By Awopeju Idowu
The allusion by the good book that ‘we should be our brother’s keeper’ appears to resonate more with us in Africa. We tend to do anything and everything communally; we laughed and cried communally.
Our houses in a pure African setting are built in a way that fosters communal camaraderie. No fence. No gate. No guards. No wild dogs.
It is common to see children of the same age group gather at night to listen to a cock and bull story from an elderly person. You have the implicit liberty to eat at a neighbour’s house and possibly put up an appearance there without any fear of being harmed or molested in anyway.
I had a practical experience of this beautiful communal lifestyle while growing up in my hometown. We did not really gather at night at the feet of an elder to listen a story about the crafty lifestyle of a tortoise, but we had a resemblance of something like that by converging at any house in the neighborhood to play and sometimes to watch television at night.
At this particular period, mobile phones were not common. It was never still a hard task for parents to know the whereabouts of any of their straying children.
I still recollect vividly the way the news of a new born baby was usually received and the cycle of reception that normally followed. From the day a child was born up to the day of christening, members of the community on their own communal volition, on a daily basis, would fetch water for the family that God gifted with the new baby and at the same time, with communal dedication, helping them attending to all manners of domestic chores.
Cooking, washing dishes and clothes, rendering lullaby for the baby, and keeping the nursing mother’s company were a joint communal responsibility
After the ritual christening, it was a common practice to see that one of the relatives of the parents of the new born child would donate or leave his/her daughter/son behind to be running errands for them.
During public holidays, there would be more cousins to holiday at the joy-filled house all in a bid to lighten their burdens of having to get things done by themselves.
Hardly was there any home in the 80s and even up to 90s without one aunty or uncle or cousin living with them to look after the younger ones. A lot of them stayed with us back then in the 80s and the experience was an admixture of the good, the bad, and the ugly, but that is not the focus of this piece.
That was the kind of communal lifestyle that was in vogue and was an integral part of our everyday life until urbanization and/or globalization stole one of the attributes of a typical African society from us, and denied our children the benefits and blessings of being tended or catered for by multiple hands or familial care givers.
A popular saying sums it up very well; ‘It takes one person to give birth to a child, but it takes the whole community to raise them’. That is Africa for you!
Honestly, these relatives living with us were never treated as housekeepers even though what they did fit into the job description of a housekeeper in modern day Nigeria.
I can’t recall or recollect seeing anybody being described or introduced as a housekeeper in a public gathering as you are likely going to find these days.
The reason is that such practice was not very popular then. And to say that it is popular now will amount to being economical with the truth; it is now a norm. a new norm.
The question remains, “can we do without a housekeeper in contemporary Nigeria?
Well, to be sincere with you, I can’t answer it alone. In tackling this nagging question, I am going to sample random opinions and share all of them with readers in the second installment of this piece.
Idowu Awopeju ESQ is a legal practitioner. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.