The African Family

Topics: Atlantic slave trade, Slavery, African American Pages: 5 (1744 words) Published: August 2, 2013
Zoya Khan
Shawn Moore
AFA 2000
Topical Paper 2: The African Family
The traditional African family has faced many tribulations, as it has not remained static since the beginning of the diaspora. It has faced Eurocentric hegemony which has obscured and distorted conventional cultures, which originally united the African family through a network of strong traditions (Azevedo, 2005). Other various external forces such as geography, religion, influence of colonialism, intercontinental migration, political and economic structures have affected families in characteristics such as polygyny, balance of roles and responsibilities amongst males and females, urbanization, and adaptation of western culture amongst children (Sweet, 2000). Subsequent to the slave trade and obtaining their freedom, African American families have yet to conquer their battles: they face greater obstacles that threaten to loosen family ties. One of the most distinguishable characteristics of traditional African families has been the existence of polygamy. It has served as a basis of African culture, and has significantly impacted African social groups, tribes and clans (Aretha et al, 2011). Prior to the spread of Islam and Christianity, an African man, with his multiple wives and children was essentially acceptable in all cases. The reason for this is that marriage in the African world is universal (Azevedo, 2005). Every man must marry a woman, leaving no bachelors or spinsters. Therefore, unlike Western culture, the bride and groom did not have much personal knowledge about their partner before committing themselves to marriage. To compensate for the overall greater number of females and the required labor for maintaining farms via children, it was usual for one man to have multiple marriages, although each needed to be preceded by courtship and consent for marriage (Degbey). If a man was to have multiple wives, he had to make sure that favoritism for a single woman or her children was not shown, because it would disrupt the overall balance of the household and affect the children mostly. Forwarding to 1866, with the emancipation, the act of polygyny was abolished by many states, and many male ex-slaves were compelled to choose one wife (Azevedo, 2005). Over the years, polygyny has changed within the African-American family. Due to the large marital and familial dissolution due to economics, families had to adopt alternate survival strategies and cultural values to ensure that the labor system did not obliterate their traditional way of life (Campt, 2009). Amongst the structure of family, patrilineal societies were amongst the most popular (Campt, 2009). Although matrilineal societies did exist, patrilineal assured that the man was the head of the household and was responsible for providing for the entire family. Upon the colonialism era, Africans were utilized extensively for wage labor, which drove men away from their families to work within cities to be able to afford taxes. Women who were left at home were required to tend to farms, whose crops were also ultimately consumed by economic trade within the continent (Aretha et al, 2011). Due to the separation of women and men, the roles and responsibilities were assumed by the parent that stayed with the children (Campt, 2009). If men were occupied by laboring far away from home, the woman had to assure that the crops were viable enough to be sold. On the other hand, women were also affected by wage labor because they had to participate in labor demands as well. Women were forced to neglect their household duties to work for the Europeans (Azevedo, 2005). This led to a decrease in cultivation, which posed another problem on its own. Overall, the roles that were formerly fulfilled by men were gradually becoming the responsibilities of women as well, while they struggled to find a balance between labor and their traditional household duties. Prior to colonization by the Europeans, Africans were closely...

Cited: Aretha, Marbley, Rouson, Leon. (2011). “Indigenous Systems within the African-American Community.” Multicultural Education, v18 p 2-9. Retrieved from
Azevedo, Mario. (2005). “The African Family.” Africana Studies: A Survery of Africa and the African Diaspora. 2005. P. 361-370.
Campt, Tina. (2009). “Family Matters: Diaspora, Difference and the Visual Archive.” Social Text. Vol 27 p 83-114. Retrieved from
Degbey, John Lawson. “Africa Family Structure.” Retrieved from <>
Sweet, James. (2000). “Teaching the Modern African Diaspora. A Case Study of the Atlantic Slave Trade.” Radical History Review. Vol 77, p 106. Retrieved from
Waites, Cheryl. (2009). “Building on Strengths: Intergenerational Practice with African American Families.” Social work, vol 54 p 278-287. Retrieved from
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