Mary Morony, Author of Apron Strings, Done Growed Up and If It Ain't One Thing

Who is Related to Whom and How

Who is Related to Whom and How

Who is Related to Whom and HowWho is related to whom, and how they are related, in Uganda from an outsider’s perspective, can boggle the mind. The English language has yet to catch up with the practice of polygamy. The practice makes describing members of a Ugandan family a challenge. Descriptors of family relationships between parents, children, steps, halves, exes, and currents go way beyond the modern equivalent of an American family of his, hers and theirs.

Vast families

Multiple wives also create vast extended families. In my interviews, I often asked the question, how many siblings do you have? The answer could be was a huge number. When I appear taken aback or asked for clarification the explanation goes something like this. My father has ten children with three different wives and my mother has five from two different fathers. I have a sister/brother from with the same mother and father.

It is not uncommon for some wives to live under the same roof. In most of these stories either the mothers or fathers if not both are absent. To add to the confusion for me, if cousins are brought up in the same home it is considered bad form to make a distinction. All children raised in the household are considered siblings.

Honorifics confuse things even more

Furthering confusing the issue of familial ties, titles such as grandmother, jjajja, aunt as well as grandfather, jja, and uncle are used as honorifics but can also describe blood ties. The rearing of a grandchild or sibling’s grandchild is a common practice. Stepmothers —whether married to or living with the father or not—often step into the void if a maternal figure is missing. As is true in all human interactions some are more harmonious than others.

The distinctions are probably superfluous for everyone but me who is attempting to make sense out of the stories I’m told. Certainly, the Ugandans get along fine without them.


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