What you know or may not know about family nature in Africa……Previously, we discussed the meaning and types of marriages in Africa. In this unit, we will look at the other part: the family institution. You will be learning about the family systems as a form of social institution in Africa. Remember, marriage and family institutions go together and you cannot have one without the other Marriage is one important step that leads to family formation. We all come from one family or the other. Look back into your own experiences. Before any of your siblings, relatives, friends or colleagues is eligible to move to their suitors’ homes, they would have done one form of ceremonial activities or the other which would involve families of the intending couples. In this unit, particular attention will be placed on the concepts of family, the types family and the role of family in African societies.
The family is a basic unit of social organisation in African societies and other countries of the world. Nearly all societies in history have been based on family groups. Just as societies differs, so do family systems. Families are brought into existence through marriage and children are a basic feature of a family. The family provides a platform for the reproduction and rearing of new members of the society so as the preserve the continuity of the society. A closely related term to family is kinship. In one sense, kinship is determined by biological factors. One is related to one’s father and mother by virtue of one’s birth; one’s father and mother are related by virtue of marriage, living together and procreating children; children of the same parents are related as a result of being born by the same parents. However, kinship goes beyond this.
There are various ways of describing families through kinship ties. In this unit, we will restrict ourselves to three major types. These are the nuclear family, extended family and clans or sibs. In the next section, we will discuss these kinship groupings in details.
The Nuclear Family
The nuclear family is a kinship grouping made up of a married couple and their unmarried children. There are two variants of this type of family and individuals normally belong to the two types. An individual will belong to a nuclear family in which he or she is reared. This is called the family of orientation. An individual will also belong to another type of nuclear family referred to as the family of procreation. This is the one in which the individual functions in as a parent. The nuclear family ceases to exist with the death of the parents.
The extended family is the major form of kinship grouping in Africa. It may be in form of monogamous extended joint family or a polygamous extended family. The monogamous extended family consist of two or more nuclear families linked through parent-child or siblings relationships. This type of family is often characterised by common residence and accompanied by shared socio-economic obligations. In a patrilocal society (that is, a society in which decent is traced through men alone), the male offspring at marriage continues to reside in the family dwelling, together with their wives and children.
The polygamous extended family could either be polygamous or polyandrous. A polygynous extended family consists of an adult male, his two or more wives and their children. This type of family is commonly found among most tribes in Nigeria, for examples the Yorubas in Western Nigeria and the Gwoza people in Borno State in Northern Nigeria. This type of family is also predominant among Muslims compared to Christians. The polyandrous extended family is a reverse of the polygynous type. It is composed of an adult female, her two or more husbands and their children.