Accepted paper:

One child can have some parents: a case study of "fosterage" among the Hausa in Nigeria


Ayako Umetsu

Paper short abstract:

A custom of "fosterage" among the Hausa shows that each of "foster parents" and biological parents is socially recognized as children's important parent. It can relativise the modern western views of giving biological parenthood more priority and that parents-child relationship should be only one.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation analyzes a "fostering" custom called ri'ko among the Hausa in northern Nigeria. In kinship studies of late years, the multiplicity of parent-child is discussed in order to reconsider the modern western views: giving biological parenthood more priority than non-biological parents, e.g. "foster parents", and that parent(s)-child relationship should be only one. However, the discussion is still inadequate to show the importance of each pair of parents. I argue how "foster parents" can be crucial parent figures for children, in addition to that the biological parents can be so, through the research of the custom among the Hausa. I focus on following two points: the relations among "foster" parents, biological parents and their children from the children's early years until their getting married, and those after the children's getting married. First, biological fathers give their children their descent status, which is not affected by "fosterage", then biological parents can meet their children after they are taken out too. Meanwhile, "foster parents" traditionally behave as "guardians" with all responsibilities for their "foster children," and biological parents respect what "foster parents" do for the children. Second, even after marriage, "foster children" continue to communicate with both "foster parents" and biological parents. For example, though a "foster child" is much more familiar with her "foster family" than biological one, she supports her biological parents as their child. Hausa's case clearly illustrates that one child can have multiple parents and each of them are socially recognized as the child's important parent.

panel P140
Ethnographies of (dis)connection: marriage, families, households and homesteads in contemporary communities