The interior of a Zulu hut shows living and sleeping areas combined. Via The Khan Artist
Since the beginning of recorded history, the living room—or sitting room—has been central, literally and otherwise, has been central to the African family setting. In the late Chinua Achebe’s seminal piece, Things Fall Apart
, he put the obi
, which would later evolve into the traditional sitting room, at the very centre of the household. And as the centre, the very place around which every other activity in the family revolved.
In more modern times too, particularly in Africa, the living room has retained it’s place as the centrepiece in the home. It’s the place we gather as a family after a long day; to eat for some, to discuss and unwind before the television. And it doesn't even matter if there is no power supply, we would still gather around a lantern, rechargeable or otherwise and regale each other with tales of things gone by. Of course not every home adheres to the rule but by and large, the ones that don't are the exception rather than the rule.
One would expect such to continue even if an African family is transplanted into a foreign land but alas it doesn't appear to be so.
First a caveat. No statistically accurate observations were conducted in the postulation of this view. It came about solely as a product of living for a year abroad and closely observing African families here and asking questions from others. So what is different in different in the relationship between African families and living rooms according to my posited theory?
Sitting rooms seem to have lost their pride of place in African homes in the diaspora; instead what we have is that family members remain firmly ensconced in their various bedrooms almost all the times leaving the living rooms to become pristine sepulchres, only to be visited when the rare visitor pops along.
Immediately one is tempted to provide solutions to why this is so; ever-present electricity meaning family members don't need to depend on a central source of light for illumination, speedy internet and varied choice of mobile devices mean members can stream entertainment content straight to their devices. Also, with many homes having multiple television sets, the importance of the family television set in the scheme of things is reduced.
So one should expect that the same happens across all households abroad. Right? Actually the obverse seems to be the case. According to a recent Ofcom (independent regulator of the UK communications industries) study
, the huge growth of smartphones and tablets has led in transforming the nation’s living rooms into a digital media hub. The report also reveals that 91% of adults now view TV from the main set, up from 88% a decade ago.
If we agree that such statistics stated above reinforce my argument, then what exactly is going on in African homes? For one, I think it is too reductive and simplistic to blame the breakdown in relationships in African homes to basic things like internet and electricity. But it might play a part, I think, particularly with the erosion of family values of the such.
When family members would rather retreat to their own rooms rather than engage in seemingly banal conversations with others, it surely reduces the level of interaction in the family. And with that goes the very fabric that holds any family together.
So there you have it. No solutions, no resolutions, just a piece of advice. Whenever you step into your home next, before you escape into your warm welcome of your bedroom, linger for a while in the living room.