The continent of Africa is divided into more than 50 nations and fragmented into at least twice as many ethnic and linguistic groups. Though the term “African” is widely used throughout the world to describe inhabitants of Africa, this term does not capture the ethnic and cultural diversity of the continent. The population of African nations is mostly made up of indigenous persons, however, several prominent groups emigrated from European countries and India. This combination of people has created an abundance of variation in the traditions and values of Africa.
An examination of the various ethnic and linguistic groups provides an understanding and appreciation of the rich cultural heritage of Africa. Traditionally, African cultures are thought to be based on kinship groups and a sense of oneness with nature. These traditions and values are demonstrated through the philosophy that underlies child-rearing in Africa (Slonim, 1991). Children are highly valued in African families. For example, in many African cultures a formal ceremony marks the first time a child is brought outside of the home (Slonim, 1991). Once outside there is a sense of shared responsibility for child-rearing that is demonstrated in the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Grandparents, especially grandmothers, have a special role in raising the children in the community. Grandparents are seen as the link with familial histories, other traditions, and values (Slonim, 1991). In general, the continent of Africa possesses an enormous amount of rich research opportunities regarding children and families.
Even though a large percentage of Africa’s population is under the age of six and Africa as a whole contains more than 10% of the world’s population, there is limited published research on African infants. The limited research is especially surprising since there is anthropological research to support the notion that infants and children are central to African cultures (Slonim, 1991).