Employment and trade forced

Africans to leave their villages to look for employment and markets in towns. These actions led to urbanization and pluralism. As a result different communities came to towns and lived together.

  1. Paid employment.

Workers were paid by money. The concept of money changed community life.

Individualism ownership of money replaced communalism.

  1. Land used to be communal.

There was plenty of land for everyone. But changes were brought by modern life. For example, health improved and people lived longer. There were fewer deaths and population increased. With money, there was an expansion of trade. Individuals started buying land with money instead of clearing forests.

Modern life changed the concept of land. Individual started owning land. The colonial governments introduced policies about land ownership in different African countries. In communities where education was accepted and money economy took over from livestock economy, communal land disappeared.

Parents did not have land for inheritance. As a result, people moved and bought land away from their ancestral birthplaces. This resulted in both migrations and immigrations.

  1. Property.

Traditionally property included land, cattle (Livestock), women/ wives, and children. In African traditional culture, this property belonged to men or the first-born son in paternal societies. In maternal communities, it belonged to wives and daughters. Today property or wealth is in different forms such as money, buildings, vehicles, land, shares, stock, jewels, insurance, and others. Women, men and children own property. Because of this, the status of a person is measured by:


Dowry – Bride price / bride wealth

In African societies, bride price was very important.

It was given in various forms. For example cows, animals skin, and camels.

Today dowry is commercialized. It’s mainly in form of cash money.

This has made marriage costly for the poor. Some young people are staying together without a formal wedding in church or in the community. Others do not want to pay dowry. Young couples are living together in what is called – come – we – stay arrangements.

  1. Health Medicine

In traditional society, Illness was caused by witchcraft, sorcery, bad omen, or curses. Diviners, herbalists, and healers treated the sick people. Today bacterial, viruses, or environmental factors, cause illnesses. These are treated by nurses, and doctors; in hospitals and health centres. There is however a craze for herbalists. The communities are consulting herbalists and are taking herbal tea, and medicine

  1. Dress

Mode of dressing varied between countries. It was dependent on the type of climate. African communities were clothes made from skins or hides, leaves of bananas and trees. Women wore beads, and necklaces for decoration. Modern mode of dressing is a mixture of African, Asian and European wear. There are clothes for men,women, and unisex. African and western ornaments are worn for beauty and style.

  1. Worship.

Worship is an important activity in African communities. There are different forms of worship, which are done in various places. Those who were converted to Islam worship in Mosques. Those converted to Hinduism worship in temples. Christians worship in churches. The few traditional African communities continue to worship their ancestors in shrines.


These are very few. But a few groups are turning back to traditional worship and reviving worship of ancestors and spirits, and their traditional God. For example “Mungiki” a cult in Kenya, made up of young people, worship the traditional Ngai and practice traditional culture. Traditional religions have many offerings such as foodstuffs and sacrifices such as goats, cows, sheep and chicken. Human sacrifice has been discarded. It is illegal, and it is murder.

In the news, we have heard of cases of body parts being stolen from a dead body in mortuary probably for religious rituals. This is illegal and a criminal offence. Modern offerings in most religious institutions consist of money.

  1. Death

Changes immediately the status of families. Mothers and fathers become widows and widowers. Children become orphans. Many parents, wives and husbands have died because of HIV /AIDS, road accidents, diseases and other modern calamities. They have left orphans, widows and widowers. Orphans used to be looked after by grandmothers, brothers and uncles.


Today government, churches, charities, NGOs, well-wishers, and guardians, the elder sibling looks after orphans. Some orphan sisters and brothers drop out of school to look after the rest. Some orphans have ended up in the streets because there is no one to look after them Widows. Traditionally brothers inherited widows. However, widow inheritance is being discouraged to prevent HIV / AIDS.


But on the other hand, widows are encouraged to remarry as society has become individualistic and no longer assists community Widowers are not inherited and many of them remarry soon after the death of their wives.

  1. Old age.

In traditional African communities, old people were respected. But now old age is not respected.

The aged are seen as a burden to their children. This is because the need medical care, food, and other forms of care to meet their needs. Most of them are neglected and mistreated. In traditional communities, children took care of their aged parents. Today some children care for their parents. Fortunately, churches have set up homes for the aged.

An example is “Nyumba za wazee”. A few old people can look after themselves since they have pension schemes, life insurance policies, and income generating projects, investments and bank deposits. They can care for themselves.


  1. a) What is the significance of the kingship system?
  2. b) Outline and explain factors contributing to harmony and mutual responsibility in the traditional African society
  3. c) What was the purpose of the bride wealth in the traditional African society?
  4. d) Explain the role of medicine men in the African communities and their relevance today.


Study Activities

Read the Bible quotations given

Carry out role-plays e.g. the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham

Consult the aged to assist in the understanding of African traditional practices


See also






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