What is life in an African family like? Does it make a difference, whether one grows up in the countryside or in a city? And what is family life like in the northern African states, where most inhabitants live according to Islamic laws? What do African children tell us about their families?
The African extended family
Almost half the children in southern Africa live in the countryside. They grow up in an extended family and have to help in the household or on the field from an early age. There is not much time left to play. In the countryside, the rules of the extended family and village community are still in place. Every extended family contains several generations: grandparents, parents, children, aunts, uncles and cousins. Every child has several siblings. They don’t always originate from the same mother, because in some African regions men are married to multiple women. It is expected from every child that it takes responsibility for their duties.
Most Mothers contribute to the Income of the Family
Most mothers work on the fields or on the markets, that’s why the children are often raised by their grandparents. Their upbringing is strict, for life is weary and everyone has to help. The children too. The older girls help in the household and look after the younger siblings. The older boys help with field work, look after the pets, herd cattle or goats and sometimes take over the selling of the field crops on the market.
Who is in charge of the Family?
In farming societies, the fathers used to be in charge of the family. They decided, what was cultivated, which livestock was to be bought or what the children had to learn. They looked after weak members of the big families and decided, which girl was to be married to which boy. The upbringing was often strict, because life was hard. Today, it is not entirely like this anymore. More and more women go out to work as well and have a say.
Who takes care of the old and sick People?
Caring is the supreme rule in African families. The family raises orphaned children from relatives, takes care of divorced members and of poverty-stricken or unemployed relatives. When grandparents are weakened by age, the children take care of them. That is why there are almost no old-age homes in African countries. Exceptions are the Republic of South Africa and Egypt.
Growing up in the City
In African cities, families live more along the lines of western countries. Families are smaller, children have less siblings. Grandparents often live somewhere else. American family tv-shows are very popular. They frequently are an example for young families. Women have less children. They are more independent than their mothers and grandmothers. If they have an education, they have a regular job just like the men. The families gather on big celebrations like Christmas or New Years; they travel to the grandparents and celebrate in the extended family circle.