Migration: its effects on African Caribbean families during the 1960s

| January 9, 2013
Social Anthropologist - Scherin Barlow Massay

Social Anthropologist – Scherin Barlow Massay

By looking back and acknowledging the past, people are helped to understand the foundations from which they came; understand the reasons for the present situations and with such insight hopefully plan for a better future.

The Igbo proverb: ‘It takes a community to raise a child’ was part of the kinship philosophy in Nigeria and most West African societies.

The whole extended family was responsible for the care and upbringing of children and for giving each child a sense of identity and belonging.

Different members of the extended family provided a variety of role-models that helped to guide the child along the path to adulthood.  Consequently, the social development of the child was shared by all members of the kinship.

As a result of such training, the child usually developed a strong sense of social responsibility and accountability from childhood and learnt to be a considerate and supportive member in his extended family.

Those family values were transported to the Caribbean by enslaved people, hence while growing up in Guyana, there were always people (normally neighbors), looking out for me, and if by chance I stepped out of line, my parents would hear and administer the appropriate punishment.

Photo courtesy in2eastafrica.net

Photo courtesy in2eastafrica.net

If I did something really bad, I didn’t have to wait until I arrived home because justice was swift at the hands of the person who witnessed my misdeed.

Growing up in an environment where shared parenting and kinship were still practiced, certain communal values were transmitted to me and to the other children in the neighborhood.

First and foremost, it made me realize that I had to behave myself when out of sight from my home because I never knew who was watching me.  Secondly, it taught me to respect my elders and from an early age, it taught me accountability; I was responsible, not only to my parents but also the community in which I lived, who seemed to have invested in my welfare.

This investment manifested itself in other ways too, my mother and uncles were taught trades by my great uncles, and by the time I was six, I was responsible for looking after chickens and having my own vegetable garden.

Mass migration changed many things as individuals went in search of economic stability. In time many children joined their parents, leaving behind other relatives and neighbors.

Thus, from relationships based on co-dependency, many were forced into nuclear and often single parent family units in which the practice of co-parenting and support were lost on both sides of the Atlantic.

Later on, the effects of migration fragmented some families even further. Many children were placed in communal institutions that did nothing to address the psychological upheaval of parent and child from societies that supported them, into ones in which they suffered alienation.

In the next article, I will look at some of the conditions people struggled with, and some of the reasons that lead to family breakdowns.

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Category: African Caribbean, Culture & Society, History

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