Family Structure and Roles

Monday, July 2, 2007

The family and home are God given and highly important institutions in The Gambia.
The family is involved from the beginning to the last days of one’s life, and this is one reason why children are still highly valued. The family comes to the help and support of its members when one plans to marry, when one’s marriage is in trouble, when one is bankrupt, jobless, sick, old, lonely, bereaved, childless, destitute, in prison, or any other problem.

People are expected to be part and parcel of the family regardless of their status and location. The breadwinners are expected to share with the extended family and must not feel too self-important so as to not associate or take advice from the family, especially the elders. But family splits and disintegration are gradually on the rise and this is partly caused by forces of modernization and globalization, such as industrialization, secular education, individualism, conflict, and abuse of privileges. Despite the pressures, Gambians still believe in family closeness and are endeavoring to keep together.

He is the head of the family, he gives advice to the family and he tries to settle disputes within the family. He may not engage in the day to day running of the compound because he might be too old for bringing food or cash for the family, but he can act as a baby sitter. He plays and takes care of kids whilst the parents are out, especially in the rainy season.
He could also represent his clan to the Alikaaloo.

Next to the grandfather, she takes care of the family affairs such as ceremonies. Grandmothers tell stories to their grandchildren and help with childcare. Sometimes they act as traditional midwives or birth attendants. They also prepare dead women for burial. They act as the female supervisors in ceremonies and communal works.

He carries out his father’s orders. He is responsible of bringing food, building houses, repairing fences. He trains the boys how to farm and he also sends them to circumcision camps. He takes care of his parents financially and materially. He
arranges marriages for his children in consultation with his parents. In the absence of his father he acts as the head of the compound.

Next to the father, she is responsible for all the domestic chores. She guides her daughters as to how they should behave and whom they should marry. They work in the fields and vegetable gardens to help the family. They participate in ceremonies. They also train their daughters to be good wives.

They help their parents in the fields, fix fences, houses, wells, and take care of all domestic animals if there are any. They also collect firewood for cooking. When they marry, they bring their wives to live with them and help their parents and families.

They help their mothers with domestic chores, and in the fields. When they marry they leave to live with their husband’s families. They support their brothers whenever family ceremonies are held.

Uncle (Maternal)
“Gives wives” (helps arrange marriages) to their nephews. He also helps in settling family disputes. They also help their sisters with any problems with husbands when the parents are not alive.

Aunt (Paternal/Maternal)
They help in preparing ceremonies and settling disputes. They give advice to the nieces and nephews when they are married. Gives support to nieces and nephews if their parents pass away at an early age.

Uncle (Paternal) (Also called junior father)
Acts in the absence of his brother and can inherit the brother’s wives after he dies if he doesn’t want them to leave the compound. He helps the brother in bringing up the children. They act as middle-men for their brothers in terms of any problems outside of the compound.

Author: by Ebrima Colley