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Ethnic Variation/Ethnicity

African Families

The continent of Africa is slightly less than 12 million square miles and has several hundred ethnic groups and different languages. As a result of Africa's diversity, it is difficult to identify common family characteristics. Two of the African family forms often discussed include Jamaican (British West Indies) and Haitian families. African culture defines family as immediate or nuclear and includes individuals related by blood regardless of generation (extended kin). Traditional African families are close-knit and kinship groups were the foundations of the larger social structure of the tribe and the nation (McGoldrick, Giordano, and Pearce 1996). Extended family ensures support (such as childrearing, economic support, and housing) during times of crisis. Within the African community children and the elderly are highly regarded. Children are thought to carry family values and expected to provide economically for aging parents. Elders are appreciated for their life experiences and are, in most cases, considered wise.

African families are more accepting of women working outside the home than most other ethnic groups are. African history notes the importance of women's work and has long valued their contribution beyond childbearing and childrearing responsibilities. Women are traditionally responsible for organizing the community and gathering food, and many are leaders and rulers in their communities. Although families report practicing indigenous religions, Christianity and Islam were most often reported (Mbiti 1992). However, as previously stated, not every African family experience is the same.

Jamaican families. In the Jamaican family, young women are taught domestic and childrearing practices and given little freedom to explore opposite gender relationships. On many occasions, young women are only allowed to date males known well by the family. Womanhood is connected with motherhood and childrearing (socialization and discipline) and is the responsibility of the mother.

Young males are taught to be responsible. They are encouraged to obtain an education in order to secure respectable employment with upward mobility. Males are often asked to assume economic responsibility in the absence of the father. Single males are encouraged to experiment sexually; however, once married, although discouraged from having extramarital affairs, it is seen as successful if a male is able to provide economically for a mistress and any out-of-wedlock children.

Haitian families. Haitian family structure tends to follow class-system patterns. Middle- and upper- class families tend to follow a more Western structure (formalized marriages), whereas lower socioeconomic status families were most often identified as common-law (placage) marriages. Although men may not be present in the household on a regular basis, they are expected to support the family financially.

Family roles are clearly delineated within the Haitian family. Men are financially responsible for any family they create in-wedlock or out-of-wedlock. Women are the domestic caretakers of the family. Children are taught unconditional respect for elders and family privacy and disrespectful behaviors are not tolerated. They are expected to care (financially) for their parents when they are no longer able to care for themselves. The elderly often provide childrearing assistance and are thought to have enormous amounts of wisdom as a result of age and overall years of experience.

Catholicism was the reported religion in Haiti for centuries. However, the early twenty-first century has seen an increase in various Protestant (charismatic and evangelical) groups (Nobles 1980). Haitians are also known to practice varying forms of voodoo. Voodoo (a religion derived from African ancestor worship involving sorcery), combined with religious beliefs, is often used to explain the incongruence between the supernatural and "real" worlds.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsEthnic Variation/Ethnicity - Origins And Importance Of Ethnicity, African Families, Asian Families, Latino Families, Middle Eastern Families