Family was very important in Ancient Africa. The structure of the traditional Ancient African family depended heavily on the gender expectations placed on men and women at the time. It was also tied strongly to their religion, and Ancient African society operated in general.
According to traditional African beliefs, when a man married a woman, he would have to play the role of the woman’s father, husband, brother, and lover. Similarly, when a woman married a man, she would have to play the role of the man’s wife, sister, mother, and lover. A married couple in Ancient Africa were seen to complete each other – this is because, in Ancient Africa, the union of a man and woman in marriage was seen as a sacred act.
It was viewed as sacred because only a man and a woman could have a child together. The act of having children was seen as very holy, and any union which led to this was clearly very holy as well.
However, before a man or woman could consider starting a family, they would have to complete certain “rites of passage” first. Rites of passage were particularly important for boys, as they were not seen to be men until they had completed them.
Each tribe had their own rite of passage; some required that a boy go out and kill a specific animal, while others may have to sleep in the wilderness, all by themselves, for weeks on end. One particularly nasty rite of passage required that the boy stuck their hand in a glove full of scorpions, and deal with the pain without treatment until the swelling had gone down.
If a boy failed to complete their rite of passage, they may not be allowed to get married and may never have been considered men; boys who did not complete the rites of passage were cast out of their villages also and left to fend for themselves in the wilderness.
The role of women in Ancient African families was tied strongly to the role of women in society at the time. Although women could hold powerful religious positions in Ancient Africa, they were not allowed to be fighters, and were never expected to perform any hard manual labor.
This is because the role of the mother in African society was a nurturing one, which required an emotional softness men “could not” possess. Though these kinds of ideas are not accepted nowadays, in Ancient Africa, they were the reason why women could not own land, and had to obey their husbands.
A woman’s sacred purpose was to give birth – but was the most important thing any woman could do, and if they failed to do so, they would find it incredibly difficult to find a village that would accept them.
However, some exceptions exist to this rule – particularly in Ancient Egypt, women were sometimes given positions of great power in Ancient Africa. One example of a powerful woman in Ancient Egypt is the famous pharaoh, Cleopatra VII. Cleopatra is one of the most famous pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, and ruled over the country in a time of great peace and prosperity.
For those who were born higher up the social hierarchy – i.e, with more power/privilege – the expected role they would play in their family was different. Both rich men and rich women were freer to operate outside their roles than poor people.
African society was centered around the belief in the importance of family. Most villages only had about four or five families living in them, and usually, the entire family tree would settle in one place. People did not just live with their parents and siblings – they would also live with their cousins, grandparents, uncles, and aunts.
A person without a family was seen as a person without purpose, and they would be ostracised (excluded) from most parts of African society.
What was the role of men in the family?
– They would serve as the protectors of their families, fathers to their children, husbands to their wives.
What was the role of women in the family?
– They would serve as the caregivers of their families, mothers to their children, and wives to their husbands.
How many families, generally, were there in each African village?
– Between 3 and 4, but that included cousins, grandparents, etc.
Why was marriage viewed as being very holy?
– Because husbands and wives could have children, getting married was seen as a sacred act.
What would a man and woman need to do before they could start a family?
– Complete certain rites of passage.