The dynamics of an African family

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“The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people”

English: African American Family 20th or 21st century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

African society has undergone profound changes surrounding various aspects underlining its understanding of traditional life, in particular family life. The concept of family is one of universal precedence amongst all Africans, whether they belong to the west, east, central or southern regions. Family is a vital aspect of African livelihood. It is what unifies us. It has been said that family is the foundation which our society is built on, and is proven by the fact that all over the world, every society is structured around a family unit. However, the definition of family has begun to fall apart. The once-taboo topic of divorce is becoming a common issue amongst African households. Could the influences of Eurocentrism be to blame?

The understanding of traditional African family life can be directly linked to the customs correlated to ‘what it means to be an African’. Traditionally, Africans coexisted within small communities, which were made up of families divided into different ethnic or cultural groups, or in some cases, into clans causing a complex yet interconnected network of relationships. Nevertheless, even though these family’s fragmented into array of various peoples and traditions, family as been understood as a shared relationships among an array of various members.

Growing up abroad, I have been exposed to both various meanings of family, and the definition of family in itself has a completely different meaning from the one I was raised with. For instance I believe family are people who have always been there for me, who have always supported and helped mold me into the person I am today, whether it includes friends or family members. Now, being that I was raised by traditional Somali parents, they think my concept of family is ludicrous. However, due to the fact that I was raised sandwiched between both African and Euro-Canadian traditions, I thereby have been able to embrace the value of family from both aspects.

Interestingly enough, the concept of family have proved to be two extremely different concepts, actually one could even say polar opposites. For instance, most day-to-day family life for a Euro-Canadian family consist of various activities that are essentially carried out in isolation from other relatives. Family, for them, consists of the immediate family solely without interference or interaction from other relatives unless in the case that they were celebrating a birthday, religious holiday or graduation.

However, the African family unit is much more different. A family unit is constructed within the extended family and most aspects of family life is shared by both, extended and immediate family members. An example of this would be if I were to get in trouble with my parents, I would also have to deal with my aunts, uncles and even grand-parents. Family issues do not stay within the confines of the household, but rather they are extended and dealt with by all members. Now, imagine trying to explain this to your non-African friends. “Oh, yeah I got grounded by my aunt last night.” They would look at you in complete and utter shock at the thought a family member other than your mom or dad having the power to ground or punish you.

You can appreciate the African understanding of family as it is rather important as well as beneficial to be able to develop a lasting bond and relationship with your cousins, aunts and uncles, but when it comes to dealing with household issues, I can’t help but find myself gravitating towards the Euro-Canadian concept of family life. The Western notions of isolating the family dynamic to solely include the main actors, ie. mother, father and children helps build a stronger bond amongst the immediate family.

The overall role of the family is to give a good model so that others within the society can imitate resulting in the betterment of the society. Yet, I find myself wanting to pose this question and see what the readers feel about the dynamics of African family vs. eurocentric families. Needless to say, the very definition of family is falling apart in my opinion. Is it time we go back to embracing our traditional African cultural understanding of family or should we modify the eurocentric approach?

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