The African Son: What is in a Family Name? Part 1
So, I used to hear of stories about how wives and mothers were and still are given differential treatment by their husbands and especially their in-laws. This depended on whether they could give birth to children, and mostly, if they could give birth to a son. Preferably, the son should be the first born. This is as crucial to the African father and his entire clan much as it is to the mother, and for different reasons.
In simple terms, without a son, preferably the first born, there is no family continuity or succession. Daughters are beautiful and they bring joy to the family. But the constructed assumption about them is that when they grow up, they will be married and will carry on their husbands’ name. “Without a son,” in-laws, and clan members ask, “Who will carry on the family’s last name?” Yet, whoever takes on this name must also bear all the family’s burdens and breaks as well as its responsibilities and rewards.
Even though I used to hear about this delicate obligation, I cared less, especially before I had any children. But when my daughter Abigail Kilabo Nkugwa was born, she was my first child. It was then when I started hearing whispers and suggestions in the corridors among my peers and elders about a son. Some were bold enough to ask, “when are you giving us a son?” Others were a little sarcastic, "I guess your family planning will bring forth some twin boys, like very soon..."
It took me many years then, to understand what it really meant to have a son in the family especially from an African cultural context. It was not until I had my second born, a son, Israel Kukiriza Nkugwa-this last April 7, 2018. I was so excited to welcome him out of his mother’s womb. He was bouncing, healthy and alert, thank God! His mother couldn’t be prouder of that very moment. First, by my own observation, her pride came from the fact that she had safely delivered a healthy baby. But second, she intrinsically exuded this pride; looking at me and all the relatives around with a silent confidence: She had given the family a son; the African Son.
I then started thinking about some of the things that people say after the birth of a child. “kawoneko!” or “kulikaa!” That is to mean simply, “congratulations on your new bundle.” The real meaning is that the mother was able to go through the excruciating process of childbirth and she made it alright. For the father, it is proof of being a “real” man. By real, relatives, clan elders and family friends validate the father’s manhood. Without a child-leave alone a son, what is the worth of the African man?
These types of questions and other poignant comments don’t stop to reverberate among clan members and elders, not surprisingly on both sides of the in-laws. The mother’s relatives want to make sure that her foundation is secure. This according to culture, can only be done if the mother could give birth to a son who would then be the heir and the one to carry on the family name. The father’s relatives want to make sure that he has a son. This male child will continue the family’s legacy by inheritance. After all, his daughters would be married off to other men and they may carry their husbands' name.
It is therefore expected that family members and friends would mount that pressure on either the would-be father or mother to literally produce. If by God’s grace, the couple has a child and especially should it be a boy, a few family friends and other relatives are excited to visit the hospital or the home of the newly baby’s parents to check on the new mother and her baby. “Webale tuzalila Musika,” they cannot wait to say. This means that the parents of the new baby perfomed the most important function in their matrimonial union. They produced a special child. In this case, a son, who will be groomed to jump in the footsteps of his predecessor-the father.
Once again, before I had children, I would hear this common but very important phrase among friends and relatives of the new parents. But I had never felt its weight until I had my own. For the first time, when my son was born, I became fully aware of the gravity of such a statement. It dawned on me that a man’s worth has always been measured by many aspects which may include their leadership style, work ethic, wealth, courage and more. But none of those factors carried the gravitas as much as the value of having produced a son in the family.
Therefore, the African son carries with him the weight of the family name. His worth is defined by the way he is treasured, prepared and groomed to carry on the family’s legacy beyond his father’s life. But while the African Son is the gift to his
grand-parents on both-sides, the pride of his father and most especially the joy of his mother, The African culture behind this son is unforgiving at times.
Unfortunately, the excruciating challenge is even greater on the side of the prospective African mother.
In part two of this article, I will explore the kind of weight some of our African cultures bestow on the parents, especially the prospective mother as she hopes and prays to produce a son in the family. Is it fair to the woman? Is it even necessary? I will also highlight the impact and weight of being the African son as compared to progressive cultures and family practices from Western countries.
P.S. I appreciate all of you so much for visiting and reading my blog(s). As one who lives in the Diaspora, I like to share these human stories which highlight aspects of our backgrounds. My audience is us, fellow "Diasporans"-to remind us of where we come from. This is in the context of where we live now, and the ever-shifting market place we professionally function in today. My audience is the 21st century human resources and headhunting machine. I believe strongly that there is a need for an in-depth understanding of the human elements to the worldwide talent they are searching for. Thank you all once again!