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Home arrow Travel arrow Stereotyping Africa

What do you guys mean when you talk about a child belonging to the whole village?

This has to do with the communal nature of the lifestyle in Africa where everyone is practically everyone's keeper. The communities are usually such that members are, at least, very familiar with every other. As a result, each child becomes answerable to anyone the age of his or her parents, and every elder becomes responsible for anyone in the community who can pass for his or her child. This atmosphere makes it possible for any elder to treat anyone the age of his children as his child, and for the children to look up to, and display filial respect to anyone the age of a parent. A child being answerable to anyone in a community, who can pass for a parent and vice versa, is virtually what this idea of belonging to the whole village means.

Do you spank children in Africa?

Spanking is a sine qua non for the culture of discipline that exists in Africa. Think of the biblical "spare the rod and spoil the child" and you have that aspect of Africa in a nutshell. The idea is to correct and not to abuse. I say this because most parents in Africa will tell you how it hurts them to discipline their children by spanking, yet they must do it before someone else, say a policeman, as is mostly the case in the West, has to do it for them. Spanking in most African cultures rarely segues into abuse as it is usually administered by the children's biological parents and not some adopted dad or mom. This is not to say adopted parents are not responsible, but simply to point out that it is less likely for a normal biological parent to abuse his or her child, unlike some step-parent who might not feel the same kind of love and attachment that a normal biological parent will have for his or her child. Yes, spanking children is part of the ongoing tradition of discipline that exists in Africa. Of children and their upbringing in Africa, Mona Reinhardt-Moore, a Washington woman and official of the Salvation Army who formerly lived for five years in rural Liberia and travels there several times a year, is quoted saying "If I had a choice, I would raise my children in Africa Back in Washington, children run the family. But in African society, the child serves the family. African mothers love and care for their children but not in the same doting way as in our society. The children turn out better for it." (Clark 2: 57)

Do children dial 9-1-1 in Africa?

No, that is a typical American phenomenon. Africans live in tightly related communities—even within the cities—such that neighbors take care of each other even before the ambulance and cops can show up, a situation which might last forever, unlike the remarkable five to fifteen minutes response time in the United States. Elders and seniors in Africa play a very strategic role in coordinating and maintaining peace in society, even before the officers of law and order. If there is a problem, more often than not, the eldest person present resolves that problem, and so there is usually no need to bring in the police. It is as a very last resort that a problem gets into the hands of the police.

Are the children of Africa all starving?

All the children in Africa are not starving. Just like anywhere else, there are the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. It is true that the face of a malnourished African child foraging through a heap of garbage, with flies exercising freely on his face, has become the portrait of poverty in the West, yet it would have been exactly true and ethically honorable were the world told the conditions under which these children were found—war torn countries, and drought affected regions. No, not all African children are starving, except they happen to be victims of natural or man-made disasters: floods, droughts, or wars; for, just as there are the poor and the have-nots, so too are there the rich and affluent. The situation is virtually the same all over the world—there are those who have and those who are desperately in need—even though other governments, especially in Europe and North America, unlike their African counterparts, are doing a lot to alleviate the situation in their countries. The fact remains that there is hunger in every society where there were or are droughts and/or wars going on, as is the case in the countries of these sampled African children that are always shown the world-Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, to give a few examples.

Do you kill twin children in Africa?

In the very distant past, in some African cultures, twin children were considered ill-luck, and so killed. Henning Christoph, Klaus E. Müller and Ute Titz-Müller have observed about twins in parts of Africa:

Twin births are not a rarity. If anything, they are quite frequent, yet such children are not regarded as normal: twins are considered to be a bisexual unity. The Bambara (Bamana) of Mali believe that Faro, the 'master of the waters,' gives twins to people. While Faro imparts to normal children the spiritual substances of relatives who have recently passed away, the soul, or 'double' (dya), of twins never leaves the waters, but always remains with Faro and is for that reason free from danger and impurity. Each twin is the 'double' of the other, and in so being form (sic) a kind of replica of Faro. Their birth is therefore a blessing and intended only for the privileged....

There is also the belief that both children owe their life to the influences of evil spirits, and for that reason they were once killed at birth. In some places twins are still associated with bush spirits, which also appear in pairs. (198-200)

At the same time, in other African communities, twin children were considered a special blessing and the parents were and are still automatically accorded special titles of respect which serve to alert anyone in the community of this gift to them. The Ngemba speaking ethnic groups of the Bamenda Grassfields of Cameroon, for example, give the title Tangye (or Tanyi) to the father to twins, and to the mother Mangye (orManyi). These are simply titles of respect that alert others to the fact that these are parents of a set of twins or more, mindful of the reverence shown twins in the community. Anyone meeting a couple for the first time and hearing them addressed thus, would at once know they have at least a set of twins in the family.

 
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