Sub-Saharan Africa has a unique, cultural fabric that is tightly woven, which has seemingly been defined by struggles with European cultures, the colonization process (before and after) and various cultural conflicts. The future of this region will be bright if religious, political, social and cultural systems can be honored and simplified, allowing for respect of family relations, property ownership and each nation’s unique heritage. Using the United States of America for a comparison, we can identify differences and similarities, and find opportunities to compare and contrast between a growing host of nations, finding their way in an increasingly modern and globalized world and a super power that has reached its pinnacle.
In the readings, identifying one of the most important building blocks in the culture in Sub-Saharan Africa was easy to spot. Easily recognizable as a lynch-pin was the family unit and strong ties to religiousness and spirituality. There is a strong foundation and belief in ancestral spirits, extended family and kinship relations. There is a uniqueness in the family belief system that differs greatly with the United States. Where the United States can be seen as a religious society, most believing in a major god, using one of the many legends or religious systems discussed in the text, we can identify a typical difference. Using the Yoruba of Nigeria as an example, the Yoruba believe in a god called, Oludmare. However, there are hundreds of deities below Oludmare, that differ greatly from the religious belief system in the United States. The cultural impact of a system where there are many gods, would be a great source of confusion and angst in the United States, but in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is a belief and strength that this system will connect and bind its people.
With agriculture of extreme importance, working the land as a family unit, requiring multi-generational support, is a necessity. The land tenure arrangements and rights of a family to their ancestral land are typically held communally and not individually. Often times, the land and any monetary value associated with it, simply can’t be sold. Family land, for instance, is passed down through a matriarchal or patriarchal lineage. Destruction of the land or sale could provoke serious punishment, sickness or even death (Attoh, 2010 p. 152) and has deep connections with ancestral spirits. Aside from the system of transferring land wealth by legal agreement and/or contract in the United States, the differences stop there. Family businesses, not land, have the higher standing in the United States, without a direct need for the underlying land in most instances outside of a farming business. There isn’t a connection with ancestors, unless we consider the monetary wealth that has been passed down from past generations, which as an aside, is often times wasted. Where ancestral spirits have major standing in maintaining the land, a great desire to maximize profit holds firm in the United States. If land holds family wealth, there isn’t a negative connotation with its sale to the highest bidder like there is in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Referencing back to family land both in its importance to remain an asset for the family and also the livelihood that exists through farming, both marriage and polygamy are front in center in the culture. Marriage takes many forms in Sub-Saharan Africa and is seen as a connection between extended families and forms an alliance in what are very communal scenarios, with many social impacts beyond the husband and wife. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are distinct purposes of getting married, which are directly correlated with the highest total fertility rates in the world and a need to work the land for food. Families combine as one during marriage, with built in support systems, where as a marriage in the United States can be an almost complete separation from family. There are greater bonds that take place during a marriage when compared to the United States, where a union of a man and woman has become somewhat of a burden on the youth and more specifically, the feminist movement, which has allowed greater freedoms of woman than ever before. Where marriage is a burden to young adults in the United States and is seen as optional, marriage is a necessity, which may even include the need for multiple wives, in many nations in Sub-Saharan Africa. Polygamy is permitted and although maybe a simplistic approach, polygamy allows more woman hands to work, produce offspring and farm the land. In short, marriage connects ancestors, extended families and is a requirement to live, where as the United States, marriage has become an option and is unnecessary, even to raise and have a child.
Over the past 100-years, women in the United States have worked hard for their rights to unprecedented freedoms, unrivaled in the history of the world. The story of the African woman is far different, including many constraints. With the ability to postpone child birth well past the 30’s, own land, create and control independent wealth separate from a family or man, receive an education and work in just about any industry with nearly equal pay to men, the family and agricultural demands of a woman in the United States has dropped off significantly, allowing woman to seek these freedoms. There is not an expectation or dependency on this typical, United States woman. However, African woman are required to produce offspring, be active in family agriculture, often times without the ability to own the land they work, leaving very little, if any time, to become educated or receive proper training to rise through an industry and become a leader. The many domestic burdens are real and any slight change or modernization of the African woman, can alter the economic benefit of the family and have dire straits.
With a growing opportunity to enter the global markets, Africa is joining the developed world, but issues remain. The colossal, head on collision with European culture, both before and after the colonial era (Attoh, 2010 p. 151) is still taking its toll on Sub-Saharan Africa. There remains opportunities for this region to continue to develop, establish and necessitate serious modernization of its many systems. The Sub-Saharan African culture is deep, strong and will lead the way. (Submitted July, 2014)
Aryeetey-Attoh, Samuel. Geography of Sub-Saharan Africa. New York: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.