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The Changing Roles of the Family in Socialization Process: The

Case of The O-Kun Yourba

S.O. Metiboba


It is a common agreement that the family is a basic unit of the

social structure and it is almost universal in its occurrence. In order to

understand the social structure of any society, it is important to look at

the family structure of that society.

The expression “O-kun Yoruba” is used in this paper to refer to a

distinct socio-linguistic unit of the Yoruba cultural group. The term “O-

kun” is a mode of salutation common but not exclusive to the area1.

“O-kun”, therefore, refers to the people and their language and is being

applied to the geographical area which they occupy.

In the recent past, “O-kun” was used extensively to refer to the

area formally known as Kabba Division, which now comprises the

following Local Government Areas: Bunu/Kabba, Ijumu, Yagba East and

Yagba West. For the avoidance of further doubt, the rest of the O-kun

Yoruba like the Akoko, Oworo and Ekiti are not included in this chapter.

Previous works on the O-kun people, generally had been quite

scanty and the few ones available to this author apparently have failed
to undertake a sociological analysis of the familial/kinship relationship

or network among the O-kun people. Under this claim, special

reference is being made, for instance, to previous historical works in

the area.2

The O-kun Yoruba evidently comprises a number of independent

groups- Yagba (Iyaba), Ijumu, Abinu, Owe, and Gbedde. These social

groupings have more or less a common heritage unified by a common


Stories of origins of the O-kun Yoruba are replete with a gamut of

differing versions. According to Obayemi, archaeological findings at Ife

(Ufe), Ijumu suggest that it was the seat of a fairly extensive

civilization that was based on smelting which flourished between the

9th and 13th centuries3. Several historical accounts as to the origins of

the O-kun Yoruba strongly suggest that the various segments

(settlements) that now constitute O-kun land might have migrated

from Ile-Ife.

Whatever the variations as to their stories of origins, there is

increasingly obvious evidence that the O-kun Yoruba are not only

Yoruba in origin but also are a segmented society succinctly referred to

as one of the “mini-states” which had been independent of other

states from the earliest times4. Today, it is common place to see a lot
of cultural affinity between the O-kun people and their neighbours in

Oyo, Ibadan and Ijebu especially with regard to age-grades, births,

burials, salutation and marriages.5

The Family: A Conceptualization

The family has been described as an institution which is unique to

human culture. The structure and the functions of the family change as

the social, political and the economic situations in the society change.

Different researchers tend to defined the concept of family quite

differently. The definition a researcher gives to the family tends to

depend on the aspect of it that is relevant to his findings.

According to Willie, family is defined as an enduring group that

provides for the creation and up-bringing of children.6 Family in this

regard is considered in terms of its functions of replenishing the society

and that of placing the individual in the society. Bell and Vogel in their

own study defined family in terms of the existence of recognized

relationship between a man and a woman and between one of both of

them and their children.7

The assumption here is that the family exists in any society

where related positions of mother, father and children are recognized

by the participants in the social system. In common usage, the family

refers to a more or less closely integrated group of people who are

related to one another through kinship, blood or adoption.

In most societies, the institution of marriage leads to the

formation of the family. However, family can still be formed without

marriage. The diversity in marriage in different cultures makes the

definition of the concept of marriage quite difficult. Generally, the

essence of marriage is to bring men and women together in sexual

union with a view to establishing a family and to reproduce. In modern

times, it appears not all marriage are contracted with the sole purpose

of reproduction, rather, marriage may be contracted for the purpose of

seeking affection and companionship. In many African societies

however, like the Yoruba, the former appears to be case as parents of a

couple whose marriage is not blessed with children do strongly show

their disappointment with such a relationship.

Family and the socialization Process

In different societies, the different functions of the family tend to

predominate. Two basic principles however may be said to stand out

more than others.8 One is the principle of reciprocity and the other is

the principle of legitimacy. The former is the principle whereby the

family is involved in a patterned network of interwoven social

relationships. The latter refers to the social placement of new members

of society.

Socialization has been referred to in some quarters as the

process by which a biological human being becomes socially human.

Certain authors from certain disciplines have also tended to see

socialization as the process which transforms the child at birth from

babyhood to adulthood.9

It is known to a large extent today that some of the definitions

sometimes proffered in respect of the concept are grossly misleading.

There is a common consensus among sociologists today that

socialization is a learning process, all through life. ogionwo and Otite

defined it as a process not restricted to learning behaviour of the new

child alone, but rather as a life-long process since adults continuously

learn to take up behaviour appropriate to the new position they occupy

in day-to-day life.10

One of the primary aims of socialization is to make the individual

acceptable to the society. In the societal perspective, the function of

socialization is to enable its members play different roles and interact

so that the individual and the group can function as a whole.

Socialization, in other words, aims at teaching the individual to behave

within a social context and to integrate him into the society.11 The
preceding objectives of socialization may be categorized into the


(i) To teach fundamentals of life in society

(ii) To instill societal aspiration in members

(iii) To transmit basic skills into the individuals, and

(iv) To ensure that the individual is capable of fulfilling social roles.

The position of this paper and with regard to the stated objectives

of socialization in the preceding paragraph is that the family

constitutes the main medium through which these goals are attained.

The family is the primary socialization agent.

In the socialization process, the family tends to have the greatest

influence or impact on individuals. This proposition is made under five

sets of assumptions:

(i) The influence of the family on the child at the earliest stage

of development cannot be compared to any other agent.

This is evidenced in the child’s helplessness in the formative


(ii) It is also known that the family constitutes the medium by

which all the initial emotional and physical needs of the

child are met

(iii) The child has been discovered to have the tendency of

learning fast from those he has close personal and

emotional contact with

(iv) The social class and status of the parents greatly affect

what the child internalizes

(v) It is not likely that the child will significantly deviate from

the norms he has inculcated from the family level when he

grows to adulthood.

Marriage and Family Structure in O-kun Land

Most often, the marriage contract between couples usually

results in the formation of families among the O-kun Yoruba. The

principle of unilineal descent is predominant in O-kun marriage.

Marriage is surely more than a legalized sexual union between a man

and a woman among the O-kun people, a feature quite common to

most social groupings within the general Yoruba cultural setting.

Among the O-kun Yoruba, marriage indeed, is an institutionalized

social relationship of crucial significance and it is usually associated

with a number of other important social relationships. Marriage confers

acknowledged social status on the offspring among the O-kun Yoruba.

One significant feature of traditional marriage among the people is the

customary rules which govern mate selection and the process by which
the union between a man and a woman become legalized. Marriage,

indeed, was by betrothal.

The extended family network (consanguine) dominated the family

structure in the area. Based on the principle of unilineal descent, the

extended family system was composed of at least three generations.

The apparently predominant extended family network in O-kun land

was seen as comprising two or more nuclear families affiliated by blood

relationship and characterized, among others, by economic co-

operation, provision of individual\ members with many social benefits

based on co-operative activities, well defined hierarchy of authority,

practice of joint rituals and usually of common residence. Marriage

in O-kun Yoruba was mainly polygamous. A man with several wives

could reasonably hope to have more children than a man with only

one. This was because a man’s status and property were passed on at

his death to his children. Besides, the joy and pride being derived from

having many children was enough incentive to have more than one


Unilineal descent was used as the basis of local groupings and

corporate activities among the O-kun Yoruba. Each village head was

seen as the overseer of all the affairs of the village. He had

consultations with the ward heads on crucial issues such as marital

conflict or divorce, burial ceremonies or rituals. O-kun Yoruba is a

patrilineally organized, exogamous society. The bride leaves her natal

group and is taken into the quite separate group of her husband, which

may be some distance from her home. The preceding structural

analysis of traditional O-kun Yoruba family is quite relevant to our

understanding of the traditional role of the family as a primary

socialization agent and its changing role in the face of social change.

The Family and Socialization Process in Traditional O-kun land

The family plays a crucial role in the socialization process of

traditional O-kun Yoruba. Like in most known human societies the

family is the most basic of all human institutions. Indeed, many roles

and relationships are family-dependent among the people. Examples

include marriage, burial, rituals, and birth ceremonies.

As a primary socializing agent, the family may be referred to as a

system of interacting personalities. In its interactional process the

family is able to influence its members in the following ways:

(i) It provides companionship, love and security for the children

and members

(ii) It establishes and continues inter-personal relationships

between members
(iii) It provides the foundations for personality development

(iv) The family is a smaller group and more closely-knit social


(v) Relationships at the family level are more intimate and face-

to -face

(vi) The old and the young are related to a well defined

hierarchy of status

(vii) The family provides the individual with a primary group

membership that endures through his life.

(viii) The social class and status of the parents greatly affect

what the child internalized.

Whether in Abinu or Owe land, Ijumu Arin, Yagba or Gbedde

group, the family operates as a system of interacting personalities. And

this enhances the process of socialization among the various


Members of the family tend to perform different roles at another

level of social interaction; a level where roles are less formalized and

more subtle. At one level, a member may be the affection-giver, at

another, the disciplinarian. One may be standard carrier, another the

Children tend to learn in subtle ways to perform different social

functions within the family group. While one child wins approval for

being the “good child”, another earns disapproval for being the “rebel”


The Family and Socialization: The Wind of Change

Due to certain winds of social change blowing everywhere, there

is hardly any aspect of human institution that can rightly be referred to

in absolute terms, as being static. Olusanya noted that even though

some measure of conservation and “staticness” is required of all

human institutions, yet observation shows that society and indeed its

component parts change continuously, though often imperceptibly.12

Among the O-kun Yoruba, one of the most affected institutions in the

process of change has been the institution of the family. Certain factors

of change such as industrialization and urbanization, migration,

western education, culture contact and the dynamics of political and

social change are known to have had a tremendous impact on the

structure and stability of familial relationships in O-kun land. Their

effects range from the growing problems of marital instability to

changes in family structure, kinship and communication pattern within

the family set-up.13

In traditional O-kun Yoruba, the younger ones were socialized in

three basic ways:

(i) Through shared and learned activities, e.g. eating, marriage


(ii) Through learned and shared ideas, and

(iii) Through socially acquired and shared artifacts such as

working tools (hoes, arrows, cutlasses) and clothes

In recent times, however, due to the effects of modernization and

industrialization, the role of the family as a socializing agent in all the

three ways listed above tends to have assumed some new dimensions.

First, unlike what obtained in traditional O-kun land where

communal activities were embarked upon based on family units, today

the family seems to have lost grip of its members among the O-kun

Yoruba especially with regard to influencing the behaviour of the

younger ones in the area of “shared and learned activities”. Marriage,

birth and burial ceremonies are being done today even where the co-

operation and approval of most family members are not enlisted. The

family in its socializing role is no longer the basic unit of most co-

operative and economic activities in O-kun land. It is not longer the

basis for social organization.

Second, the extent to which the family is able to transmit ideas,

beliefs and values to its members seems to have been much more

limited. In the face of the seemingly increasing complexity of social

life, ideas and beliefs from the traditional set-up within the family

structure are no longer deemed relevant, in some cases, to cope with

the demands of a technological milieu. Whereas words of wisdom in

form of proverbs and stories were seriously adhered to as guiding

posts in traditional O-kun land, such socializing functions seem to have

been taken over by other agencies like the school, the Church and the

mass media. Ideas and belief activities, norms and values are now

based more on a number of complex network of external social

relationships independent of the family among the O-kun Yoruba.

In most parts of this area, a few days (exact number varies from

one settlement to the other) preceding the formal handing over of a

lady to her intended husband, it was common place to see jubilating

singing groups, organized by both spouses, chanting marriage

choruses across the length and breadth of the village. One of these

songs virtually common to all the segments of O-kun Yoruba has these


“Omo kon oun gha,

o se bi a kelu hode”.
The literal translation is that “a wife has been given, it affords us

avenue to drum and dance”. This tradition for years seemed to have

an enduring impact on the young ones who were beginning to perceive

marriage as a thing of great social significance.

That role today appears to have been taken over by the peer

group of the intended spouses. The practice is more towards

organizing formal functions (parties, bachelor’s eve etc) a day or days

preceding the marriage date. Members of the spouses’ families may

and may not be present at such functions. The socializing role of the

family with regard to socially acquired and shared artifacts has also

assumed a different pattern among the people of O-kun Yoruba.

Traditional occupations like hunting, traditional medicine, carving, and

pottery which used to be transmitted by families have suffered neglect

and decline. Since the values of the society are not static, patterns of

behaviour cannot also remain static. Emphasis today is more on

acquiring technological skills, professional knowledge and skill,

enhanced social status through personal achievements, etc. Formal

education therefore which characterizes the school system appears to

have taken over most of the learning roles of the traditional O-kun

Yoruba family.
The traditional O-kun society was more stratified in terms of age,

sex and marital status but less stratified in terms of occupation.

Division of labour was not pronounced as would be expected of a pre-

industrial society. Since culture is essentially the contents of education,

the traditional O-kun family was able to transmit to a large extent all

the norms and values of the larger society to its members. And in most

cases, this was enough to build the educand (learner) into a

wholesome, confident adult.

Due to factors of social change (migration, culture contact,

Christianity, urbanization) it has become obvious today that it is only a

part of what is needed to mould individual behaviour into a socially

acceptable one that can be effected from the family level. Other

agencies are fast complementing the socializing role of the family in

this regard. By sending their children to formal schools members of the

younger generation are overtly being inculcated with non-traditional

values such as emphasis on personal achievement as a basis for social

mobility as opposed to ascriptive one (age, sex, tradition).

Effects of the Changing Role of the Family

With the declining socializing role of the family among the O-kun

Yoruba and the consequent take-over by other institutions, family

discipline in many O-kun communities tends to have relaxed. Matters

of yester-years which strictly fell under the domain of the family are

now deemed outside its prerogative. The result is a slack in family

cohesion. Family integration under new orientation (socialization) has

become relatively less amenable to parental influence especially in

matters where the young ones now feel they have exclusively personal


The wind of social change blowing across O-kun land especially

with regard to the changing role of the family has been held

accountable for the contemporary loose morals, weakened parental

control and the scant regard for the sanctity of marriage. The result of

all these is manifest in the pattern and dynamics of broken

relationships (courtship) and their effects include an apparent break-up

of traditional kinship systems, a greater convergence into a family

structure of a more nuclear type, as well as autonomous mate

selection (as against the traditional practice of betrothal).

The increasing emancipation of women on a global scale has

resulted in the duality of functions for some educated O-kun women.

While some of them are still primarily tried to the domestic chores, a

good proportion of them are now found in wage employment outside

the home, while simultaneously still bearing the burden of domestic

responsibilities. The impact of this development is manifest in a shift

in the authority structure of some homes. Some women who have

become “bread winners” as a result of their relatively advantaged

occupational status now tend to control the major decision-making

process in their marital homes. While the economic buoyancy of

certain families have no doubt been enhanced due to the taking up of

salaried employment outside the home, some family sociologists have

put the seemingly ever-increasing anti-social behaviour of a significant

proportion of the Nigerian populace at the door step of this

development. 14


We have argued in this chapter that all the three elements of the

socialization process have undergone tremendous changes in different

areas of O-kun land, even though to varying degrees. In the face of

such factors as modernization, industrialization, culture contacts,

religion and Western education, it is not likely that the traditional

functions of the family (especially its socializing ones) will remain

intact for any length of time. Peer groups, religious organizations, the

school and the media tend to have virtually taken over such functions

in O-kun land.

The thrust of this paper is that even though certain values in the

traditional functions of the family must result from the effect of agents
of change, care must be taken to preserve as much as possible those

traditional socializing features of familial/ kinship system in this area.

Failure in this regard may result in increased anti-social behaviour and

inability of society to provide adequate means (structures) to fulfill

certain needs for its members.

This view rests on the following assumptions:

1. Attitudes, values and other behaviour patterns conducive to anti-

social behaviour (e.g. delinquency and crime) found in the larger

society by the child could be better discouraged in the child from

the home setting.

2. It is the family that determines the geographical and social class

position of the child in the community. This in turn determines the

kind of primary relations the child encounters outside the family.

3. The family determines the prestige of various persons and

consequently affects the child’s preference for certain types of

social relations. He learns to appraise persons as important or not

according to their language.

4. If the primary relations in the family are obnoxious, the child may

have them either by physically abandoning the family or by

withdrawing psychologically. The family thus loses control over

him and is unable to direct his membership in other primary


It is against this background that it is being suggested that one

crucial way of ensuring meaningful, enduring development in O-kun

Yoruba land is to re-visit the whole process of traditional family

socialization. Any development that has no support of the most

basic unit of the social structure is bound to wane with time.

Socially approved and anti-social tendencies are to a large extent

nurtured by the socialization process within the family setting.


1. See Ige, J. (1986): “Bida Imperialism in O-kun Yoruba in the 19th

Century, M.A. thesis, University of Ife, pp. 1-10.

2. See Obayemi, A. (1976): “The Yoruba and the Edo Speaking

Peoples and their Neighbours before 1600 A.D.” in Ade Ajayi and

Crowder, M. (eds.) History of West Africa, vol. 1, 2nd ed.,


3. See “Highlights on Socialization Pattern in O-kunland”, Seminar

presentation at Akodi Afrika, 27th –29th June, 1995.

4. Obayemi, A. (1978): “The Sokoto Jihad and the O-kun Yoruba: A

Review”, JHSN, Vol. 9, No. 2

5. See Metiboba, S. (1978): “Marital Stability and Social Change

among the O-kun People of Nigeria”, Paper presented at Akodi

Africa Conference on O-kun, 27-29th June, 1995.

6. Willie, C. (1995): The Family Life of Black People: Charles

Publication Coy.

7. Bell and Vogel. (1969): A Modern Introduction to the Family, The

Free Press, New York.

8. Beattie, B. (1964): Other Cultures, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.

9. See Ogionwo and Otite (1979): Introduction to Sociological

Studies, Heinemann.
10. See Metiboba, S. (1996): “Religious Beliefs and the O-kun

Experience”, Akodi Conference Paper, Sept. 1996.

11. See Ogunsola et al (1991): Readings in Social Development,

Dada Press.

12. See Olusanya et al. (1988): Readings in Introductory Sociology,

John West Publications.

13. See Seminar Paper presented at Unibadan, June, 1985.

14. For details, See Evans-Pritchard, E.E. (1962): Essays in Social