Family Structure, Family Formation, And Family Life
At the center of Ghanaian society is the institution of family. Sustained through a series of kinship networks and marriages, the family is acknowledged as the bedrock of all social life. The family is not only the basis of Ghanaian social organizations, but is also the main source of social security in old age (emotionally and financially) and the primary or sole caretaker for the young. The family is the basic unit of production and distribution and serves as the main agent for social control. More important, marriage continues to be the main locus of reproduction in a region where marriage is virtually universal (van de Walle and Meekers 1994).
Although the family may be the cornerstone of Ghanaian social life, very little consensus exists on its boundaries. The traditional Ghanaian family is more than the nuclear (conjugal) unit. In everyday usage, the term family is used to refer to both the nuclear unit and the extended family. In Ghana, the latter is often based on kinship or lineage ties. On the basis of lineage ties, two main family systems can be identified in Ghana: the matrilineal family and the patrilineal family. Among the matrilineal Akans, a man's immediate family would include his mother, his own brothers and sisters, and the children of his sisters (maternal nephews and nieces), and his mother's brothers and sisters (maternal uncles and aunts). For a woman, this includes her own children and grandchildren plus all those mentioned above. Apart from the wife's contribution to the household, members of this maternal family traditionally inherited the property of a deceased husband. In contrast to the patrilineal system, under the matrilineal kinship system, children belong to the mother and her family. Thus, kinship ties are more than a system of classification; they involve rights, obligations, and relationships.
As Matthew Lockwood (1995) points out, in many parts of Africa, lineage ties often determine a wide range of behavior, from marriage to the transmission of property. Given its centrality to the lives of many Ghanaians, some researchers have suggested that lineage ties tend to weaken the conjugal family unit (Caldwell and Caldwell 1987). Oppong (1983a, 1983b) has also noted that as a result of the various ways in which family is defined, members of the conjugal unit often do not pool their resources. Some researchers suggest that in Ghana, relatives look askance at a marriage in which the husband and wife develop a close relationship because such a practice tends to reduce the loyalty of the marriage partners to their respective lineage.