Family and Kinship Structure
The Africans brought to Guyana as slaves came from cultures with highly developed family systems. Slavery had a devastating effect on African social life and especially on family structures. Spouses could be separated, children could be sold away from their mothers, and sexual exploitation by planters was common. Although legal marriage was forbidden to the slaves, Africans attempted to sustain relationships between men and women and their children.
The monogamous nuclear family is but one family structure accepted among Afro-Guyanese. Although the Christian church wedding has become a important popular ideal, it is more likely to be achieved by middle-class than by lower-class Afro-Guyanese. For many, a church wedding comes not at the beginning of a union, but as a sort of culmination of a relationship. Many common-law marriages are recognized socially but lack the status of a legal wedding. Afro-Guyanese, especially in the lower socioeconomic groups, may have a series of relationships before entering into a legal or common-law marriage. Some such relationships do not entail the establishment of a separate household. The children of such relationships live with one of the parents, usually the mother.
Because of the variety of conjugal relationships that AfroGuyanese adults may form over the course of their lives, the composition of households varies. They may be headed by fathers or mothers and may include children from several parents. Afro-Guyanese households tend to be clustered around females rather than males because the men frequently leave their homes in search of paid work. A three-generation household is likely to include daughters with children whose fathers are away or do not live in the household. Children born out of wedlock are not stigmatized.
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