Column by Amos Atibila
Growing up in a big family.
There is nothing more fulfilling than talking about a family culture that has contributed immensely to ones way of life. The way we speak, walk and the way we live our lives is backed significantly by the various values we learn from our upbringing and eventually becomes indispensable to our well-being.
Under a small roof of seven, bigger and separate rooms belonged to the elderly, distinct among the other rooms and occupied solely by a single man. The words of the elderly were very brief and had a touch of command like an authoritarian president.
I never thought it would be possible for me to be heard in a large family of seven. It was difficult to challenge issues, make corrections and come into consensus with “adult-children” discussion. It was just like being part of a crowd watching a football game with each person cheering loud like roar of a lion for his/her team. Football leaders, coaches and cheerleader are easier to spot than a mere fan that sits in the stands at a football game. Doing something exceptional can draw the attention of other people; maybe dress in an obscene way, being loud as much as people or “going crazy” on the field.
Keep your opinion to yourself was a popular response to a child in a gathering among my older siblings, which kept young ones wallowing in the quagmire of confusion. In such an embarrassing state, I always heard a giggle from unnoticeable people in the middle of the room and murmuring echoing through other corners of our room. I could only tell when my views were not needed when I always looked straight into the rolling eyeballs of my parent, which always signaled me to stop talking.
Also, I could determine when my comments were not needed in the process of my speech by the magnitude of silence that struck like lightning through the room at beginning of my sentence. I was willing to boycott family meetings because it was rather right for me not to turn up for family discussion because my absence as a kid was definitely not felt and so to them “a child was supposed to be looked at and not to be heard”.
To some extent, it urged younger ones to grow and become useful adults in their lives in order to be celebrated and be accorded respect. Older siblings revealed to the young ones how best we could add value to our lives through education and leading an exemplary life that is worth emulating by younger folks. I learned to build mutual trust among people and was driven by the fact that any individual problem was seen as binding on the others in the family.
Whenever I got into trouble, I ran helter-skelter to get home because I knew I would have more than enough people to support me even if my side of the story was not pleasing to the ear. We had confided in one another and we always relied on each other at every point in our lives.
We always said to ourselves: I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am. Let’s say we were able to the do this because the family was male-dominated and it was natural to engage ourselves whenever one of us needed help.
I remember when one of my older brothers needed some funds to undertake a project, he summoned the whole family in the evening at 7 p.m. and placed his petition before us and asked for our help, but most of us had no work and no money so we opted to him with our effort. It was always the gainfully employed amongst us who always pooled their resources together to help when it came to such an agenda of this nature, and they were always happy to do that.
The problem of one member of my family was a major problem for everyone and we were always selfless in helping. Getting things done, as a family was always easy because our priorities were always geared to one another and above all it was “cheaper by the dozen.”
Our way of life always transcended the minds of the ordinary because many believed large families should be characterized by rivalry, but we loved one another with a passion.
Life in a big family was not full of roses in my family but we still enjoyed every moment to the fullest.
Although younger children had some difficulties in the family, should we say other families were better than us? To us, “blood is thicker than water” and the plight of each member of the family was taken with absolute seriousness.
(Amos Atibila, a Missouri Valley College student majoring in Business, is from Ghana.)