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Fathers in Tanzanian culture

Most of the time our learning about Tanzanian culture is built on observation, but every now and then we get a brilliant opportunity to sit someone down and get them to explicitly answer questions we have. Recently we got to talking about family relationships with two student leaders. Since God as Father is such a rich biblical image, we’re keen to understand how Tanzanian uni students have experienced the relationship between fathers and children. Here’s some of what we learned from these two guys.

  • Many fathers have modeled themselves on the colonial mnyampara — the Tanzanian official appointed by the colonists to rule a clan or village.
  • Many Tanzanian fathers are absent from the home for most of the day, whether or not they have work. They come home to issue orders and expect them to be obeyed.
  • Tanzanian fathers never say, ‘I love you’ to their child. They show their love by providing for them.
  • In traditional terms, a father’s role is to provide for his family — food, clothes, shelter, perhaps school fees.
  • ‘Modern parenting’, as they called it, is giving your child everything material, including things like pocket money. The guys saw this not as love but as indulgence. They said their peers who have been treated like this have not learned responsibility.
  • One of the guys spoke with sadness about how many fathers, though they provide for their children, do not really know them. When he finished primary school, his father suggested he take on a carpentry apprenticeship. Our friend wanted to go to secondary school but his father was not even aware of his son’s academic performance, let alone his hopes for the future.
  • The other guy has been largely responsible for his younger siblings for several years. He spoke of involving the kids in decision making, for example, about what to spend extra money on. Though he may not agree with what they want to spend it on, he will do it because he knows their involvement means they will look after it better than something he has chosen, and also because this increases their loyalty to him.
  • Both guys spoke of giving the respectful greeting, ‘Shikamoo‘, while despising a father in your heart.
  • We have been told several times that the primary close relationship with an adult for young people in Tanzania is not a father or mother but an aunt or uncle. Both guys agreed that this is good because there’s a whole network of people available to the young person and this aunt or uncle is able to be a mediator between them and their parents.
  • Nevertheless, this relationship with the aunt or uncle still appears to be reactive: the young person goes to them when they have a problem confident that they will be interested and will help them to handle it, but it isn’t proactive in the sense of the aunt or uncle taking the initiative to walk alongside them and guide them.
  • This relationship with an aunt or uncle can become complicated if they are not a Christian and you are, and in this case, godparents may be a substitute especially if they are nearby and the rest of the family is spread out over Tanzania.


Categories: Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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