Modernity may have permeated many African societies, but the marriage institution largely remains under the purview of culture. The African Seer observes, “…for Africans, marriage is a matter between families as much as between the bride and groom, and many families arrange the marriages of their members.” In-laws play a very crucial and ever-present role in marriage, an issue that may disconcert those who prefer the autonomy of the nuclear family.
Women are married into a family
Marrying a Tanzanian man implies that the woman is married to the man’s extended family. The woman becomes one among siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and other distant relatives. The brothers of the husband are by extension husbands of the newly-wed woman (although not in the sexual sense) and must be obeyed and respected. In essence, the woman should expect conflict since some of these relatives may make unrealistic demands on her.
In the words of John Azu in Allafrica.com: “Marriage cannot be complete without in-laws. In fact in-laws are an essential part of your spouse’s life and by extension, your life. Perhaps they are a crucial string required to pull your family into harmony as a result of our African culture which emphasizes on building bridges of extended relations.”
The husband is loyal to the family
In a typical traditional Tanzanian set up, the husband will take the side of the extended family whenever there is a conflict. The woman is expected to follow suit. This implies that a woman who disagrees with her husband does not expect much support from her adopted family.
Children belong to the extended family
Tanzanian children belong to the larger family. All children a woman bears are regarded as children of their uncles, just as woman married into a family becomes a mother to the children of her husband’s siblings. This gives in-laws the right to discipline children and guide them in life. For example, aunts are very instrumental in bringing up their nieces.
According to The African Seer, “In recent years, modern life, industry, and cities have brought changes to African marriages and to the roles of men and women.” In-laws are losing their influence as nuclear families become more independent. But one thing is sure: Tanzanian in-laws will always find time to visit nuclear families of their relatives and stay for as long as they wish!