I have been studying families since I started my Ph.D. in 2016. In fact, I am now fondly known as the “family” girl because I am always either speaking about the topic of family, holding a family theories book or something closely related to that. The study of families has become my life in a way, such that I find myself always thinking about things in a family-focused lens. Although my study focuses more on family meanings and definitions, I will not bore you with all that academic stuff in this post.
When you study families in the way I have been studying it, you kind of stop focusing on being a part of a family, but rather shift the focus onto how “family” as a concept is being practiced every day.
In Africa, families are a big deal, we include the whole clan when we talk of family. Certainly, our totems legitimize our place with a certain kinship group, which is like one big family. “Family” practices such as gatherings for important family events like a funeral or a wedding are still the norm. We used to go all out for important holidays such as Christmas, but that has declined due to family disintegration, most families have members living in other countries now. The effect of economic decline and in a way a deterioration of the social fabric. These days, each family is just trying to make it on its own, without the added extended family pressure. In some way, there are a few relatives who are still a safety net in times of need. Some, not all! In most cases, it is just a competition to see whose kids will get into the best schools, who drives the best car, whose kids are in diaspora and sending foreign remittances. Sound familiar?
Weddings are the one occasion that seems to bring out whole families, including the extended family. Weddings are a real big deal in Zimbabwe, such that people invite the whole clan in most cases, including people you have never met, but they are invited because they are related to your father’s uncle. I remember when I was back home, I was forced to attend a wedding of a distant cousin and I didn’t even know her before that day. I felt really uncomfortable sitting on the bride’s side of the family because I did not know most of those people. But my mum did, so in a way that was fine. Even if you say you want a small wedding, the logistics of planning who or not to invite will be such a stress for you that you will end up with a big wedding. Everyone’s uncle will want to be there even if they only saw you as a baby.
Unfortunately, funerals in Africa are another family affair that brings distant relatives together. Although not a good time to get together, these days it appears as if people gather more for funerals than celebrations. Although we mourn together, we are still as distant as ever.
Last note, I do wonder if our families still provide the socialization of norms and cultural values that they used to in the olden days. This used to be one of the biggest roles of family. Nowadays, I just see young people relying more and more on social media for their social and cultural norms. Gone are the days when we used to sit with our grandfathers or uncles and aunts to get much-needed life advice. Now, we pay life coaches or speak to random strangers on the internet about our issues. There may be exceptions, maybe there are still young people who still seek out their elders in the family for guidance, but most are just running from ancient wisdom and seem to prefer the trendier ways, i.e. twitter know-it-alls and SnapChat advice gurus. I will tell you a story about how I once downloaded an app to talk to some online assistant (think Siri) who provided therapeutic advice about how to deal with stress and how to sleep.
I truly wish we could take back some of the good things about the family before it became just another thing that went out of fashion. I love my family, but to be honest, I only ever speak to my mother and siblings. Those are the people I call family, with a few cousins here and there whom I relate to because we are the same age. What can you say about families in your country? What are the kinds of things you used to do as a family or still do? Let’s talk.
This post was inspired by fellow African blogger Bex’s post African families.
Day 13 Blogtember Challenge