Equality Vs. Tradition

Oluwafolabomi Olujimi, Syracuse University

Growing up in Southern and Southwestern Nigeria, my experience for most of my childhood was shaped not by equality, but by the need to cling to certain traditions and ways of life that were apparently deteriorating with every new generation.

For example, it is the norm in my culture and several other Nigerian cultures for a groom to pay his bride’s family a dowry. While this seems harmless enough, I always thought it to be sexist and demeaning for the bride. Why pay for a human being if she is supposedly not being bought? Why put a price tag on a woman and say “this is exactly what you are worth”? I only recently found out that in most cases, after the dowry has been paid, the bride’s father or another family member takes the groom aside to give back the payment and say, “I am not selling my daughter to you. If you mistreat her, I will take her right back.”. Traditions like that I am on the fence about.

Recently, a Yoruba woman got married and in tradition, was supposed to kneel before her husband (as Yoruba women are meant to kneel before elders and Yoruba men are meant to prostrate before elders) and say that she submits to him. But in a turn of events, the bride and groom told their Yoruba elders that she would not kneel before him, as he is her equal and her partner, not her elder, and she would not utter the word “submission” in reference to her relationship with her husband. While a lot of modern people were impressed by and proud of this incident, most of Nigerian social media was not. They took to calling the bride an ‘Omo Wobe’ (meaning a child of mischief) and several other names and claim that she is part of the reason why African culture is dying.

I cannot say I did not understand both sides of this argument, so I will simply say this: hold on to the tradition if it does not have roots in some form of violence, misogyny or any other form of bigotry. I come from a very prideful people which is why it is hard for us to admit that we are not perfect and our traditions are not perfect.

Due to my identifying as a feminist, several native Nigerians, young and old, believe that I am not a true Nigerian, I must be wayward, etc. When these people learn that I know how to cook, and take care of children and do other stereotypically feminine things, they are shocked and say that I shouldn’t call myself a feminist. I know how to cook because I knew from a young age that I would be living by myself one day and self-sustainability is extremely important. I know how to take care of children because I was surrounded by them growing up and some things never leave memory.

There is such a thing as a balance between equality and tradition. I think it important to ask yourself, whenever you are doing something, why it is that you’re doing it. Once we can explain and justify certain actions, executing them or deciding against them will be much easier, and we will be one step closer to finding the perfect balance between equality and tradition.