CRE3: Family life in the African Traditional society

This unit is about family life in the African Traditional society

Family in the ATS

Image result for family life in the african traditional society1. The family was divine. In traditional Africa, most religious rituals and rites were based on the family unit, eg naming, marriage, offering sacrifices etc. Things related to the well-being of the family were respected.

2. Family headship. The husband was the head of the family, wielding a lot of authority on all plans and decisions made.

3. The family was extended. Family life was based on living together in love. One family would be a compilation of a number of nuclear families, comprising many relatives.

4. Polygamy. The typical African man was expected to have a number of loyal wives in the same homestead. This aimed at expanding the clan as well as breeding pride and prestige.

5. The importance of the mother. Some very important activities were a reserve for the mother. Instilling values and morals into children was the most important of them.

6. Child bearing. Families that had children born in them were considered blessed by God. Childless marriages were seen as cursed and such families had no respect.

7. Children upbringing. Apart from the mother whose role was to directly mould the children’s behavior, every other person in the family and community contributed to that effort.

8. Categorized roles. Right from early childhood, males and females were given respective duties and responsibilities, boys by their fathers and girls by their mothers.

9. Life stages’ initiation. The African family undertook to initiate family children as a passage to adulthood through rites and rituals. Baganda tested the child’s legitimacy to the clan, named them etc, The Bagisu circumcised their boys.

10. Unity. The extended family was a social unit that that pulled members together in situations of happiness and misery. Family members would always be there for each other.

11. Harmony. The family was a grouping for ensuring peace and co-existence among the members. Every effort was put in to diffuse tensions among all members.

12. Identity. Family was one’s basis of belonging. It was a background upon which a person proudly belonged, traced origin and thus every member struggled to promote and protect the family’s name.
13. Marriage life. Prolonged single life was never tolerated because it was always all people’s wish for the expansion of the clan. Spinsters and bachelors were despised.

14. Unending life. The family was a unit where the family relatives that had died on continued to live. These would be buried together near the homestead and new born children would be named after them.

Position and roles of men, women and children in families

In African culture and African traditional life, gender is defined according to roles and functions
in the society. It is what it means to be male or female in a certain society that shapes the
opportunities one is offered in life, the roles one may play, and the kinds of relationships one
may have.

Men and women had specific roles in the habitats that they lived in. These roles were complimentary and both were necessary for the continuation of the family, the community and the Nation. Neither male or female could fulfill their role without the other fulfilling their own.

position and role of men in African traditional society

Husbands are responsible for the material support and protection of their households. Sons typically inherit their fathers’ property while daughters are married to a suitor her father approves of. The earliest economies in Africa were based on HUNTING AND GATHERING wild foods. A few societies, such as the !Kung in the KALAHARI DESERT and the Mbuti in the rain forest of CONGO (KINSHASA)

Men also built and constructed houses and shelters for their families

The husband and father is seen traditionally as the head of the family.


Traditional African setting, at peace time, women are more consigned to domesticduties such as her role as the mother of the home, provider of basic needs in some instancesand even peace maker within the family, and at community level in accordance with the prevailing culture. main educators of children of both sexes in the traditional African

Girls are responsible for chores such as cooking and milking. Women are responsible for building and maintaining the houses as well as fetching water, collecting firewood, raising the children, milking the cattle and cooking for the family.

women as responsible for household tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare. They were also responsible for a large share of agricultural work, including weeding and harvesting, for such common crops as rice.Between 60 and 80 percent of the calories consumed by people in the existing hunting-and-gathering societies come from the fruits, roots, grains, nuts, honey, and other foods gathered by women.

Image result for family life in the african traditional societyPreservation of its culture, cohesion of society and economic growth; through birthing and nurturing of babies, upbringing of children

With the pastoralist Pokot, the women milk the cattle and camels plus the tasks of sewing, weaving of female adornments and making of the unique butter called ghee. In both cases, the Pokot women carry out the role of overseeing the preparation and initiation of grown young girls into womanhood.The woman possessed the power to organize the family and the society at large. There was
an enormous task and responsibility conferred on womanhood. In fact the responsibility of
both men and women were seen as complementary to one another “there was a codependence and a balance that existed” (St. Clair, 1994: 27).
In various traditional African societies, the African woman possessed the power that binds the society together. In fact the survival of the family and the future of marriage depended a great deal on the African woman.


Girls are responsible for chores such as cooking and milking. Women are responsible for building and maintaining the houses as well as fetching water, collecting firewood, raising the children, milking the cattle and cooking for the family.

As social reproducers, girls are automatically educated to become the future caretakers of the family. Consequently, they are taught to appropriate the multiple roles their mothers play in the family. These roles range from food production and preparation to the portage of water and fuel over long distances, as well as household chores like house-cleaning, laundry, taking care of household members and so on.

Instructions regarding girls’ biological reproductive role focus on accepting marriage, pregnancy, birth and lactation as the very essence of female existence. When this role is successfully accomplished women and girls acquire prestige and high social status in their communities.

They are expected to take care of their parents in old age.They are heirs to the family’s wealth.Provide labour.

importance of children

Childlessness was completely unacceptable in traditional Africa because of the following.

1. Seal of marriage. The bearing of children by newly married couples strengthened the bond between husband and wife. It would be harder for them to separate because of love of the children.

2. A sign of blessings. Bearing children was a direct sing of good will from God, ancestors and spirits which would lead to pride and confidence. Childlessness was viewed as a sign of bad omen.

3. Prolonging life. Children were believed to be a continuation of the life of ancestors and parents even though dead. It was believed that the dead would be reborn in the children. (partial

4. Expansion of the clan. Traditional Africa being patrineal in nature, the number of sons one had determined the size of the clan, and this bigger the clan was, the more the influence and pride.

5. Prestige and reputation. Families that had more children had greater respect and honour because it showed how hardworking and responsible parents were at raising such children.

6. Having heirs. Africans would want to have children that would inherit property and status at their death. This way, the inherited attributes would never be left to waste.

7. Provision of labour. Children were a sure source of manual labour to perform all kinds of work. Being young and energetic, their contribution was deeply admired.

8. Wealth. The element of bride wealth paid for girls in customary marriage made parents view them as a source of wealth.

9. Preservation of culture heritage. Children acted as agents in continuation of a people’s culture in many years to come. Absence of children would make African cultures extinct.

10. Proof of good health. Couples that bore children would proudly have proof that they were of sound health and normal as childlessness pointed at abnormality and disease.

11. Security. Children in a family were a great security asset in the future when the parents would have grown old and weak. They would be looked at reliable protectors.

12. Veneration. Produced children would be looked at as people to bury their parents with great honor respect. They would also have to keep the dead alive through naming descendants, etc.

13. Political strength. Children born in society would be a great asset for community defense in case of an external attack. In such attacks, the more the numbers, the greater the advantage.

14. Respect for elders. Children would be important for the respect of adults eg parents, local leaders which would lead to pride and prestige.

Polygamy in the African Traditional Society: The practice or custom of having more than one wife or husband at the same time

Reasons for polygamy

One of the reasons why this has happened is because the African societies have managed to see that children were a form of wealth and this way a family with more children was considered to be more powerful. Under these circumstances the polygamy in Africa was considered to be part of the way you could build an empire.

1. A man’s wealth was measured by the number of his wives as well as the number of his children and cattle or livestock.

2. It was prestigeous to have many wives. For instance, the Kabaka Mutesa I of Buganda resisted Christian baptism because he was asked to divorce his many wives and “wed” with one! The queen mother, said that it was unheard of for a king to have one wife like just the poorest commoner!

3. In political terms the more wives oone had, the more political alliances one could form, and therefore, become a very powerful power brocker and effective politician or tribal leader, chief or king.

4. In agricultural societies, human labour was essential and therefore, poly- gamy provided more hands to work in the fields and produce more food, or more cashcrops for sale. Thus, polygamy produced wealth, at least for the man as well as the whole group which the patriarch supported.Image result for Polygamy in the African Traditional Society

5. Women and children were safer in larger households where they were better protected from aggressors. Pride was associated with a larger family and shame and low self-esteem were associated with small families which were symbolic of poverty.

6. Men also preferred polygamy because it gave them sexual gratification and diversity in mates! In some societies, it is taboo for the couple to engage in sexual intercourse during the menstrual period and preganancy. In that case, polygamy provided a solution to this dilemma.

7. Polygamy also provided a form of birth control, in the sense that it would allow the spacing of children by virtue of the sexual taboos attached to sex during breastfeeding.

8. Polygamy insured that most marriageable girls were married off. Women tended to outnumber men because, men naturally die in larger numbers and earlier than women. Women are genetically tougher than men! Morever, men also tended to engage in dangerous or fatal activities such as wars, hunting and fighting one another in drunken querrels!

9. In most of traditional Africa, there was a custom of leverate or widow inheritance. A brother’s wives passed on to the father or another brother on his death! That was designed to ensure that no widows or orphans would be left with provision and family or tender care.



  • Extra state benefits – extra wives/husbands count as single parents & lots of children = lots of money.
  • Religious happiness – they believe that their god is pleased with them.
  • Lots of media attention.
  • It might become more socially acceptable, like homosexuality, divorce, cohabitation, abortion, etc have.
  • More people to do jobs (actual jobs or housework), so less workload per person.
  • Less likely to cheat as more “choice” with partners.


  • Socially shunned – at least currently.
  • There may be timetables of when you get to sleep with your own husband/wife!
  • It’s illegal.
  • Jealously between partners.
  • Difficult to educate children, as many of these families like in very rural and empty areas.
  • Very noisy/chaotic.
  • May be more difficult to get a job if people in local area know that you’re polygamous.
  • Any money that you do get will be stretched very far – lot’s of people to support.
  • Children may feel unloved.
  • Lots of media attention.

Education of children in the African Traditional family

here were no schools in my traditional Africa. Learning was majorly by doing, verbal instruction through songs, proverbs, (at the fire place) etc and took place everywhere, during work, play etc.
The following is how education was done.

1. Instruction to infants. Right from early childhood, parents, grand parents, siblings and neighbours tough the young customs and rules about food, dressing etc.

2. Knowledge of family members. The mother had to teach the young child names of all family members and of close relatives. This would help the child grow within a belonging to others.

3. Fathers teaching boys. Boys would go with their fathers to the field and imitate work being done. This included herding, building, clearing land etc.

4. Mothers teaching girls. Mothers and grand mothers gave instruction to girls on how to perform domestic duties eg nearby agricultural skills, cooking, hygiene etc.

5. Respect of elders. Learning was also through obedience to elders and acceptance of their advice and guidance. As a show of loyalty, children accorded titles to elders eg baaba in buganda.

6. Mandatory sharing. Adults undertook to enforce a sense of sharing with others and discouraging selfishness among the young. Selfish people later in life would be isolated.

7. Communal work. A child would be introduced to group and collective work right from when he would be able to work. Such group activities included harvesting, herding etc.

8. The use of proverbs (ending). These were brief statements with relevant meaning to what should be done. They would be said after long lessons for easy meaning and memory.

9. Use of riddles (ebishaakuzo). These were questions and incomplete statements the required clever answering. They helped children to observe and memorise social facts.

10. Use of myths. Myths are imaginary stories that try to explain happenings and beliefs in a community. These would teach the young existence of the mysterious, eg earthquakes,

11. Use of folk tales. These were traditional stories that passed on moral messages to the young. They would tell them around fireplaces in evenings, and would as well keep children awake for food.

12. Talent discovery and development. Children learnt by identifying their inborn gifts through running, target shooting, wrestling etc and utilising them.

13. Appreciating environment. Children would be taken by their grandparents into their surroundings and taught names of various herbs and grasses. They would acquire medicine knowledge from such.

14. Role playing. These would be imaginary games that prepared the young for adulthood. Boys would build tiny houses, and own objects as cattle etc as girls would make tiny pots and dishes.



ASSIGNMENT : CRE3: Family life Assignment MARKS : 100  DURATION : 1 week, 3 days

SEE ALLAdd a note
Add your Comment