They were still under the critical eye of both communities, but were quite determined to build a life together.

However, sometimes, even people with the strongest resolve do crack under pressure. Rafique’s job as a civil engineer took him to remote areas to build roads and the constant bombardment with tales of woe about how his marriage would end up started to get to him.

“When you hear the same thing repeated often enough, you come to believe it. In the 18 years of my marriage, the only thing I kept hearing from every corner was that I would one day rue the day I married an African woman.”

When problems cropped up in the marriage, as they often do, he began to falter. The voices he used to ignore became part of his own, and like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the once happy couple started fighting over the same issues that had made them cling to each other through the years: The isolation, being ostracized, and always being the subject of gossip and doomed speculation.

All and sundry had adopted a ‘just wait and see attitude’. This was enough to drive anyone over the brink. And soon, his wife couldn’t take it anymore and moved back to her parents’ home. His older children also opted to go to school away from the home situation.

A marriage that had lasted that long was suddenly torn apart. But Rafique has decided to take everything in his stride and is in the process of rebuilding his life in order to turn the situation around and capture the beautiful home and family he once had.

Any regrets?

“I have no regrets because I stood by what I believed. I pursued what was true to my heart and the marriage did not falter because my wife was an African. It was because of pressures, which can and do affect any marriage I have had 18 great years, and I can look back with a clean conscience. All in all, I believe I succeeded in an area where few would dare to tread. After all how many marriages survive even five years these days, regardless of the races involved?”


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