My African family

The family is made up of a man, his wife, or wives and children. Traditional African families have from
time maintained this structure, especially with polygamy attached to it until recently. Every family is
made up of roles that are assigned to everyone in the family. The African family isn’t different. The man
is the head, provider, protector, and lord of his household; he provides the necessities needed for his
family to survive, protects them, and makes decisions that keep his family following. The woman is the
caregiver of the family, the coordinator, and the helper to the man. She makes sure that her family is
well taken care of, and that the affairs of her house run smoothly. And the children, unlike Western
families have roles too. As much as they play, they too have roles that must be upheld in the household.
The children are assigned chores at home and work to do. Among cattle headers, the sons are in charge
of taking the cattle to glaze, while the daughters stay home to help their mothers with house chores. But
there were times in African societies when these roles were reversed, and in some cultures, the roles
are still reversed to date. This article will highlight 5 areas in which the African family roles were

My African family
1 In the Military
In traditional African society, the woman’s place in the family is at home as a caregiver, or in the kitchen.
The battlefield is reserved for the men. Women fighting or taking up arms to protect their families or
settlement was seen as a disgrace or taboo, but there were times and events when African women took
up arms to fight and defend their families.
•The Dahomey Amazons
The Dahomey Amazons were an all-women elite warrior group, that fought for their king, with a success
rate that surprised many other empires. TMy these all-women elite Force, carried out a lot of covert
operations and fought wars for their king. And their status as women didn’t impede their capabilities as
warriors. Instead, they even did better than their male counterparts in the kingdom. Thanks to the
Agojie warriors Dahomey was able to successfully defeat and break from the Oyo empire, and celebrate
other victories.
•The female soldiers of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front
Eritrea was Annexed by Ethiopian powers on 15 November 1962, and shortly after their annexation
began a 30-year-long war by the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front EPLF to take back Eritrean freedom.
To do that, the EPLF, instead of focussing on stereotypes that were prominent at the time, stereotypes
that portrayed women as inferior, less capable, submissive, emotional, less intelligent, and docile
creatures, and portrayed men as superior, more competent, dominant, rational, and intelligent being,
the Eritrean government perceived this view to be sexist, and admitted women into their military,
working in the same capacity, and field as the men, to the point that their women made one-third of
their military. With what results? The State of Eritrea formally achieved its independence from Ethiopia
on May 24, 1993, after 30 long years with over 30,000 women known to have fought in the war.

2 In rendering care to the children or family
In traditional family settings, certain roles are reserved for the mother. Taking care of the kids, especially
when they were sick was and in many cultures is still the main duty of the mother. But there were
situations or events in which these roles were reversed.
•The Aka people of Congo
The Aka people are an indigenous tribe located in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic
of Congo. The Aka people follow the same traditional African constructs just as every other African tribe,
but the role of a caregiver which is mainly attributed to the woman, is slightly reversed. In the Aka
culture, the role of caregiving is the primary role of the father. The Aka men take practical roles in
cleaning and bathing, nurturing, and sometimes feeding the child from infancy even breastfeeding the
infant, and this continues till the child gets to the age of 3 when the responsibility will then fall back to
the mother to take care of the children. This is a custom that is said to help the woman heal from the
pangs of childbirth, and later take on her responsibility. I’m sure many wives today wish they practiced
this custom!
•The Dinka tribe of Sudan
The Dinka people are an ethnic group from South Sudan, and their culture like the Aka people, has a
unique practice, that reverses the role of a caregiver to the man. Although the man in this tribe doesn’t
nurture the child from infancy, the Dinka man becomes a caregiver in another way. After marriage, a
Dinka wife is given a period of rest, known as “kuur” This rest lasts for approximately 4 years. During this
time, the woman is exempted from heavy work and domestic chores, she exempts herself from cooking
or providing food, her needs her provided for by her husband, and her only duty is to rest, eat, sleep,
and when she eventually gives birth, care for her child. In these four years, all the role of caregiving falls
on the man and his family. Chores are done by the man, even ones that might seem degrading in some
African cultures like a man going to the stream to fetch water. And that isn’t the funny part. After 4
years, if the woman feels like she wasn’t adequately taken care of, the Dinka traditions give her the right
to leave her husband’s house back to her father’s house, where she returns to being a single woman,
and she does not even need to return her dowry. Talk about sorority.

3 In providing for the family
The role of a father is mostly to provide for his family. He looks for what his family will eat and supports
them financially. But again there are some situations where the roles are reversed and the woman
becomes the provider of the household. She feeds or sorts for food for her family, and through her hard
work, increases the wealth of her family.
•The Hadza tribe
The Hadza tribe of Tanzania is an indigenous ethnic group located in Tanzania. These people are a group
of foragers and hunter-gatherers. The roles of these hunter-gatherers are slightly reversed. The woman
provides food for her family, she is in charge of planting and cultivating her farm, hunting a few games,
and providing food daily. The Hadza men concern themselves with only building shelters, and
occasionally hunting bigger animals. But the day-to-day provision of food for the family is left to the
•The Aka tribe of Congo
The roles in the Aka tribe are almost completely interchangeable. In the Aka society, the woman is the
provider and the one who decides. The woman hunts the food her families eat, while the father stays at
home looking after the kids, sometimes even breastfeeding infants. The Aka woman is also the decisionmaker of the family. She decides where the family lays the next camp, and her will must be obeyed. The
Aka men are the only tribe known to never use violence against their spouses. Instead, the Aka woman
is more inclined to use violence to meet her decision.

4 In Royalty or Kingship
Royalty in Africa has always maintained the structure of a king, and a ceremonial queen to serve besides
her king. Even when the heir to the throne is a woman, she is to marry and relinquish power to her
husband, who begins to rule as king over the kingdom, and she withdraws to ceremonial duties. But
there were events in Africa, where those roles changed.
•Queen Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba
Queen Njinga was the powerful monarch of the Mbundo people of modern-day Angola. The Queen was
a unique character in African history for not just her opposition against European powers, but also the
way she dealt with her marriage. Queen Njinga lived in a male-dominated Era with traditional gender
roles that favored the man as being right to rule. She had a crown and needed to marry a man to rule, or
that was what was expected of her. Queen Njinga had other plans though. The Queen married the rival
warlords, who didn’t like to see a queen lead, but retained her crown and power. And anyone that went
against her wish, or became too powerful to control, she executed. In the end, Queen Njinga got
married to the estimated husbands of 60 strong warlords. This became her Harem making her the first
female monarch to have her concubine, only they weren’t concubines, but her husbands
•Queen Amanirenas and the Nubians
Queen Amanirenas was a Nubian queen in the 1st Century AD who battled against the Romans and won.
Unlike other African tribes, the Nubian kandake was gender-neutral in picking their rulers. The Nubian
empire was broken into three kingdoms, the Kerma, Napata, and the Meroë, and surprisingly, during
that time all three kingdoms of Nubia were ruled by women. Not just that, female Kandake ruled the
Nubian empires for the next 3000 years. That is definitely no ordinary feat.

My African family
5. In gaining Inheritances
Inheritance in most African tribes has reserved inheritance for the first son of the house. In a traditional
Igbo society, even if a particular wife has up to six female children and another wife has a male child, the
inheritance would be given to the male child, and sometimes, none would be given to the females. This
is the same with many other African tribes, but some tribes break this role.
•Ga people of Ghana
The Ga, people of the southeast coast of Ghana, are an indigenous ethnic group that has been in West
Africa for centuries, tracing back to the then Ashanti kingdom. But there is something particular about
this tribe. In this tribe, trading is mostly carried out by the women and a husband has no control over
her money. Succession to offices held by women, or any form of inheritance given to a woman remains
in her name. This culture of the Ga people respects the female power and their right to be their people
that even after marriage, women live with their mothers and children in a women’s compound, while
the men stay in a male compound. The Ga women are their own bosses.
•The Chewa-speaking people
The Chewa are a Bantu ethnic group found in Malawi, Zambia, and a few in Mozambique. They are a
peaceful people, predominantly farmers, and life-stuck farmers. But yet they too have a particular
practice that is unlike the status quo in Africa. The Chewa women have a special place in their society.
They are recognized as reproducers of the lineage. The Chewa society is extremely matrilineal, in that
property, land rights, and many more valuables are inherited by the woman or “Bele” which translates
to “descended from the same breast”. Only females from the same mothers in this tribe have an
inheritance. Even though the men are respected and called “Nkhoswe” which means “the guardians of
the lineage, when crops are sold, the income from the sales belongs solely to the women of the house.
Africa is not just a beautiful and inspiring place to behold, it is not just a haven of aesthetic delight to see,
but the people, the customs and traditions, and the diversity amongst these people is a thrilling facet of
the African society, that keeps one thirsting to learn more. There is a lot to uncover in our continent that
meets the eye, all you just have to do is take the time to learn them, and I promise you won’t regret it

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