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Families In Nigeria

A family, which is usually made up of people who are related by blood, marriage, or adoption, is very important to most Nigerians. There are two major family types; the nuclear family, which is made up of one man, his wife, and their unmarried children, and the extended family, which is usually made up of a series of nuclear families. Culturally, most Nigerian cultural groups practice patrilineal descent, have patriarchal authority, have patrilocal rule of residence, and are generally patricentric in outlook. The children are socialized with this arrangement in mind, and female children are consciously socialized to serve and be subordinate to males. This hierarchical structure has sometimes led to dissolution of marriages on the grounds of the birth of only or mostly female children (Omokhodion 1996).

In Nigeria, having many children is fashionable and is a status symbol. For example, although a large family brings a greater economic burden, many families in the eastern part of Nigeria have ten or more children. Thus, the national fertility rate was estimated at 6.31 children per woman in 1995. The birth rate was 43.26 births per 1,000 people, while the death rate was 12 deaths per 1,000 population. However, the infant mortality rate was 72.6 deaths per 1,000 live births due to the poor medical facilities and the poverty of most Nigerians. This rate is one of the highest in the world and had a negative influence on the birth rate. The maternal mortality rate is also high.

A unique feature of the Nigerian family is the existence of a loose matrilineage and use of various terms to describe households and unions. For example, some households are headed by women. This may be the result of the women being widowed or divorced. The women might also be out-side wives. This term describes women who function as wives to married men who live with their original wives and have extra wives outside their homes. These men are mobile husbands who move among their various partners, spending nights, having sex with their partners, and supporting them financially. These outside wives use the surname of their "husbands," and in many cases, are known to the man's original wife. Those who are not part of the culture may find this confusing, but the practitioners seem to manage well. The Nigerian legal system has improvised ways of accommodating such women and their children. In many cultures in Nigeria, there is no such status as illegitimate child.

Nigerian families are also distinctive in their loose use of the word uncle when referring to all older male relatives and sometimes nonrelatives as well. Also, all older female relatives and nonrelatives may be referred to as "aunty." Similarly, women above the age of forty-five are loosely called "mommy," while men who are about fifty or older are loosely called "daddy." People of greater social status, regardless of age, are addressed as sir or madam. This may be based on the traditional cultural deference to elders or superiors, which is very important to most Nigerian cultures.

The Yorubas of southwestern Nigeria practice bilateral descent. Thus, many of the current traditional rulers (Obas) have ascended the throne from their mother's lineage. In most parts of Nigeria, family linkage and consanguinity are very important. Thus, people have fourth, fifth, sixth, or even seventh cousins. They may refer to people from their village or town as brothers or sisters and create associations to perpetuate the linkage.

As a result of urbanization and migration and associated economic factors, however, the nuclear family is gradually becoming the dominant family type. It functions slightly differently from the typical nuclear family in Western countries. This may be the result of traces of the extended family system of being "our brothers' keepers."

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsNigeria - Families In Nigeria, Marriages In Nigeria, Marriage Ceremony, Conclusion