This sample essay on Matrifocal Residence provides important aspects of the issue and arguments for and against as well as the needed facts. Read on this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
The Social institution of the family There are various types of Caribbean family forms. The emergence of the different types was largely due to historical influences that shape Caribbean civilization. Caribbean society has grown into a cosmopolitan mixture of different races and ethnic groups that construct their reality in the Caribbean.
This mixture has resulted in a unique social system; plural, polarized, politicised, problematic, but still some what plantation society. This has impacted the type of family units that emerged in the region.
The roles expectations by Caribbean society of mother and father coupled with the different socialization of boys and girls have influenced the many structural ways in which families are built and maintained in the Caribbean. This also affects issues related to gender construction in the family.
The ever increasing proportion of matrifocal and common law unions are products of history as well as other social trends that are both local and international in scope. Family forms in the Caribbean
A family can be defined as a social unit of common residence involving two adults who are in a sexual relationship. Children of either of the adults, from both, or who have been adopted also form part of this family unit. The most popular family forms in the Caribbean are:
• The family based on common-law union (consensual cohabitation)
• The nuclear family
• The family based on a visiting union (extra-residential)
• The matrifocal family
• The extended family
• The East Indian family
Other family types are sibling families due largely to migration of parents, and grandparent-headed families.
What are the reasons for the existence of the various family forms in the region? Some theorists such as Melville Herskovits (1958) attribute the prevalence of certain types of Caribbean family forms to African society and some of the social institutions and social dynamics of those societies. The nuclear family The domestic unit of husband, wife, and child or children is regarded by many people in the Caribbean as the ideal family structure that comes into being ith the marriage of the partners. However where the nuclear family was established in the Caribbean, its existence as a small domestic unit did not always last very long, even among the middle and upper classes in these societies. The family based a common-law union The common law union is another type of domestic unit with the same basic relationships as those in the nuclear family, that is, adults are united in an ongoing bond but the bond is not based on the family as faithful concubinage (T. S Simey, 1946).
To all intents and purposes the spouses are committed to each other sexually, they raise children in a stable relationship and the family functions as an economic unit. Because of the prevalence of this type of union and the existence of the relationship that it brings into being on the birth of children, several Caribbean governments have given legal recognition to these unions. Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua have passed legislation that affords the children of such union legitimate status as heirs to family property.
Common law unions have also been known to exist for many years without persons in the community being aware that the union has not been made legal with a wedding ceremony. The family based on a visiting union A frequent occurrence in the Caribbean is the domestic unit of a woman and her child or children. In this family form, the mother and her child or children live separately but may be visited from time to time by a man with whom she shares a relationship similar to that of a spouse. The man may or may not be the father of the child or children.
Quite often such a visiting union begins with a young woman being impregnated while still living in the household of her mother or parents. RT. Smith (1956) in his work on low income black families in Guyana noted the following: “It does nor by any means follow that a man will be expected to marry the girl. He will certainly be expected to support the child if he is able, and he may continue his attachment to the girl and other children be born. ” R. T. Smith (1956), The Negro Family in British Guiana p. 138. Smith further stated that the relationship may eventually lead to the establishment of a common-law union.
The woman, in order to take care of herself and her children, may then start a sexual relationship with another man and thus may end up having several children with different men. Financial burden and emotional strain of raising children arising from such unions can be quite overwhelming. The Matrifocal family In Caribbean society, the matrifocal family is the term used to describe unit in which women are the focal point. You may also see this form of family referred to as the ‘female headed household’ in some literature.
In this form of family adult males are absent from the family unit or if they are present their role in domestic routines is marginal. A woman is usually the head of the household or family unit. This type of family structure is so armed because power and authority tend to reside in the female head. However, there, are some domestic units in which females are responsible only for a day-to-day running of the affairs of the family. Males as lovers or brothers, or fathers of the children may be the ones who make the crucial decisions about major financial undertakings or schooling for the children.
Thus, absence of a male head may not necessarily mean absence of male authority. The East Indian Family The East Indian family units which are prevalent in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago are also the result of plantation society and the introduction of indentureship at the end of the slavery period. These family units are horizontally extended as the East Indians seek to maintain their sense of community and kinship bonds that are influenced by their religion. East Indians maintained, initially, most of their family traditions.
Over time, some of these traditions have been creolized while some have changed alongside social changes being pursued in post-colonial Indian societies. Endogamy still persists as well as some forms of horizontal family forms. However, these are changing as the strong traditions of colonial India lose their grip on some Indo-Caribbean social institutions. The movement away from the extended family household by the younger generation of East Indians will also affect other Indian institutions over time. Why the diversity? Researchers have offered a wide range of arguments concerning diversity within the family in the Caribbean.
Three viewpoints put forward: cultural retention, plantation system of slavery and socioeconomic factors and the culture of poverty Cultural retention and family diversity Melville Herskovits (1958) in The Myth of the Negro Past, was one of the first to trace the development of Caribbean families to the African origins of the slaves who to the Americas. Herskovits believed that despite attempts to strip African slaves of their cultural heritage, the practice of polygyny was retained from African culture. Where polygyny existed, the basic unit for affective bonding and closeness was the mother and child or children.
The husband/ father were somewhat marginal in this unit. Herskovits maintained that this pattern has persisted Caribbean society and culture, especially among lower class people of African descent in the Caribbean. Plantation system of slavery M. G Smith (1962) wrote that under plantation slavery, stable families were not give a chance to develop. Unions of whatever sort were often broken up as slaves and were sold. The unit of mother and child or children was less likely to be torn apart than the man/wife/children unit. Male slaves were also denied property and family rights, and a system of female centeredness emerged and developed.
Males therefore tended to be marginal to family units and this marginalization from family meant that slave children were property of white slave masters. Socio-economic factors and the culture of poverty The proponents of this approach including Oscar Lewis argue that poverty of low in come families of African origin in the Caribbean and the Americas prevents the males from making the financial contributions that they ought to and as a consequence the find it difficult to meet their family responsibilities as husbands and fathers.
Overtime, matrifocality becomes an accepted pattern of family living and family relationships. It becomes a feature of the subculture of poverty. Lewis conducted his study in the urban areas of Puerto Rico and Mexico. He argued that the presence of matrifocality is transmitted from one generation to the next. Further, the urban environment encourages unstable family unions due to a number of socioeconomic factors such as unemployment and poverty. Males tend to desert the home because of inability to effectively carry out the bread winner role.
The absence of regular employment that women are forced to enter successive relationships with a number of different males in order to subsist. Each male may father a child or two before deserting the woman and her family. Edith Clarke in her study ‘My Mother Who Fathered Me’ illustrates the combined effects of class and region/locality on family forms. Clarke’s comparative study of three towns in Jamaica suggests that families in affluent urban areas are more likely to be nuclear. Those in rural and urban slums are more prone to be visiting union, common-law or matrifocal. The primary reason noted is wealth and statusnstitutions of the