Parents and Children
There are some generalities regarding relations among kin that can be inferred from informants' statements and observed behavior. These include respect and deference for parental generation kin which diminishes somewhat as the ego generation kin reach adulthood but does not disappear until and unless the parental generation kin becomes senile (pishwa ), and even then some indications of respect and deference are retained. Outside the nuclear family, there is general similarity in behavior toward parental generation kin regardless of sex, although, given the pervasive division of the sexes and the isolation of women (tawa ), there is generally more interaction within one's own sex.
Relations between mothers and children are usually closer, freer of conflict, and less restricted than relations between fathers and children. Fathers are said—including, sometimes, by themselves—more often to get along well with daughters than with sons. In fact, boys and young men rather often make use of their sisters' good relations with their father to get the father to do things the sons want him to do. A daughter asking her father to do something is likelier than a son, several informants say, to succeed even if what she wants is for her brother.
Some young men report excellent relations with their fathers, and observation in these cases is in accord with their reports. Others, however, say that although the father-son relationship is warm and close when the boy
is small, as adolescence approaches, the relationship becomes more distant and/or characterized by conflict.
I have talked to a number of adolescent boys and young men who have critical, even bitter, things to say about their fathers. A number of sons criticized their fathers for being too strict, too old-fashioned, and too unwilling to provide needed funds. I have never heard a girl or young woman criticize her father. However, several have told me that their parents (wazee ) are too strict or old-fashioned but without being willing (or able?) to differentiate between their fathers and their mothers in this respect. Aside from whatever share they have of the general criticism of parents, mothers are not, in my experience, subject to open criticism by either daughters or sons.
A few boys and young men leave their homes before they marry, and the reasons given are uniformly based on difficulties in getting along with their father or, somewhat more commonly, their mother's husband whom she married either following divorce or the biological father's death. In all seven of the cases of this sort that I was able to record, the son visited his mother even though, as in two instances, the husband/father told her not to see him.
As will be seen below, mothers almost always have greater involvement than fathers in their children's lives. In some families, the fathers are mainly peripheral to the children's activities except for providing (or refusing) money for these activities, including schooling.
Relations between parents and children are by no means free of conflict. Mothers' day-to-day relations with their daughters are fraught with conflict, and much of the most colorful obscenity in the Swahili language (and it is a language rich in abusive resources) is directed by mothers at their daughters (Swartz 1990a , 1990b ). I have no evidence to indicate that fathers and sons or fathers and daughters exchange insults, but tensions in these relations—often related to differences regarding the use of money—frequently are expressed in silences and withdrawal.
Some conflict is taken as natural. A proverb says Pesa zikiwa mfukoni haziwati kugongana (Money that is in [a] pocket does not stop knocking together). This emphasizes the inevitable and constant minor conflict among those who are close to one another (in the same pocket) and the harmlessness of that conflict. Another proverb asserts that the familiarity that allows minor conflict is strengthened by that conflict: "Nyoko, nyoko—ni faida ya kuonana " (Mother, mother [this is an archaic form that appears only as part of fairly mild obscene insults and refers to that insult here]—is [to the] advantage of [a] relationship).
But the recognition that some strife is natural and harmless in parent-child (and other household) relationships does not obviate the fact that serious ruptures can and do occur. As noted, there are sons who leave the parental home before marriage and not in order to work at a distant job. I know of no Swahili woman who has left her parents' home as dissatisfied sons sometimes do, but
the restrictions on women are such that departures are extremely difficult unless the woman marries or goes to the house of a kinswoman, in which case I would not be likely to hear that family trouble was at the root of the move.
As understood among the Swahili, it is a tenet of Islam that a child cannot go to heaven if the parent does not have radhi for the child when the parent dies. "Radhi" means a blessing and comes, informants report, from the parents' satisfaction with the child's behavior. A parent cannot control radhi; it is a natural consequence of the child's behavior, and a child who has behaved intolerably toward a parent will not get radhi regardless of how great the parent's love for him or her may be. Radhi need not be given explicitly, and at death a parent may give or withhold it without necessarily knowing that it has been given or withheld.
Since the Swahili, including the members of the younger generation, are almost all deeply religious Muslims, the importance of radhi would seem a significant resource for parents in their relations with their children. To some extent this is true, and an element of children's general wish to please their parents is, they say explicitly, based in concern about this blessing. Much more active in shaping relations with parents, however, are the very strong bonds that unite parents and children. A mother is said to feel deep sympathy and love for her children because of kitei (Johnson 1959  renders this as kite ), the pain she suffers at the birth of her child. Sometimes a person who refuses a child's request or withholds sympathy from a child is told, "Hukuzaa " (You have not given birth). Even fathers are said to have given birth and to have sympathy and love for a child because of this.
Although fathers are said genuinely to love their children, some part of this is understood—at least by some male informants—as a consequence of their love for the child's mother, their wife. A proverb used mainly with respect to stepchildren but explicitly said to apply to own children as well maintains that a man who loves a woman must also love her children: Mtu akipenda koa, hupenda na kilicho ndani ([A] person [who], if [he] loves [the] oyster shell [customarily or usually] loves that which is inside [it]).