traditional extended family is the most common type
of family unit structure in The Gambia
and is a unit that can help to foster good or bad family
relationships. It plays a central role in Gambian society
and it is perceived as a status symbol to support a
large family and have more than one wife.
Gambian families tend to be large and three generations
may live together in one household with each having
different roles. The average household size is 8.5 members
per household, and the dependency ratio 65% (The Gambia
of Statistics, 2006) and estimated at 6 people in
urban areas and 15 people in rural areas.
Individuals tend to take over as head of a Gambian household
much later in life at around 40 years old. It is not
very common to find grandparents living in their children's
houses as they themselves tend to be the head of their
own family. Households have a complicated hierarchy
and are constantly changing and one of the reasons is
the polygamous nature of
Muslim society. A second
wife may through default become the first wife. Where
a man has multiple wives they would pool their time
and effort for the general betterment of the household.
• Son's children
• Daughter's children
• Head's parents
It's quite normal in Gambian society to call more than
one person 'mother' or 'father', and often people with
no apparent blood ties are called 'relatives'. Though
it should be noted that because Gambia is so small and
inter-marriage between people from different ethnic
groups so common many people are related without
even knowing it particularly in the Greater Banjul area.
Being a patrilineal society the father is normally head
of the family though the role and responsibilities of
running of the household is left to the wife. The times
when most family members living outside the household
meet at one time is usually at naming
ceremonies, funerals and weddings. At these events
different members have different roles to play as there
would be an immediate hierarchy based on age, religious
learning and status through birth and lineage. Respect
to elders is vitally important in developing good relationships
in particular greetings,
showing due respect and listening to advice.
At the lowest village level
there is the compound
which would have the eldest male as the head of the
household and possible several other families who share
blood ties as well as the wives and children, uncles,
aunts and grandparents. His role is of decision maker
and resolving disputes. Then there would be other compounds,
perhaps nearby, were related family members live and
the head of this grouping is yet again the eldest male.
Then finally there is the chief or what Gambians call
the Alikaalo who is the oldest man from the founding
family of the village. This localised family make-up
is fairly typical among different groups.
There is no hard-and-fast rule to this family make-up
as older male members can choose to move out and start
their own compounds with their own wives. It can be
a fluid system as it is very common in the Kombo St.
Mary District to find households with just the father,
mother and children, if they haven't already left home,
and maybe a relative who helps out in the house or keeps
the wife company. Having said this however, wealthy
Serahules in the K.S.M.D
like to keep tradition alive and tend to have a large
extended family structural group staying in one building.
Many more educated women now work in The Gambia, though
it was less common among the older generation and as
a result it has altered the traditional role that wives