1. In R.T. Smith's 1973 discussion of "The Matrifocal Family" (reprinted in his 1996 book of the same title; & originally in The Character of Kinship, ed. by Jack Goody), he reflects upon his own 1960's fieldwork in Jamaica and Guyana, reinforcing the points he made in the 1950's.

    The developmental sequence [for Guianese households] was presented [in 1956] as follows. ...As the children grow older, they gradually begin to drop out of school to help with household tasks or with jobs on the farm and running errands. The woman is gradually freed from the constant work of child-care and when the children begin to earn, they contribute to the daily expenses of the household. It is at this stage that one begins to see more clearly the underlying pattern of relationship within the domestic group; whereas the woman had previously been the focus of affective ties she now becomes the centre of an economic and decision-making coalition with her children. This increasing 'matrifocal' quality is seen whether the father is present or not, and although the proportion of women who are household heads increases with age --principally because of widowhood-- matrifocality is a property of the internal relations of male, as well as female, headed households.
    In choosing the term 'matrifocal' in preference to such descriptive terms as 'matri-central', 'matriarchal', 'female-dominated', 'grandmother family' and so on, I specifically intended to convey that it is women in their role as mothers who come to be the focus of relationships, rather than head of the household as such. In fact it was central to my argument that the nuclear family is both ideally normal, and a real stage in the development of practically all domestic groups.
    The 'normal' developmental sequence of household groups is rounded out by noting that young men and women begin to engage in love affairs while they are still in their parents' homes. If children result they may be assimilated to a filial relationship to the maternal grandmother, and in this way household groups are often extended to three generations. Upon the death or desertion of the male household head, his spouse simply assumes headship, and the cycle comes to an end with her death. Sometimes a widower will manage to keep a household together with the aid of a mature daughter, or a group of siblings may hold together for a year or two, but household groups normally dissolve upon the death of the focal female....
    It is well-known that in the Caribbean non-legal unions are common, though it is often suggested that these unions are quite different from legal marriage in terms of the relationships they generate..., and that they are institutionlized only among 'the folk' or the lower class. Neither contention is correct; one finds unions of all types among all classes and racial groups (though the incidence of occurence certainly varies) and our data show that legal marriages do not generate proportionately more kinship links than other forms of union....
    ...Despite the primary distinction between blood kin and relatives 'by law', informants consistently tend to reduce the stressing the assimilation of affines to 'the family'. This seems part of a more general cultural process among the lower class in which there is an emphasis upon creating and keeping open as many relationships as possible....
    ...[O]ur data from the Caribbean... show that there is nothing anomalous in the apparent complexity of household composition, the shifting of children between households, or the changing patterns of mating relations. The lower class West Indian family is not based on marriage or the nuclear family, and our informants show no concern about implementing some abstract norm, or value, of nuclear family solidarity. This is true even though marriage is a statistically 'normal' pattern of mating and the nuclear family is the most frequently occurring form of domestic group. ...[O]nce we abandon the a priori assumption that the complex household and mating patterns are distorted forms of a basic nuclear family system, then many of the supposed problems of interpretation disappear. Child-rearing is doubtless an important task, as is the provision of support for women and children, but these things do not require a nuclear family unit for their accomplishment. The evidence for this is super-abundant, and one need only examine the average lower-class geneology to appreciate the impossibility of arranging the individuals on it into co-residential nuclear families.
    ...[B]y far the most important element producing a matrifocal quality in lower-class West Indian kinship is the low priority of solidary emphasis placed upon the conjugal relationship within the area of 'close family' ties... ...[W]hat we find is priority of emphasis placed upon the mother-child and sibling relationship, while the conjugal relationship is expected to be less solidary, and less affectively intense. It is this aspect of familial relations which is crucial in producing matrifocal family structure.
    ...Marriage is an act in the status system and not in the kinship system.


2. Theodore R. Kennedy's remarks in the following passage are from his You Gotta Deal with It, an ethnography concerning Black family relations in a Southern US town; but I believe that they, at the least, raise valuable questions regarding the Caribbean family as well.

    [C]an the concept of "family" be applied in an analysis of the black family? Obviously the answer is a resounding No! The organization of these families can best be represented as a complex pattern of relationships between a wide range of people. These people may be related by blood, marriage, [or] mutual consent. Their relationships involve people's day-to-day situations that are shared with each other. Every member shares in each other's joys, hardships, and needs. They become familiar with each other so that they know how to deal with any situation that may arise.
    Sharing is very important among all members....
    ...[T]he role that people play will be determined more by their ability to perform in those roles, rather than their biological or marital connections. Performance is of paramount importance, because it is the means whereby members communicate with each other. This communication is not so much what a person says, but what a person does, and how well he or she does it. Therefore, personal relationships at a given time may never be explicitly discussed by the person involved.
    ...Failure to perform in these relationships is a serious matter. It is the failure to act, not the failure to ask, by which a member's performance is assessed by other members of the family. To have a "close" relationship with other members is to perform in one's role as expected.
    This complex structure provides for an elasticiity of function within the black family. Thus, the black family need not be restricted to a "fixed" set of consanguinial and affined members. This is why we see in these families people who are not related by blood or marriage.


3. Constance Sutton and Susan Makiesky-Barrow each did fieldwork in Barbados during the 1950's, 60's and 70's. In a jointly authored 1977 paper (from: Sexual Stratification: A Cross-Cultural View, ed. by Alice Schlegel), they make the following remarks:

    ...Both men and women regard sex as pleasurable, desirable, and necessary for health and general well-being, and they discuss, separately and together, how to improve sexual performance and pleasure. Stylized sexual banter between women and men occurs in public and private settings and is enjoyed by both sexes.
    Some observers of male peer groups have emphasized the importance men give to sexual prowess and the conquest of women. However, such descriptions omit the important fact that the West Indian men's preoccupation with sexual activities is, unlike machismo, very profemale. A man's reputation as a lover is not based on "conquest" of the "inaccessible" woman but on his success in sexual performance, in knowing the techniques that give a woman sexual pleasure. The West Indian notion of masculinity has built into it, then, the concept of satisfying the woman, and this performance-oriented approach to sex and sexuality is supported by the active interest and expectations of women.
    ...Unlike the dominant ideology in which gender is the basis for an opposition of roles, values, and personal traits, this system of rules and meanings makes few distinctions between male and female abilities and attributes. Sex and sensuality, which symbolize creativity and "power" (in the sense of effectiveness, not dominance), are equally valued in men and women. Nor is sensuality thought to interfere with effectiveness in public roles; for both sexes, it is believed to enhance abilities to think and act decisively.
    A woman's procreative powers, rather than disqualifying her from societal prestige and esteem, command considerable respect, and motherhood is a basis of support in later years. But motherhood also has important symbolic meanings: bearing a child is the major rite de passage from girlhood to womanhood, and it constitutes the more salient element of adult female identity. Marriage, if it occurs at all, often comes later and marks a transition from one stage of adult relationships and responsibilities to another; it does not play an essential role in defining womanhood.... Sexuality and procreative power are perceived to be positively associated.


4. Michael Lieber, who did fieldwork with "streetcorner" men (especially ganja dealers) in Port of Spain, Trinidad in the early 1970's (Street Scenes, 1981) was not pleased with male behaviour:

    Most of the men I knew tended to regard women as sexual objects and little more. Although these men proclaimed great love and respect for mothers (often called "queens", while no father would ever be referred to as "king"), wives and lovers tended to be mere "chicks"--women to be exploited for their sexual availability, their services, and sometimes for their money.... Men are unwilling to make sacrifices and to work out problems with women; it is too easy to walk away from problems and go searching for new women. Women know this and fortify themselves with a resiliency and resignation attuned to the unreliability of men.
    It has been repeatedly claimed that Caribbean women enjoy a great deal of freedom and power in their relations with men. But this freedom and power are necessary armaments in a world where women can depend only irregularly on men as committed partners in managing life's mundane concerns. Women find they must be strong and rely on kin to insure the cooperation necessary in managing households successfully and in raising families in poverty.... nevertheless, the Caribbean women's freedom is illusory. Women become entangled in the difficulties and responsibilities of raising children and supporting stable households. Men, with fewer responsibilities, are freer in their social movements....
    The Trinidadian man's approach to women tends first and foremost to be manipulative; after that it is contemptuous. Though men seek their sexual services, and though they "make babies", women have little to do with the core of meaningful experience as most men see it....
    ...To witness the Trinidadian man's typical attitudes and actions toward women is to observe what, together with the abuses generated by economic greed and rapacious lust for status at the expense of others, is most ugly in Trinidadian life.

back to list of readings