Students take social science research to Africa


    By Sara Richardson

    American men often feel obligated to go into debt to put a rock on their fianc?e”s ring finger. Perhaps they would they feel better paying cash to her parents.

    BYU student Ryan Stevenson spent last summer studying the basic views and cultural practices of Xhosa males in South Africa, a country where men still pay a lobola “bride price” for their future spouse.

    “It was fun research,” said Stevenson, 25, majoring in marriage family human development, from Orem. “I got to hang out with a bunch of guys kickin” around: playing soccer, hanging out on the streets, just talking about girls, dating, and marriage.”

    He interviewed 10 males from the Xhosa tribe as part of an undergraduate research project with the David M. Kennedy International Studies Program, and found that many male-dominant viewpoints in South Africa are changing through modernization.

    “The women take on the man”s name (after marriage) and become a part of his family,” he said. “She no longer has anything to do with her old life; so one good thing about the modernization of their culture is that women are gaining more rights and there is more sharing of gender roles.”

    Fellow student researcher, Muriel McClain, 20, a senior majoring in political science, form Altus, OK, started four marriage support groups while in South Africa.

    “Research showed that the society views males as superior and females as inferior,” she said. “Only one out of the 75 volunteer participants in the support group was male.”

    Even though modernization and westernization have made a vast impact on the Xhosa culture, he was surprised to see how important marriage still is to the tribe.

    “They all want to get married,” he said. “The greatest moment of male”s life is to get married and have their own home and support their own family.”

    Many members of the Xhosa tribe end up waiting to marry for several different reasons. One prominent reason is so that the males can earn enough money to pay for their bride, also known as the practice of lobola.

    “One of my mission companions was on a mission because her fianc? needed time to earn lobola,” said Julie Johnson, 24, a senior majoring in English, from Seattle. “They sometimes consider our engagement ring similar to the lobola practices.”

    Another hindrance to paying the lobola “bride prices” is unemployment. The area Stevenson worked in had a 27 percent unemployment rate, putting the males in a difficult position as the traditional bread-winner. As a result to the high unemployment, many Xhosa tribe members end up living together before marriage, he said.

    Male”s perceptions, as well as living together, perpetuate the spread of HIV, which is already a monstrous problem in Africa, McClain said.

    “It is very common for men to have more than one girlfriend at a time, and this doesn”t usually end in marriage,” Stevenson said. “So, they have a high rate of infidelity, lose their virginity at a very young age, and a have high HIV rate.”

    Age is very crucial to the Xhosa marriages, he said. The males usually do not plan to get married until they are in their late 20”s or early 30”s, yet they all seem to want a younger bride.

    Arranged marriages and polygamy are still dominant in their culture.

    “The more wives you have, the richer you are; most of the wealthy males had more than one wife,” he said.

    There have been a lot of changes from colonization and the apartheid in Africa, he said. Pop culture and western influences have had a considerable impact on the Xhosa society.

    “It”s sad to think that the people see things on TV and think that it is reality,” Stevenson said. “I can”t tell you how many people asked me if I know R. Kelley or Tupoc.”

    Outside influence has also created a big difference in the rural and urban areas, he said.

    “Traditionally, in the rural areas males participate in a ceremony to achieve manhood; it is very important for them to pass this rite to become a man,” he said. “It is a circumcision school that men usually do after the age of fifteen; it is very different than our culture.”

    Stevenson said the experience was very rewarding both for personal reasons, and for his future career in family and marriage counseling.

    Some of the challenges of conducting field research were that it was merely an undergraduate research project, the lack of time, and the language barrier of researching in a foreign country.

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