For Africans, the basic unit is the tribe, not the individual. Since the tribe seeks collective survival, cooperation is valued over competition and individualism. Since close, personal interconnections are so fundamental, aggression toward others is considered an act of aggression against oneself, and the concept of alienation doesn’t exist. This concern for the community is reflected in the family structure. For Africans, family includes parents, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. All relatives have the responsibility to care for one another, and when parents become old it is the responsibility of their children to care for them (Khoapa, 1980; Kithinji, 2005; Lambo, 1972; Parham et al., 1999).
According to Khoapa (1980), Westerners are surprised when they observe Africans in normal conversation. There is a great deal of spontaneity, laughter, and the conversation goes on and on. They do not wait to be introduced before engaging in conversation. No reason is necessary for someone to drop by and engage in a conversation. Every gathering is an extension of the family, so there is no reason for inhibiting one’s behavior. Simply being together is reason enough to engage others. Khoapa suggests that the “deafening silence” observed when traveling in the Western world is very strange and confusing to Africans.
The cultural institution of marriage provides an interesting example of these principles in action. Marriage is a unifying link in the rhythm of life: past, present, and future generations are all represented. Having children is an obligation, and marriage provides the accepted opportunity to fulfill that obligation. Indeed, since the purpose of marriage is to have children, a marriage is not considered complete until children have been born (Khoapa, 1980; Kithinji, 2005; Lambo, 1972; Parham et al., 1999; Wanjohi, 2005). Marriages can also be a profound source of connection between people that goes far beyond the basic family unit (two parents and their children). The spirit that underlies and provides energy for the fulfillment of being experienced in a family unites that family with other families around the world. In a more practical sense, when a man and a woman from different tribes are married, the members of each tribe see themselves as all becoming one extended family through that marriage (Parham, et al., 1999; Samkange & Samkange, 1980).
The belief that we are all interconnected extends beyond one’s family and tribe to all people. Hospitality is an important characteristic that Africans expect will be extended to all visitors, including strangers. Different than in the West, however, is the expectation that hospitality will precede asking any questions. Thus, when a visitor is met at the door, they will be invited in, offered something to eat and/or drink, and friendly conversation may ensue, all before asking anything about the visit or even who the person is (if they aren’t known). Being benevolent to everyone is seen as a sign of good character or good reputation. African myth and folklore often includes stories about gods or spirits who travel in disguise, rewarding people in kind for how the god or spirit is treated. Selfishness does not promote the well being of the tribe, so a selfish person is likely to be held in contempt and stigmatized. The responsibility for becoming caring people begins with the family (Kithinji, 2005; Lambo, 1972; Sofola, 1973).
Every Yoruba, the stranger inclusive, is expected to demonstrate that he was well brought up by his parents whose emblem he carries about by the virtue of his existence and former socialisation. A good home to the Yoruba African is a place where good training and nurturing in character and good behaviour including good mode of addressing people are imparted to the young…The good child is supposed not only to accept and show good character in the home but should show the glory of the home outside through his own good behaviour… (pp. 97-98; Sofola, 1973)
In African culture, marriage and family are very important. How important are they to you? How has your personal history affected your feelings about marriage and family?