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Kenya - The Concept Of Marriage And Family, The Extended Family, The Nonextended Family, Polygyny - Conclusion

development changing social kilbride population

The population of Kenya includes forty-two traditional ethnic groups (CBS 1994), which can be broadly divided into three groups: the Bantu, Nilotes, and Cushites. These three categories of ethnic groups are spread all over the country, and no particular group can be tied to one region. The regional boundaries do little to separate the similarity of customs and beliefs possessed by each group, owing to their common heritage and contacts over hundreds of years. Commonly, then, cultural traits exhibited by one ethnic group of a broader group in one region are the same as those of another ethnic group of the same broader group in a different region.

With the advent of modernity—education, technology, urbanization, Western religion and changing socioeconomic factors—the Kenyan society has increasingly become universal, and ethnic identities and affiliations are steadily fading. This has brought a degree of universality in the way of life as contemporary society adapts to new situations that were totally unknown to traditional society. Family life has also changed, with many families caught between the traditional family system that advocates for solidarity and the modern system, which is characterized by individualism, a shift that developed because of changing religious, social, political, and economic factors.

Family relations are undergoing redefinition within the emerging structures of socially and economically viable domestic groups. The HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1990s has also given a new dimension to the Kenyan concept of marriage and family by challenging African traditional beliefs, marital roles, familial obligations, morality, and sexuality. Nevertheless, although these changes are widespread, in view of the cultural diversity in the country and difference in pace of adaptation to the changing social and economic environment, family structures and forms are not uniform.

Evidently, family and marriage relations in Kenya are gradually changing in response to the changing social and economic environment. In this regard, indigenously favored family systems are eroding, either through complete abandonment or evolution into more viable forms that are conventional with modern Kenya.


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Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). (1994). Kenya Population Census 1989. Nairobi: Government Printer.

Government of Kenya. (GOK)/UNICEF (1998). Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Kenya. Nairobi: Reproduction and Distribution Section, United Nations Office.

Isiugo-Abanihe, U. C. (1994). "Parenthood in Sub-Saharan Africa: Child Fostering and Its Relationship with Fertility." In The Onset of Fertility Transition in Sub-Saharan Africa, ed. T. Locoh and V. Hertrich. Liege, Belgium: International Union for the Scientific Study of Population.

Kilbride, P. (1994). Plural Marriage for Our Times: A Reinvented Option? Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Kilbride, P. L., and Kilbride, J. C. (1990). Changing Family Life in East Africa: Women and Children at Risk. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Kilbride, P. L., and Kilbride, J. C. (1997). "Stigma, Role and Delocalization Among Contemporary Kenyan Women." In African Families and the Crisis of Social Change, ed. T. S. Weisner, C. Bradley, and P. L. Kilbride, in collaboration with A. B. C. Ocholla-Ayayo, J. Akong'a, and S. Wandibba. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.

Lwanga, G. (1976). "Report on the Health of Clan Health Workers." Nangina, Kenya: Nangina Hospital.

National Council for Population and Development. (2000). Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2000 on National Population Policy for Sustainable Development. Nairobi, Kenya: Government Printer.

Nelson, N. (1987). "Rural-Urban Child Fostering in Kenya: Migration, Kinship Ideology and Class." In Migrants, Workers, and Social Order, ed. J. Eades. London: Association of Social Anthropologists.

Ocholla-Ayayo, A. B. (1997a). "The African Family Between Tradition and Modernity." In Family, Population and Development in Africa, ed. A. Adepoju. London: Zed Books.

Ocholla-Ayayo, A. B. (1997b). "HIV/AIDS Risk and Changing Sexual Practices in Kenya." In African Families and the Crisis of Social Change, ed. T. S. Weisner, C. Bradley, and P. L. Kilbride, in collaboration with A.B.C. Ocholla-Ayayo, J. Akong'a, and S. Wandibba. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.

Umbima, K. J. (1991). "Regulating Foster Care Services: the Kenyan Situation." Child Welfare 70(2):169–74.

Whyte, S. (1980). "Wives and Co-wives in Marachi, Kenya." Folk 22:134-146.


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