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Factors In Change Of Family Life

Traditional social beliefs have regulated individual behavior for many centuries. They may have altered over time, but few accounts exist to substantiate these changes. Recorded changes can only be traced back to contacts through trade with Europeans (Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, French, and British) initiated in the fifteenth century. Ethnic groups of the coastal region of Togo participated in the trade of humans from the seventeenth century to the first half of the nineteenth century. This tragedy affected families and may have reinforced the strong belief in having many children. Exposure to alternative lifestyles came mostly through missionaries, European colonialism, urbanization, and Western education. From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, economic hardship and poverty were also important factors changing marriage and family behavior.

The first German missionaries came to Togo in 1847. They were convinced that the people there were living in sin, and they were particularly disturbed by the worship of ancestors and shocked by the practice of polygamy. Missionaries, through Christian education, promoted the benefits and sanctity of the Western nuclear family.

The work of missionaries was made easier with colonization. Togo experienced three colonial administrations: German, British, and French (Decalo 1996). Many aspects of social life, such as names, dress codes, and marriage customs, were subject to new regulations. For example, on November 17, 1924, the French colonial administration passed an ordinance aimed at regulating marriages in Togo. This ordinance was intended to make it mandatory that the bride consent to a marriage, in the expectation that it would reduce arranged marriages and polygamy (Kuczynski 1939; Knoll 1978).

The German and French administrations both built urban centers from which they could coordinate commercial and administrative activities (Nyassogbo 1984). Because key administrative and economic activities were concentrated in one place, many individuals had to move there to participate in the growing wage economy. This migration resulted in the emergence of new needs and aspirations. People from different social backgrounds were leaving communities with their own rules and customs, and they had to recreate a new community at the crossroads of traditional rules and modern ones. In a situation where both partners were able to earn money, and because every marriage could turn polygamous, women opted for separate budgets and their financial independence in marriage.

Western education is perhaps the most powerful among all factors that affected marriage and family behavior. The missionaries virtually controlled the education system (Lange 1991). It was a powerful medium to diffuse Western values and to challenge the customary social order. For the first time in history, children began to question the elderly lineage members' authority by aspiring to different lifestyles. Economic factors also affected families. From the mid-1980s until the end of the 1990s, families found themselves living with severe economic hardship and poverty. Young couples found it more difficult to afford marriage. Families began to find it difficult to meet the basic survival needs. In this environment, couples with children had difficulty enforcing traditional values. Further, the expectation that children succeed in life and help out their parents financially weakened.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsTogo - Traditional Features Of Marriage And Family, Factors In Change Of Family Life, Contemporary Marriage And Family Patterns