s of Motherhood, I will argue the differences between African cultural and family values and those generally practiced and accepted in the United States.
African males and female roles are much different and diverse than that of their American counterparts. African males are expected to serve a particular function for the family, sometimes lasting their complete lifetime. African males are treated by their society with great regard. This is especially true if he is the “first born.” The boys are usually sent to the best schools that the family can afford. The oldest son is given more freedom to do as he pleases. However, after the sons have completed their schooling, they have special responsibilities to their family. The oldest son is required to take up the responsibilities of the family leadership role. He is required to become the main provider and take care of all of the family’s physical and social needs. He must provide the family with ample food and shelter and guard against any harm that may come from outsiders. The father can then retire from any job that he may have and rely on his sons’ to take care of the!
African females are brought up quite differently. Girls are less regarded from the moment of their birth. There is a certain sense of disappointment from the father that the child is not a boy. Consequently, they receive much less attention. When Nnaife returned home and found that his wife had twin girls, he laughed loudly and said, “Nnu Ego, what are these? Could you not have done better?”
The girls are fed and taken care of in the same ways that the males are, but their family roles are very different. They are not encouraged to learn a trade in school. Many of them do not finish school past the 8th grade. They are taught at a young age to be homemakers and to become very docile. They are also taught that they must learn how to cook and wait on their future husband’s hand and foot. They must be there for his every beckoning need. The woman’s job is to take care of her husband and family unconditionally. Her needs are secondary. Nnaife once told Nnu Ego that “you have to look after your child. That at least is a woman’s job.”
American males, like their African counterparts are cherished from the time their gender becomes known. They also are encouraged to excel in school, go on to college if they can, and marry the women of their choice so that they can take care of their children. However, they are not expected to take care of their mother and their fathers after they have become a certain age. If American parents can, they generally want to be independent from their children after the children have become of age. Only in the latter part of their lives when they are in declining health do American parents tend to look to their children for assistance.
American females are treated more like American boys. It is now recognized by most parents, educators, and the American public in general that to do otherwise results in unfairly discriminating against females. However, they are still taught how to cook, clean and assume other domestic responsibilities more than boys. They are still taught by their mothers the traditional roles of “womanhood.” The difference is that they are encouraged to learn just as much as the boys, and are given equal opportunities to do so. Consequently, American women are now generally able to compete with men in the work place and provide for their own welfare without having to depend on their fathers or husbands.
Marriage and Motherhood
Once the African woman has come of age, her father is approached by a willing male to ask for her hand in marriage. He must then pay her father an appropriate fee in compensation for the work that the daughter would have otherwise provided to the father during her life. This fee may be paid in money and may also include animals such as goats, cows, or chickens. The compensation paid becomes a symbol of how the rest of her life is likely to be spent–in the service of the African male. This is a concept and attitude that is truly foreign to present day Americans.
Likewise, in the African culture the concept of the husband having multiple wives is not only accepted, but in some ways is necessary to the economic survival of the family unit. After the first has given birth to a number of children and is becoming older in age, she is no longer able to carry her share of the families work. It is often necessary for the husband to take another wife needed to continue to perform the duties previously performed by the first wife.
When Nnaife’s brother died, he was required by traditional African practices to take his brother’s wife as his own and care for his family. This results in a seniority system among the wives. The “senior” wife becomes the supervisor of the younger wives and their children. She is accorded a certain respect, and her life becomes more comfortable. Polygamy was long ago banned as illegal in the U.S. This was done because it was determined to be socially unacceptable. However, unlike in Africa, there was not any reasonable and necessary basis for justifying this practice.
When American females come of legal age to get married in the United States, they have the freedom to marry whomever they choose. They are not bound to their immediate families or to her future husbands family for anything. When they become mothers, it is generally a conscious decision that is made with the consent of both the husband and the wife.
American women are not forced into being a mother that is stationary at the home. After childbirth, they have the freedom to decide if they want to return to the work place. The mere presence of a child in the family does not prevent her from continuing her career if she so chooses.
Children and Adolescence
African children are seen as a gifts from God. African fathers sometimes are disappointed if their first born is a baby girl instead of a baby boy. They consider them useless and blame the mother for her incapacity to have bore a male offspring.Girls are generally considered as just “love babies.” Once they grow into adolescence, their fathers are waiting patiently for a proper male to come and take his daughter off of his hands. In turn, he will receive ample compensation for his daughter.
However, when African women conceive a male child, they are then seen to be a complete women; a complete mother. They are happy and they know that when they come to an old age, the male child will always carry on the family name and “…there will be somebody left behind to refer to as mother.” When males reach adolescence, they are encouraged to study very hard and learn a trade because they will soon be looked upon to take care of the family.
American children are valued just as much as African children, however their roles as offspring differ. Boys and Girls are valued as equals in America. They are both brought up with equal opportunities. Today, girls are taught housekeeping skills, how to cook and clean, and how to be a good mother. However, they are also well educated and taught how to survive in the real world.
When American males are born, they are seen as the sole son to carry on the family name. They are educated and taught the ways of manhood. They are sent to school to learn as much as they can; however, they are not responsible for the livelihood of their parents. They must assume the responsibilities of finding a job, getting established in the workplace, and making a living for themselves and their new families.
The Family Unit
The family unit is very important in the African Culture.Nue Ego had reminded herself of an old saying once that “…money and children don’t go together: if you spend all of your time making money and getting rich, the gods wouldn’t give you any children; if you wanted children, you had to forget money, and be content to be poor.” Many families almost starve to death because they are unwilling to separate their family unit. They must all pull their weight so that the family will not go without. The children are taught at a young age that without their support, their family might starve or have to do without.
Many American families have strong bonds and ties. However, many American families get caught up in making money and they often forget family values. They are more concerned about material possessions and self value than preserving the family ties. When this occurs, families are often divided and they drift apart. Some families as a whole stick together and try to avoid these unfortunate situations. However, sometimes this is not the case and families drift apart.
African and American cultural and family values are substantially different in a large part due to the more advanced nature of the American society. The Industrial revolution which led to the current technological revolution has resulted in one of the major advances of civilization. Man no longer needs to spend most of his time and energies to merely feed, clothe, and shelter his family.
With these changes, both men and women, fathers and mothers, and their family units in America are free to explore their own self improvements and enjoyments of life. Africa, due to their economic bondage of their undeveloped societies are trapped in the traditional concepts of how they survive and care for each other. While African families are closer and in some respects these are values that we seek to promote in American, the disadvantages of the African culture seem to outweigh the positive aspects.
While most of the African cultural and family values seem to arise out of economic bondage, many of them are actually passed from generation to generation because of ignorance. Ignorance and the lack of educational opportunities are on the other hand just another product of an undeveloped society. Education costs money and time that those living on the edge of survival can not afford.
As Africans are able to develop their economies and society in general, it can be expected that their cultural and family values will be modified. They will perhaps become more like the American model which seems to be the product of a modern lifestyle where individuals have the freedom to make their own natural choices.