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In the typical African extended family, the first tier of close relatives includes grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.
The second tier is made up of those related through marriage, perhaps best described as the in-laws.
The third tier of an African’s relatives are those of the same totem group or clan.
All other people will fit into one or other of these categories based on their totems, allowing Africans to identify relationships even with strangers.
In European communities, the nuclear family is paramount.
It consists of the husband (father), wife (mother) and their biological children.
Other relatives are considered as distant.
The closest relatives are one’s parents and siblings, meaning the children coming from the same womb.
In traditional African society, on the other hand, the husband, wife and their children are inextricably connected and intertwined with the relatives of both spouses to create one big family — the extended family.
Members of the extended family consider themselves to be closely related and avoid use of terms that suggest ‘distance’ between them.
For example, in Shona society, all my father’s brothers are also ‘designated as ‘baba’ (father) and must be given equal respect.
There are terms used to indicate if they are older (babamukuru) or younger (babamunini/mudiki) than my biological father, but in ordinary conversation they are all fathers, ‘vanababa’.
Similarly all my mother’s sisters are my ‘mothers’ and may be distinguished by age as ‘mainini’ if younger or ‘maiguru’ if older than my mother.
Among us the children, all the children of the above relatives are brothers and sisters just like my own siblings.
1. Singlehood. There’s a growing trend of adults preferring to live as bachelors and spinsters unlike the traditional obligation of early marriage. This is due to prolonged studies, financial constraints etc.
2. Family headship. More and more families are getting headed by women, sometimes called sugar mommies. This is usually caused by their financial muscle that allows them to influence situations.
3. Individualism and selfishness. Most individual family members nolonger have interest in pooling resources for helping other family members. The married also run secret bank accounts.
4. Family size. Unlike the traditional family that was extended, modernity has come with increased pressure for a huge family. Thus, family planning is encouraged and a small manageable family is preferred.
5. Intermarriages. Due to more mobility and economic behaviors, people of different groupings are intermarying. Cultures have evolved and belonging is much harder.
6. Changed roles. There’s a growing trend of people in the family changing roles. Due to education and financial settings, men are doing such chores as cooking, washing clothes which would be women’s work.
7. Family conflicts. Different changes that take place eg permissiveness, assertiveness etc have increased the risk of misunderstandings in the family. This has resulted into breakdowns, injuries etc.
8. Marriage failures. More marriages are breaking down now than in traditional Africa. This is due to permissiveness, Godlessness, financial imbalance etc, with a view of breaking free from disturbance.
9. Employment of mothers. More women are have attained formal education and thus get employed as much as men. This has empowered them toward an equal level with everyone else.
10. Child upbringing. The raising of a child by the parent has been neglected, and given to house girls and boarding schools. Parents spend all their time at work. Children are growing up lacking values.
11. Neglect of informal education. The work of inculcating children with traditional values, norms and skills is dying out. Most children spend the most time at school and can’t peel, graze etc.
12. Permissiveness. The family members now feel they are allowedbto do whatever they’re like. Children do not listen to their parents, parents don’t discipline their children which has bred chaos.
13. Less support for the disadvantaged. Unlike traditional African families, the orphans, sick, and many disadvantaged are left in isolation due to financial constraints and selfishness.
14. Less widow inheritance. Modern families tend to avoid the traditional practice of inheriting women on the death of their brother husbands. This us due to the prevalence OF HIV/AIDS.
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.
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