African and European concepts of family compared

There are differences between African and European concepts of family.

African concept is corporate while European is individualistic with less emphasis on extended.

African is extended while European is nuclear.

Bride wealth is common in African not in European.

In the European there is no interference like it is in African concept.

Marriages are short term contracts which, leads to successive polygamy while African is more permanent.

Divorces are common so as a result children under age are shared but if mature they decide on their own where to belong which is not the case in African concept because divorce is under extreme circumstance and children belong to the man.

There is no romantic love in African concept compared to the European.

In African concept the man dominates the wife while European there is some equality.

Both old and young play a big role in communal life as far as family provisions, security (African) while in European roles are different.

The European family is greatly influenced by permissiveness which is not the case in the African.

In African tradition upbringing of children is a corporate affair by whole society while it between the parents only.

In African traditional tasks, obligations are well defined which is not the case in European.

Marriages are for convenience e.g. the young marries an elderly for riches just as the elderly prefers the young for better services which is not the case in African tradition.

Children are highly valued in African concept and yet European concept may not be necessary.

In Africa, marriages are obligatory; a meeting place for the living, dead and those yet to be born while in European concept less emphasis.

In African; inheritance of widows or widowers a necessity whole it is necessary in European.

Disputes are solved by elders / community leaders (African) and yet it is courts of law in European.

In case son dies before marriage parents can arrange for the dead man a wife in 'absentia' so that he is not cut off from chains of life while in European concept it cannot be done.

New Testament teaching on the family

Jesus often referred to believers as belonging to the spiritual family of God (Mt 12:49 - 50).

Jesus is the head of the church which is the body of Christ's family.

God is referred to as 'father' and God's family grows further through preaching of Good News (Matthew. 28:20)

In the family of God there is no sex inequality (Gen 1 & 2).

Christians are inheritors of the kingdom of God and are just heirs with Christ and will enjoy eternity with God (John 3: 16).

Love between couples is a central point for a stable family.

As Jesus cared for physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, mental need so should Christians care for others as a family.

Christ went to heaven to prepare places and will examine for them to form a heavenly family.

The family is the centre of biblical and normal instruction of society (Deut. 6:4-9).

Children are expected to obey parents who are God's representatives

The family forms a central point/ social relationship against isolation and this is why genealogies are often given in the bible.

The Extended Family

An extended family is a type of family bigger in nature; comprising of husband wife, children, elders, friends and relatives.

They may live / may not stay in the home but should be catered for by the 'lead of the family. Extended families are common in African traditional society.



Facilitation of work e.g. harvests, for economic development' the larger the better and the easier the task is done.

Promotion of discipline which depended on all members of society.

Cultural transmission; rites of passage are done in conjunction with society.

It gives sense of identity, solidarity and cooperation which led to sharing. One was known and recognised and had status in accordance with family connections.

Extended families make sure all its members are cared for e.g. when serving food or making family provisions there is concern for everyone.

There is consultations of elders on serious issues, conflicts etc. they helped in solving problems.

They prepared and organised marriages and other initiations from childhood adulthood.

This family structure taught its member's sex roles or duties i.e. boys/ girls knew what they were supposed to do in society.

Children grew knowing family relatives, friends and this helped to regulate behaviour.

It helped family members through consolation in times of problems, orphans had to be protected.

In case one gets an opportunity of a school one can have access to accommodation.

Even today there can fundraising for bride wealth, education in case of a family that is very poor as a way of raising standards or uplifting them.

There is a communal preparation of any function such as graduations, weddings so that the nuclear family or individual are not overwhelmed by the burden.

It offered guidance and counselling often done by elders and there is preservation of culture.

The extended family helped to teach its members behavioural patterns including respect for elders and all members of society.

Because of the extended family structure elders were helped by children and also those who had physical impairment. sickness were equally helped.

There was communal ownership of property, wealth such as land, animals and cared for in turns (looking after cattle I goats).

The upbringing of children was communally done; any member could correct, punish anyone who had committed an offence especially the elders- Better ideas can arise through sharing.


However, there were problems in spite of the above values as outlined below;-

It is expensive to maintain and this causes viscous circle of poverty; particularity if there is only one person who is fortunate or has employment.

It retards development as it makes one have many dependants.

It is hard to provide modern standards of living especially in offering basic needs of life.

It encourages laziness; since people are relaxed with hope to survive on others and this kills initiative.

Extended families develop social, cultural conflicts due to age levels.

Some relatives come with bad malpractices such as witchcraft sorcery and curses leading to the down fall of the family.

Due to much dependency the bread earner is forced into corruption and swindling to make ends meet.

Family tensions are common, quarrels, fights and therefore lack of peace.

The man is not free to express love to his wife and children as it would be seen as discriminative; therefore, there is no personnel touch to members of his immediate family (nuclear).

There can be misinterpretations in case a man kisses his wife.

If one partner over loves relatives lover hates them it is dangerous and brings in family instability.

Often times there is influx of relatives to town to live comfortably, relax from village burdens some of them come as jobs seekers and overstay.

The wife and husband may not enjoy each other sexually due to congestion for instance in the town where people live in single rooms.

Extended family members expect working relatives to be responsible for all their problems such as fees, medical, playing dowry, fundraising for parties.

Working members have the burden to look after ageing relatives; uncles, aunts including their own parents.

In case of traditional practice of sharing wives; it can lead to sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS which can sweep whole family structure.

The congestion of relatives in the house or family results in unhealthy conditions and therefore any outbreak of disease can have major effect.

Sometimes, it is in extended family structure that insecurity arises e.g. some members can organise robbers, or can be used to be witch the other members.

As many people stay in the family it leads to incest or immorality.

Relatives who contributed towards ones education or dowry want to over control family members.

It is through extended family structure that sexual demands can be made e.g. the Basoga who feel a brother's wife is his too or in Ankole where the father - in - law demands for relationship (sexual) with daughter in -law.

There is poor upbringing of children where they move house to house and among relatives some members are there to misadvise.

There is always food shortage.

Polygamy, inheriting of widows is common due to influence of family members. Divorce and separation is often encouraged by family members when personal interests are not met.

Discipline is not easily done; some people want to assume too much power over children or some defend children's wrong doing.

Decision making is not easily done since one has to consult all members and some may have negative influences to fail the others. But the bible states "man shall leave father ... and be united to his wife ... one." (Gen 2:24).

One's own children cannot have descent standards of living, like good education and dressing etc.

What are the values and problems of extended families

The family of Christ should work together in order to bring the world together/ under control. They should work to bring people to God's table e.g. Paul worked with Aquilla and Priscilla for one and half years winning people for God.

In a Christian family sex abuse was strongly condemned (Lev. 20: 11). Even among Romans marrying one's step mother was forbidden.

In Peter's epistle emphasis was put on Christian family as Godly or should be God fearing.

Remarriage after divorce was allowed as a way of reconciliation.

Inheritance of widows was condemned in the New Testament because after death of a partner the other is free.

Adultery was punished; King David was punished for taking Uriah's wife after killing him.

Monogamy was the only accepted form of marriage relationship though in the Old Testament is tolerated.

Women should have respect for husbands and husbands to love their wives. In the same way children are to obey parents in the family (1 Peter 3: 1-8).

However, as a Christian extended families can exist because through them we learn how to save the prevailing meagre resources.

We learn to help each other in times of hardship.

Through extended families we learn howto share with others.

Social problems like fornication, incest do not necessarily arise in nuclear families, though they can arise in extended but it depends on ones lack of self control.

God is the provider so the excuse of limited resources does not arise; God provides each family with enough and so no need of dependency.

Dealing with the above problems as a Christian

Pray for God's guidance.

Involve them in productive work to reduce expenses.

Express and discuss the problems freely with view of making them more responsible. Try to avail them with work opportunities if he can in order to make them survive on their own e.g. casual work. i.e. "teach them to fish for themselves other than offering the fish."

Try to avoid congestion e.g. if one comes to visit one should have specified time or the problem can solve so that the person goes back home and if not give transport back home.

Also use Nyerere's philosophy "Treat a visitor as a visitor for two days and the third day give him a hoe". Don't allow them to sit idle only waiting for services from you." Try to counsel them to realise their abilities or talents so that they utilise them to survive on their own.

Involve respectable members of society to guide them on responsible living.

In all programs one should have ones family first before extending services to others. Assist to the level one can and not to strain beyond one's ability.