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An Analysis of Ritual Co-Parenthood (Compadrazgo)

Author(s): Sidney W. Mintz and Eric R. Wolf


Source: Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Winter, 1950), pp. 341-368
Published by: University of New Mexico
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SOUTHWESTERN JOURNAL
OF ANTHROPOLOGY
VOLUME 6

NUMBER 4

WINTER

1950

AN ANALYSIS OF RITUAL CO-PARENTHOOD (COMPADRAZGO) *


SIDNEY W. MINTZ

AND ERICR. WOLF

S ANTHROPOLOGISTS have been drawninto the study of Latin American cultures, they have gathered increasingamounts of material on the
characteristicculturalmechanismsof compadrazgo.This term designatesthe particular complexof relationshipsset up betweenindividualsprimarily,though not
always,throughparticipationin the ritual of Catholicbaptism.
This rite involves, among its various aspects, three individualsor groups of
individuals.These are: first, an initiate, usually a child; secondly,the parentsof
the initiate; third, the ceremonialsponsoror sponsorsof the initiate. It thus involves three sets of relationships.The first links parentsand child, and is set up
withinthe confinesof the immediatebiologicalfamily. The second links the child
and his ceremonialsponsor,a personoutsidethe limits of his immediatebiological
family. This relationis familiar to most Americansas the relationbetweengodfather or godmotherand godchild.The third set of relationshipslinks the parents
of the child to the child's ceremonialsponsors.In Spanish, these call each other
Italian comSpanish compadre-comadre,
compadres (Latin compater-commater,
pare-commare,French compere-commere,German Gevatter-Gevatterin,Russian
kum-kuma,etc.), literallyco-parentsof the same child. The old English form of
this term,godsib,is so unfamiliarto most English-speakingpeople today that they
even ignore its hidden survivalin the noun "gossip"and in the verb "to gossip."
In English, as in the Ecuadoriancompadrear,the meaningof the term has narrowed to encompassjust one, if perhaps a notable characteristicof compadre

* All translationsare by the authors unless otherwise indicated.


The writers wish to thank the University of Puerto Rico and the Rockefeller Foundation
for their sponsorship of the Puerto Rico Social Anthropology Project. Field data gathered by
the authors and their colleagues on this Project have been used in the present article.

341

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relations. Most other aspects of this relationshiphave, however, fallen by the


wayside.In contrast,in Medieval Europe, the compadremechanismwas of considerablecultural importance,and in present-dayLatin America,its cultural role
is attested by its frequent extensions beyond the boundaries of baptismal
sponsorship.
The thing itself is curious,and quite novel to an Englishmanof the presentday
[wroteEdwardB. Tylor in 18611]. The godfathersand godmothersof a child bein the ceremony,relationsto one anotherand to the priest
come,by theirparticipation
who baptizesthe child,and call one anotherever afterwardscompadreand comadre.
. . . In Mexico,thisconnexionobligesthe compadresand comadresto hospitalityand
honestyand all sorts of good officestowardsone another;and it is wonderfulhow
this obligationis kept to, even by peoplewho have no conscienceat
conscientiously
all for the rest of the world.A man who will cheat his own father or his own son
will keepfaith withhis compadre.To suchan extentdoesthis influencebecomemixed
up with all sorts of affairs,and so importantis it, that it is necessaryto count it
amongthe thingsthat tend to alterthe courseof justicein the country.
In this article, the writers hope to present some material dealing with the
historical antecedentsof the compadremechanism,and to discuss some of its
present-dayfunctionalcorrelates.
Emphasisin studies of compadrazgoto date has largely centeredon attempts
to identify a Europeanor Indian backgroundfor its various componenttraits.2
Other studies have dealt with the diffusion of the complex in certain parts of
Latin America, and the diversityof functions which it has assumed.3A recent
trend has been to consider the compadresystem as a significant feature of a
putative Criollo culture.4
The presentwritershope to deal with the compadresystemratherin termsof
possible functional relationshipsto other aspects of culture, such as the family,
the status system,the systemof land ownership,the legal system, the role of the
individual in culture, and so forth. We shall especiallyemphasizeits functions
in furtheringsocialsolidarity.We shall employthe term "horizontal"to designate
the directionwhich the compadremechanismtakes when linking together members of the same class. We shall use the term "vertical"to indicate the direction
it takes when tying together membersof different classes. Finally, we hope to
discuss compadrazgonot only in terms of the ethnographicpresent, but also in
terms of its past functions,that is, in terms of its historicalcontext.
1 Tylor, 1861, pp. 250-251.
2 Parsons, 1936, pp. 524-525; Redfield and Villa R., 1934, pp. 373-374; Foster, 1948,
p. 264.
3 Paul, 1942.
4 Committee on Latin American Anthropology of the National Research Council, 1949,
p. 152.

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RITUAL CO-PARENTHOOD

343

I. HISTORICAL ANTECEDENTS

This sectionwill deal with the historicaldevelopmentof compadrazgoand its


functionalimplicationsin the past.
We have seen that in Catholic practice,a sponsoraids in the initiation of a
new memberinto the Church.He must be an establishedmemberof the religious
community.His presenceand ministrationsin effect testify that the new candidate
is willing and able to receivethe prescribedinitiatoryrite. In Catholic theory,this
initiatoryrite is regardedas a form of spiritualrebirth,and an analogy is drawn
betweenthe role of the biological father in the processof conceptionon the one
hand and the role of the sponsoras a spiritualfather on the other.This notion of
spiritualaffinityhas in turn given rise to notions of spiritualkinship,and laid the
basis for the formationof ritual kin relationshipsthroughthe mechanismof sponsorship at baptism.
Each of these three ideas has a separatehistory.Each is made up in turn of
strands derived from differentcultural backgrounds.The notion of sponsorship
finds no warrantin the New Testament, and Canon Law refers to "custom"as
the judicialbasisupon whichthe preceptrests.5It may derivein part from Jewish
practiceat circumcisionwhere a witnessis requiredto hold the child undergoing
the ritual. This witnessis called by a term derivedfrom the Greek.6In this connection,it is perhapssignificantthat the EleusynianMysteriesof the Greeksalso
made use of sponsors.7The term "sponsor"itself representsan adaptationof a
term currentin Roman legal terminologywhere sponsio signified a contract enforced by religious rather than by legal sanctions.8Finally, we know that the
primitiveChurchused sponsorsto guard against the admissionof untrustworthy
individuals,clearlyan importantfunction in the early days of persecution.Hence
the term fidei iussores,those who testified to the good faith of the applicant,by
which sponsorswere also known.
The secondcomponent,the notion of spiritualrebirth,may also representthe
product of several divergent traditions.However, this aspect of the institution
falls outside the provinceof the presentarticle.
The aspect of ritual kinship derived from sponsorshipat baptismunderwent
its own special development.During the period of St Augustine (354-430 AD),
parentsusuallyacted as sponsorsfor their own children.This customwas so widespreadthat Bishop Boniface was of the opinionthat no one but parentscould act
as sponsorsfor the child's baptism.In a letter to Bishop Boniface, St Augustine
discussedthis point, and drew attention to cases in which the sponsorshad not
5 Kearey, 1925, p. 4.
6 Bamberger, 1923, p. 326.

7 Drews, 1907, p. 447.


8 Kearney, op. cit., pp. 33-34.

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been the parents.Slave ownershad acted as sponsorsfor childrenborne by their


slaves;orphanshad been baptizedwith the aid of unknownthird personswho had
consentedto act as sponsors;and exposedchildrenhad been initiated under the
sponsorshipof religiouswomen.9
Roughly a hundredyears later, the Byzantine emperorJustinian,who ruled
from 527-565 AD, first issued an edict prohibitingmarriagesbetween spiritual
relatives.The terms compaterand commaterfirst appearedin 585 and 595 AD,
within the confines of the Western Church. Thus we may note first that a
separateset of sponsorstended to be a later developmentfrom a stage in which
parents and sponsorswere the same people; and secondly, that this separation
must have been effected within both the Eastern and Western Empires roughly
betweenthe firstquarterof the fifth centuryAD and the end of the sixth century.
Nevertheless, full acceptanceof this separationand consequentexogamy took
place only gradually. From the evidencenoted by the Byzantine historian Procopius,we may judge that in the beginningof this period,godparentsstill actually
adoptedtheir godchildren.10In 753 AD St Bonifacecould still write:
The prieststhroughoutGaul and Francemaintainthat for them a man who takes
to wife a widow,to whosechildhe has actedas godfather,is guilty of a very serious
crime.As to the natureof this sin, if it is a sin, I was entirelyignorant,nor have I
everseen it mentionedby the fathers,in the ancientcanons,nor in the decreeof the
pope,nor by the apostlesin theircatalogueof sins.l1
But the Council of Munich, held in 813 AD, prohibitedparents from acting as
sponsorsfor their own children altogether,and in the books of the Council of
Metz of the same year, parents and sponsorsare clearly referredto by separate
sets of terms.
The next two hundredyearswitnesseda widerand wider extensionof the ties
of ritual kinship,and a concomitantgrowth of the exogamousgroup. A Council
of Metz held in 888 AD attemptedto restrictthe development,but withouteffect.
The incest group,biologicalas well as ritual,was extendedto coverseven degrees
of relationship.There was an increasein the number of ceremonialsat which
sponsorsofficiated,accompaniedby an increasein the numberof people executing
distinctiveroles at any one ceremonywho could be includedin the circle of kin.
Finally,the numberof sponsorsexecutingany given functiongrew as well.
Where baptism and confirmationhad originally been one set of rites, they
grew apart and became two separateceremonies,within the area dominatedby
9 Kearney, op. cit., pp. 30-31.
10 Laurin, 1866, p. 220.

11 Boniface (English transl.), 1940, pp. 61-62.

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RITUAL CO-PARENTHOOD

345

the Western Church.This separationis documentedfor the Frankishkingdom


in the eighth century,and was accompaniedby the developmentof two different
sets of sponsors, for baptism and for confirmation.l2Since confirmationwas
looked upon as a completionof the baptismalact, confirmationsponsorssimilarly
became ritual kin. In the Eastern Church, however, baptism and confirmation
remainedone rite, but different sets of sponsorsand hence ritual relativeswere
added for a hair-cuttingrite as well as for "wet"baptism.13The Western Church,
in turn, added ritual kin relationshipswith a "catechismal"godfather, who was
present at ceremoniesand abjurationsprecedingthe baptismalact. For a long
time it was also believed that the sacramentof confession produced a bond of
ritual kinship betweenthe father confessorand the confessant,until Pope Boniface the Seventh abrogatedthis relationshipin 1298 AD.
But as the numberof ceremoniesproductiveof ritual kin relationsgrew, so
grew the numberof people who were gearedinto kinshiparrangements.First, the
Western Church extended spiritual relationshipsto cover the officiatingpriest,
the sponsors,the child, the child'sparents,and their respectivechildren.Thus we
get spiritualfraternityas well as spiritualco-parenthood.In this context,we may
recallthat the final ban againstpriests'marriagesand concubinagewas not issued
until the Council of Trent (1545-63 AD). Finally, the number of sponsorsincreased,until general custom admitted between one and thirty baptismalsponsors.14While Pope Boniface abrogatedritual kin relationshipsarising from the
confessional,he decreedat the same time that all the sponsorswho were present
at any given ceremonyenteredinto valid ritual kin relationships,and necessarily
becamepart of the wideningexogamiccircles.
Despite the largely formal nature of the materialthat deals with the growth
of ritual kin ties during this period, we may perhapsventuresome guesses as to
possible functional correlatesof the mechanism,and attempt to delimit some of
the factors in its formation.
Ecclesiasticallegislationon the subject tends to center in two main periods:
in the ninth centuryAD on the one hand, and in the periodfrom about 1300 AD
to the end of the sixteenthcentury on the other. The interim period witnessed
highest developmentof the feudal order.Its main culturalconditionsmay briefly
be restated.Ownershipof land was vested in the feudal lord. He also owned a
share of the labor of the serfs who lived on his land. In return he granted the
workerrightsto use the land, ownershipof certaintools, and the right to consume
some of the agriculturaland handicraft goods which he produced.The mutual
12 Laurin, op. cit., p. 220.
13 Durham, 1928, p. 304.

14 Tuschen, 1936, p. 61.

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obligationsand serviceswhich made up this system were maintainedby custom,


and this complex of custom operatedlargely through face-to-face relationships
betweenits carriers.We hope to indicate that the compadremechanismand its
ritual kin correlateswere a functioningpart of the class system implicit in this
basic relationship.
Many writershave suggestedthat the compadremechanismsupersededearlier
relationshipsof a tribalcharacterbasedon actual or fictitiousties of blood. Thus
Kummerfeels that "it subordinatedthe communityof blood to the communityof
faith."'5 Tomasic notes that the compadremechanismmaintaineditself within
Dinaric society while blood brotherhooddeclined.16He sees some relationship
betweenthis phenomenonand "the strengtheningof the powerof the state," and
states that the compadremechanism"wastransferredfrom the tribal to the state
level."With the growthof the state and its formalinstitutions,compadrazgothus
served to manipulatethe increasinglyimpersonalstructurein termsof person-toperson relationships.
In more specificfashion,Dopsch has relatedsome forms of artificialrelationships and "brotherhoodarrangements"among feudal tenants to changes in the
When the powerof the large landownerswas at its peak
patternof inheritance.17
of the Roman Empire and during the initial period
the
declining
phase
during
of feudal consolidation,tenants inheritedrights of tenure from their neighbors
in the absence of descendantsin the direct line. With changes away from the
predominanceof large landowners,and towardsincreasedpoliticalcentralization,
this right of neighborinheritancegave way to inheritanceon the part of other
relativesof the deceased,notablyon the part of siblings.Blood or ritual brothers
then becamean asset in the struggle "to lighten the economicand social duties
with which the landownersburdenedtheir tenants."18During this period, inheritanceof tenureon the manorwithin the same householdbecamemore secure,
the greater the number of potential heirs and workers. Horizontally phrased
mechanismslike the Latin adfratatioand the Visigoth hermandadkept the land
within the group of ritual and blood brothers,and preventedits reversionto the
lord's demesne.The Church, anxiousto establishitself as an independentlandownerin its own right, capitalizedon this change in the processof inheritanceto
press its own claims. It accomplishedthis through the enforcementof religious
rulings regardingexogamy.
The marriageswithinthe kin groupand withinthe groupof affinalrelativesheavily
15 Kummer,1931, p. 789.

17 Dopsch,1918-20,vol. 1, p. 378.

16 Tomasic, 1948, p. 80.

18 Ibid.

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RITUAL CO-PARENTHOOD

347

reinforcedthe weightof the old Germaniclimitationson the right of the individual


to disposeof property,and as a resultput the Churchin a disadvantageous
position.'l
These limitationswere used against the Church by its main adversariesin the
struggle over land, the lay aristocracyand feudal lords. When the Church prohibited marriagewithin seven degrees of relationship,it prohibitedit among all
persons who for any legal purpose could claim blood relationshipwith each
other.20This struggle was won by the Church,which in the processacquiredalmost complete control over legislation covering the making and execution of
testaments.
Thus we may trace the early increasein exogamyto three different,yet interdependent factors: the attempt of the serfs to maintain their economic status;
the attempt of the people to manipulatethe growing structureof the state and
the growingnumberof formal institutionsthrough the use of a mechanismwith
which they were familiar; and the attempt of the Church to establish itself as
an independentowner of landed property.In the final analysis,all three factors
are but facets of the growingcentralizationof the feudal structure.This process
took place in the main at the expenseof the lay aristocracy.In the struggle the
Crown attempted to play off Church and serfs against the feudal barons; the
Church supportd Crown and serfs against its lay competitors;and the serfs
looked to both Crown and Church in their effort to increase their rights on
the estates of the lay aristocracy.
Just as the increase in ritual brotherhoodand in the size of the exogamic
group may relate to this early stage of developmentof feudal tenures, so the
great increase in compadrerelationshipsand ritual kin prohibitionsconnected
with them appearto relate to later changes in the tenure of serfs in relationship
to their feudal lords.
The outstanding characteristicof the compadremechanismis its adaptiveness to differentsituations.As the structureof the situation changes,so we may
expectto see the compadremechanismservedifferentpurposes.As tenurebecame
increasinglyfixed within individualhouseholds,these units were also drawn into
individual vertical relationshipsto the manorialadministration.These different
relationships crystallized into different rules for different groups of people
on the manor.Far from being homogeneous,manorialcustom took clear note of
this process of differentiation.Under feudal conditions, then, one of the main
functionsof the compadrerelationshipwas to structuresuch individualor family
relationshipsvertically between the membersof different classes.
19 Dopsch, 1918-20, vol. 2, p. 227.

20 Maitland and Pollock, 1923, pp. 387-388.

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In medievalFrance, "parentsattempted to win for the baptismalcandidate


materialadvantagesthrough their choice of godparents."21In Germany,"poor
people invited individualsof higher status to become godparentsto their chilThe nobles reversedthis custom and invited their subjects, or at
dren ....
least their subjects' representatives,as compadres."22Mercenariesasked nobles
to serve as godparents;day laborersasked their employersor the service staff
of the manor. Officialsoften asked the city council, and the city budgets of the
time showthat the outlaysarisingfrom these ceremonialdutieswereoften charged
to the city treasury.23A "luminousinstance"of how the mechanismwas manipulated in daily practice is furnished by Coulton.24Monks were not allowed to
stand as godparents,for fear that increasedmaterialbenefitsthus derived might
weaken the centralizedstructureof the Church. But in 1419, the abbot of a
French monastery which had suffered grievously under the ravages of war
petitioned the Holy See for a dispensationfrom this ruling. "Seeing that the
favor of nobles and of other powerful folk is most necessaryand opportuneto
the said monks for the preservationof their rights; seeing also that, in these
parts, close friendshipsare contractedbetweenthose who stand as godparentsand
the parentsof the children,"he argued in favor of initiating compadrerelationships with some forty nobles.
The second function of the mechanismwas to solidify social relationships
horizontallyamong membersof the same rural neighborhood.It is expressedin
linguistictermsin the wideningof the meaningof the word compadreto include
the term "neighbor."In Andalucia, for example, the term compadreis easily
extendedto cover any acquaintanceand even strangers.2 In the Tyrol, the word
Gevatterschaft(compadregroup) is used to draw a contrastto the Freundschaft
(the group of relatives, from the old meaning of the word Freund-relative).
Hence also the English word, "gossip,"derivedfrom godsib,26and the use which
RobertBurns makes in his poetry of such Scottish termsas cummerand kimmer
to designateany woman from the neighborhood,a gossip, or a witch.27
One of the outstanding functions of the neighborhoodgroup during the
period of the later Middle Ages was the struggle against prevailing forms of
feudal tenure. The eleventh century saw the beginning of the fight to resist
labor serviceson the lord's land "by a sort of passive resistance."28During the
twelfth and the thirteenthcenturies,tenants consolidatedto their own advantage
21
22
23
24

Henninger, 1891, p. 31.


Boesch, 1900, pp. 26-27.
Ibid.
Coulton, 1936, p. 264.

25
26
27
28

Donadin y Puignan, p. 863


Weekly, 1921, p. 654.
Warrack, 1911, p. 117.
Ganshof, 1941, p. 295.

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RITUAL CO-PARENTHOOD

349

the variousrights of tenure which they enjoyed. "Begun in the twelfth century,
emancipationwas mainlyachieved . . . by individualor collectiveacts of enfranchisement . . . generallybrought about through a revolt of the inhabitantsof a
seignorie."29This struggle was often carried on with the aid of Crown and
Church, which supportedthe claims of serfs and tenants in order to undermine
the position of the lay aristocracy.Not the least of these claims was directed
against the feudal regulationsgoverning marriage.
One of the most direct consequencesof the extensionof the exogamicgroup
through ritual kin ties was to put pressureon existing provisionsfor a stable
labor supply. Marriage off the manor meant the loss of propertyto one of the
feudal lords, and he exacted compensation.A serf was not permittedto marry
off the manor without paymentof an indemnityvariouslyknown as formariage,
foris, or merchet.Extension of kinship ties through ceremonialsponsorshipinevitablybroughtnearerthe day when most of the inhabitantsof a village would
be ritually related,and yet unable to pay the fee requiredfor marriagesoutside
the estate. Conflictsmight for a while be avoided through refusal to marryand
baptize in church, through systematicchoice of godparents from the group of
blood relatives,30or through systematic choice of sponsors from one family.31
The two last-namedtechniques are reported for modern Bulgar villages. Yet
these devicesproved temporary,especiallyin the smallercommunities.32
At first,
lords tried to meet the situation of increasingmigration and marriageoff the
manor by local agreements,33but in the thirteenthand fourteenthcenturies,the
paymentof merchetfell into disuse altogether.Serfs acquiredthe right to marry
off the manor when they took over their fathers' land, or bargainedwith their
lords for the privilege of marryingwithout interference.When a bargain was
struck, the serfs had the exemptionswritten down in the manorial rolls, to be
certainof proof when the actual occasionarose.34
The special charterswon by the peasantryduring these times gave rise to a
specialkind of neighborhoodsolidarity,reflected,in termsof the presentproblem,
in attemptsto include all the membersof the neighborhoodwithin the compadre
network. Thus we may note a Bosnian practice of including Muslim members
of the communityby making them sponsorson special occasions,until in 1676
the Holy Office issued a decree against "the admissionof heretics as sponsors,
29 Ganshof, op. cit., p. 319.
30 Boesch, op. cit., p. 26.

31 Sanders,1949,p. 129.

32 Laurin, op. cit., p. 262. For parallels in modern Bulgaria, cf. Handjieff, 1931, pp. 36-37.
33 Nabholz, 1941, p. 506.
34 Bennett, 1938, pp. 241-242.

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even though the strongest reasons of friendship and familiarity prompted the
choice of such a person."35Also, in some areasneighborsacquiredspecial rights
as witnessesin legal proceedings,survivinguntil recentlyin the right of the Serb
compadreto defend his kum in court,and to act as witnessfor him.36
In passingwe may mentionthat the pattern of sponsorshippermittedof easy
extension into other spheres of activity. Thus, the organizationsof medieval
journeymenused both the componentsof baptism and sponsorshipin initiating
apprenticesto their ranks,37and knights who aided a candidate for initiation
into knighthoodwent by godfather and compadreterms.38
Finally, we must mentionthe sanctionsof the Church in the enforcementof
exogamy.In setting new norms for its tenants, it acted in its own self-interestin
competitionwith the lay aristocracywhich jealously guarded and reinforcedits
position of immunity.In extendingCanon Law, and at the same time stressing
dispensationsfrom it, the Churchadded a sourceof income.Canon Law is manmade law, and the Pope has the right, by virtue of his office,to change its stipulations at will. For sixteen groschena commonercould marryhis blood relatives
of the fourth degreeof relationship,not to speak of ritual kin relations,39and a
price list for the years 1492-1513specificallystates that "in spiritualrelationships
paupersare not dispensed,and the compositionis three hundredducats; nevertheless,one hundredare commonlypaid."40Coulton has pointedout that enforcement to the letter of Canon Law would have meant "papaldispensations. . . in
almost every generationof almost every village in Europe,"41and the law was
often honoredin the breach.But punishmentstruck hard, as in the case of one
John Howthon of Tonbridge who was whippedthree times around market and
church for having marrieda girl to whom his first wife had been godmother.42
As the Middle Ages draw to a close, we find an increasingnumberof local
attemptsto restrictthe extensionof exogamythrough ritual kin ties, on the part
of both Churchand state. A numberof synods,held betweenthe years 1310 and
1512, tried to set limits to the numberof sponsorsat baptismalceremonies,but
failed.43In 1521 the GermanEstates petitionedthe Pope for redressof a series
of wrongs.Their complaintagainst ritual kinship derived from baptismalsponsorship heads a list of some sixty-oddcomplaints.44The German Reformation
directedits attack againstthe custom."This is the work of fools," Luthersaid.45
35
36
37
38

Kearney,op. cit., p. 58.


Ploss, 1911, p. 325.
Erich, 1936, p. 275; Siemsen, 1942, pp. 61, 67.
Corblet, 1882, vol. 1, p. 180.

39 Flick, 1936, vol. 1, p. 122.

41
42
43
44

Coulton, 1926, p. 80.


Howard, 1904, p. 365.
Laurin, op. cit., p. 263.
Miinch, 1830, vol. 1, p. 344.

45 Luther,1539,p. 301.

40 Lunt, 1934, vol. 2, pp. 525-526.

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RITUAL CO-PARENTHOOD

351

"Becausein thiswayone Christiancouldnot takeanotherone,becausetheyare


Theseare the moneysnaresof the Pope."
brotherand sisteramongthemselves.
and that "no man has
Lutherdeclaredthat "loveneedsno laws whatsoever,"
therightto createsuchlaws."He spokeout sharplyagainst"thesestupidbarriers
dueto spiritualfatherhood,
andchildhood.
motherhood,
brotherhood,
sisterhood,
Who but Superstitionhas createdthese spiritualrelationships?
. . . Behold,
Christianfreedomis suppressed
due to the blindnessof humansuperstition."46
His collectedproverbsstressthe purelymundaneand neighborlyaspectsof the
andadvocatethat just as "goodfencesmakegoodneighmechanism,
compadre
As earlyas 1550,
bors,"so theyalsomakefor goodrelationsamongcompadres.47
Saxonyrestrictedthe numberof baptismalsponsorsto betweensevenand nine
for nobles,andto threefor burghers.
Underpressuresfromwithinandwithout,
the Churchalso reformedits stand at the Councilof Trent (1545-63). It
restrictedritualkin relationships
to the baptizingpriest,the child, the child's
the
child's
and
But
parents
sponsors. it put an endto spiritualfraternity,
spiritual
between
the
and spiritualrelationships
sponsorsthemselves,
relationships
arising
fromcatechismal
It restrictedto one or to a maximumof two the
sponsorship.
numberof sponsorsat baptism,and the numberof sponsorsat confirmation
to
one. Again, state authoritiesfollowedsuit, and the rules governingbaptism
issuedby the Duke of Altenburgfor the year1681aretypicalfor a wholeseries
of Germancities.These rulingsrestrictedthe numberof sponsorsaccordingto
one'sestate.Nobles werepermittedmoresponsorsthan burghersand artisans,
The AustrianEmperorJosephII
burghersand artisansmorethan peasants.48
restrictedto only two or threethe numberof sponsorsat baptism,althougha
muchlargernumberhad beenchosenin earliertimes.49
The rationalefor theserestrictions
emergesperhapsmost clearlyin rulings
from
their
prohibitingpeasants
seeking
compadresin the towns, and "since
richpeoplewereoftenselectedas compadres,"
peoplewerepreventedfromasking
unknownpersonsfor the service.50
We may note that the bulk of the restrictionscoincidewiththe periodwhichwitnessedthe riseof Protestantism
and the
The new ethicput a premiumon the
earlybeginningsof industrialcivilization.
individualas an effectiveaccumulator
of capitaland virtue,and was certainto
discountenance
thedrainon individualresources
andthe restrictions
on individual
freedomimplicitin thewideextensionof ritualkin ties.As a resultthe compadre
mechanism
has disappeared
almostcompletelyfrom areaswhichwitnessedthe
46 Luther, 1520, pp. 477-478.
47 Luther, 1900, p. 348.
48 Boesch, op. cit., p. 32.

49 Ploss, op. cit., p. 330.


50 Boesch, op. cit., p. 32.

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developmentof industrialcapitalism,the rise of a strong middle class, and the


disappearanceof feudal or neo-feudal tenures.Within these areas compadrazgo
has lost its function most completelywithin the classes in which the family no
longer forms the primaryunit of production.This would include the economically mobile upper and middle classeson the one hand, and the industrialwageearningworkingclass on the other. In both these segments,kinship mechanisms
becameincreasinglynon-functional,and tendedto be replacedby moreimpersonal,
institutionalizedformsof organization.Within these same areas,however,kinship
mechanismshave been retained most completely where peasants have not yet
becomefarmers.This point of transitioncomes where productionis still largely
for immediateconsumptionratherthan for accumulation,and where the familial
unit still forms the active basis of economiclife. In Europe, as a whole, it has
been retainedmost completelyin such areasas Spain, Italy, and the Balkan countrieswherethe developmentof industrialcapitalism,the riseof a middleclass, and
the disintegrationof the feudal orderhas been less rapid. To this extent Robert
Redfield is justified when he called compadrazgoa Southern Europeanpeasant
custom.51It is from SouthernEurope that the complexwas transmittedto Latin
America,along with the call to baptizethe infidelsand to bringthem into the fold
of the Christiancommunityas an additionto the faith throughbaptism,and as an
addition to the richesof the SpanishEmpire through labor.
II. FUNCTIONAL ANALYSIS

The Catholicceremonialcomplexes,when carriedto the New World, were to


develop under conditionsvery different from those of fifteenth-centuryEurope.
Alienation of Indian lands through such devices as the repartimientoand the
encomiendaproceededconcurrentlywith the wholesaleconversionof millions of
native peoples to Catholicism.The functioning of such mechanismsas compadrazgoin Latin Americancommunitiesis stronglycoloredby four hundredyears
of historicaldevelopmentwithin this new setting. Yet there is little materialon
the cultural significanceand usages of the compadre mechanism during the
Colonial period. Certainlyconsiderableresearchneeds to be carriedout on the
processesof acculturationfollowing earlycontact.Analysisof the social functioning of compadrazgoin its Americanbeginningsis but a minoraspect.
Historical sourcesattest that baptismof nativeshad proceededfrom the time
of first contact.FrayToribio de Benaventewritesthat in the fifty-fiveyear period
between1521 and 1576morethan four millionsouls werebroughtto the baptismal
font.52The evidence is good that emphasiswas not on prior instructionin the
51 Redfield, 1930, p. 141.

52 Quoted in Rojas Gonzalez, 1943, p. 193.

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RITUAL CO-PARENTHOOD

353

catechism,but rather on formal acceptanceof the faith. Father Gante and an


assistant,proselytizingin Mexico,claimsto have baptizedup to fourteenthousand
Indiansin a single day. In all, Gante and his companionstated that they baptized
more than two hundredthousandsouls in a single Mexicanprovince.53
Baptism was a sacramentdesignedto removethe stigma of original sin. The
acquisitionof godparentspurportedto guaranteeto the initiate religiousguidance
during the years following his baptism.Actually, Spaniardswho were members
of exploringparties frequentlyserved as sponsorsfor Indian converts,and thus
fulfilled but a formal ritual necessity.54We can assume that most of the social
implicationsof the compadremechanismdevelopedbut slowly at first, if for no
other reason than this.
Yet the baptismalceremonyestablishedan individualin the Catholicuniverse,
and perhapsby virtue of its symbolicsimplicity,it was readilyacceptedby many
native populations. Redfield, Parsons, Foster, and Paul, among others, have
sought to differentiatebetweenaboriginaland Catholic elements in the modem
Latin Americanritual.55Parsons,Redfield,and Paul have felt furtherthat certain
derivationsof the moderngodparentalritual have come from the adaptationof
this ceremonialform to pre-Columbianceremoniesand social patterns.The Maya
of Yucatan possesseda native baptismso like the Catholic ritual that, according
to one authority,
someof our Spaniardshavetakenoccasionto persuadethemselvesand believethat in
timespastsomeof the apostlesor successorsto thempassedoverthe West Indiesand
that ultimatelythoseIndianswerepreachedto.56
The Aztecs also had a kind of baptism,and in addition,godparentsof sorts
were chosen in an indigenous Aztec ear-piercing ceremonial, according to
Sahagun.57Paul feels there may even have been an aboriginal basis for the
compadreaspect of the complex in the existence of various kinds of formal
friendshipamongnative peoples.58
But it is impossibleto generalizeabout the ease with which aboriginalceremonial procedurecould be accommodatedto the new sacrament,as endorsedby
the Church.The most importantmodernsocial result of the baptismalceremony
53 Bancroft, 1883, p. 174.

54 Espinosa,1942,p. 70 passim.
55 Redfield and Villa R., loc. cit.; Parsons, loc. cit.; Foster, loc. cit.; Paul, op. cit., p. 79

passim.
56 Lopez Medel, quoted in Landa, 1941, p. 227.

57 Sahagun,1932,pp. 34-35.
58 Paul,op. cit., pp. 85-87.

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in practice-the creationof a securitynetwork of ritual kin folk through ceremonialsponsorship-seems ratherto be due to the institution'sinherentflexibility
and utility, than to any preexistingpatternwith which the new complexmight be
integrated. Present-dayfolklore concerningthe fate of an unbaptizedchild69
suggeststhat a strongemphasison the moralnecessityfor baptismwas made from
the start. In moder practice,however,whetherthe people in a given culturewill
feel that baptismrequiresthe officialapprovaland participationof representatives
of the Church varies considerably.The evidenceis that once the secular utility
of this sacred institutionwas established,the native populationscould count on
the fulfillment of those reciprocalobligations which godparentageand compadrazgo entailed, the Churchmight not even be consulted.Makeshift ceremonies,
consummatedwithout orthodoxclericalapproval,becameso widespreadas to be
illegalizedby ecclesiasticalruling in 1947, except in cases wherethe child's death
seemed imminentbefore officialbaptism.
As has been indicated,the mechanismof godparenthoodtook shape originally
as a means for guaranteeingreligious education and guidance to the Catholic
child. This aim was achievedthrough the ritual kinship establishedbetweenthe
newborninfant, its parents,and its godparents,at the baptismalceremony.The
relationshipfrequentlywas reinforced,or extendedwith new sponsors,at otherlife
crisis ceremonies,including confirmationand marriage.
From the original Catholic life crisis ceremonialsponsorship,godparenthood
has been elaboratedin variousLatin Americancommunitiesinto the ceremonial
sponsorshipof houses, crosses, altars, or carnivals,60circumcision,61the future
crop,62commercialdealings,63and so on. Gillin lists fourteen forms of compadrazgo for a single community.64In certain cases, it cannot be said with any
certaintywhetherthe new adaptationwas developedlocally, or constitutesa carryover of some kind from some older Europeanelaboration.
In general, ritual ties betweencontemporariesseem to have becomemore important than those betweengodparentsand godchildren.This point is elaborated
by Gillin in his discussionof the Peruviancommunity,Moche. He writes:
The essenceof the systemin Mocheis an "artificialbond,"resemblinga kinshiprelationship,whichis establishedbetweenpersonsby meansof a ceremony.The ceremony
usuallyinvolvesa sponsorshipof a personor materialobjectby one or moreof the
personsinvolved,and the ceremonyitself maybe ratherinformal.Howeverin Moche
it seemsto be placingthe wrongemphasisto labelthe wholesystem . . . "ceremonial
59 Redfield and Villa R., op. cit., p. 169; Parsons, 1945, p. 44; Paul, op. cit.
60 Gillin, 1945, p. 105.

61 Beals,1946,p. 102.

62 Parsons, 1936, p. 228, n. 96.

63 Zingg, 1938,pp. 717-718.


64 Gillin, loc. cit.

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355

sponsorship.". . . The emphasisin Mocheis upon the relationsbetweensponsorsof


an individualor thing,and betweenthemand otherpersons-in otherwords,relations
betweenadultsratherthanbetweenadultsand childrenor things.65
While the custom derives primarilyfrom a conceptionof spiritual parenthood,
modernLatin Americanemphasisseems to be ratheron ritual co-parenthood;the
relationshipoutweighsthe godparent-godchildrelationship.
compadre-compadre
The ritual complexhas been demonstratedto be of so flexibleand adaptable
a nature that a wide group of individualscan be bound together ceremonially.
Paul makesthe points that the mechanismof compadrazgomay be used either to
enlarge numericallyand spatially the numberof ritually related kin on the one
hand, or to reinforce already existing blood or ritual ties on the other. These
The authors of
contrastingmotives he calls "extension"and "intensification."66
the presentarticlefeel that whetherthe compadremechanismwill be used prevailingly to extendor to intensify a given set of relationshipswill be determinedin a
specific functional-historicalcontext.
In modernLatin Americancommunities,there is clear patterningof choice.
Compadresmay be chosen exclusivelyfrom within one's own family, or perhaps
blood kin will be preferredto outsiders.In other communities,on the other hand,
one pair of godparentsmay serve for all of one's children,or compadreschosen
from outside one's own family may be rigidly preferred.The presentwritersare
convincedthat the rareusages of compadrazgoin inheritanceindicatethe lack of
utility of this mechanismin dynamicallyaffecting prevailingpatternsof ownership. It is a mechanismthat can be used to strengthenexistingpatterns,but not to
changethem.In the two casesin whichcompadrazgoplays any role in determining
land inheritance,land is held by the village community,and all that is inherited
is temporaryright of use.67Marital impedimentunder Canon Law, a factor of
continuingimportancein much of the New World,68and the selection of compadres within the kin group or outside it, are also factors bound together functionallyand historically.This problemlies beyondthe scope of the presentarticle.
Compadrazgo,once acceptedby a social grouping, can be moulded into the
communityway of life by many means. It is a two-waysocial system which sets
up reciprocalrelationsof variablecomplexityand solemnity.By imposingautomatically,and with a varyingdegreeof sanctity,statusesand obligationsof a fixed
nature,on the people who participate,it makes the immediatesocial environment
more stable, the participantsmore interdependentand more secure. In fact, it
might be said that the baptismalrite (or correspondingevent) may be the original
65 Gillin,op. cit., p. 104.
66 Paul,op. cit., p. 57.

67 Wisdom,1940;Villa R., 1945.


68 Herskovits,1937,p. 98.

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basis for the mechanism,but no longer its sole motivating force. Some brief
exampleswill demonstratethe institution'sflexibility.
two compadres
In Chimaltenango,69
Two comadres
will lendeachothermaizeor money ("asmuchas six dollars") ....
shouldvisit each otheroften and they may borrowsmallthingsreadilyfrom one another.When one is sick,or whenone has just had anotherchild,her comadreshould
comebringingtortillasfor the family,and she shouldwork in her comadre'shouse
"likea sister."
In Peguche,70"whitecompadresare an asset for anyonewho has businessin
Otovalo or Quito."
In Tzintzuntzan,71
On the economiclevel,the compadrazgo
systemformsa kind of socialinsurance.Few
are the familieswhich can meet all emergencieswithout outsidehelp. Often this
of a carguero.Somemeansmanualhelp at the time of a fiesta,or the responsibility
timesit meanslendingmoney,whichnear blood relativesdo not like to do, because
of the tendencyneverto repaya debt. But compadresfeel obligedto lend, and no
one wouldhaverespectfor a manwho refusedto repaya compadre.
In San Pedrode Laguna,72
The practicalpurposemotivatingthe selectionof Ladinasas comadresis the belief
that they can cureinfantillnessesand haveaccessto the necessarymedicines.The Indians storeno medicine.But the Ladinas-by virtueof their culturaltraditionand
theirgreaterincome-customarilyhaveon hand a numberof drugstorepreparations.
of comingto the medical
The godparentbondimposeson the Ladinathe responsibility
aid of her Indiangodchild.The first year or two is correctlyconsideredto be the
most criticalperiodof the infant'slife. Hence the nativessacrificelong-runconsiderationsin favorof providinga measureof medicalprotectionduringthe infancyof the
child ...
Evidence from studies of two communitiesin Puerto Rico suggests that the
compadrerelation may be invoked to forestall sexual aggressions.73Cases are
mentionedwherea man concernedabout the attentionsof a family friend to his
wife, sought to avoid troubleby makinghis friend his compadre.Thus a new and
more sacred relationshipwas established.
Among the Huichol,74the compadrerelationship
unquestionably
strengthensHuichol socialorganizationoutsidethe family, which is
not strong. Though compadresare not under economicbonds to each other, the
69 Wagley, 1949, p. 19.
70 Parsons, 1945, p. 45.
71 Foster, op. cit., p. 264.

72 Paul, op. cit., p. 92.


73 Wolf, 1950, ms.; Manners, 1950, ms.
74 Zingg, op. cit., p. 57.

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RITUAL CO-PARENTHOOD

357

injunctionto be kind and friendlypreventsdrunkenfightsand brawls,whichare the


greatestsourceof weaknessin Huicholsociety.
One form of compadrazgois
specificallyorganizedto avoid aggressionbetweentwo compadres:"el compadrazgo
de voluntad."Peoplesay that wherethereare two bulliesin the samebarrio,they will
concludea "non-aggression
pact"and makethemselvescompadresde voluntad,which
meansthat they canno longerfight eachother.75
The persistenceof compadrazgoin very secularizedcontexts,and its existence
in such cases even without the sponsorshipof a person, object, or event, is
evidenceof its frequentlyhigh social and secular plasticity.
The formal basis for selectinggodparentsfor one's children-religious guidaance, and if necessary,the adoption of orphanedchildren-is sometimescarried
out. Gamio mentionsthis traditionalusage in the Valley of Teotihuacan,76,Redfield and Villa R. for Chan Kom,77,Villa R. for Tusik, 78 Rojas Gonzalesfor the
Mixe and Zoque,79and Wisdom for the Chorti.80Among the Chorti,
the godfatheroften acts in everyway as the actualfatherin the eventof the latter's
death.He giveshis wardadvice,gets him out of difficulties,sometimestrainshim in
a man'swork,and may act as his parentwhen he marries.The same is done by the
godmotherfor her femalegodchild.If both parentsdie, and the godchildis young,
the godparentmay receivethe portionof the propertywhichthe child inherited,and
put it to his own use, in returnfor whichhe must bringup the child as one of his
own family.As soon as the youngman or womanbecomeseighteenyearsof age, his
inheritanceis madeup to him by his godfather.Where thereis morethan one minor
child, each godfatherreceiveshis ward'sshareout of the total property,each child
going to live in the home of its own godfather,leavingthe adult childrenat home.
This usage is of particularinterest becausethe compadremechanismcan be
seen here as a link in the processof inheritance.Yet final propertyrights in this
society are vested in the village, and not in the individual.A single case of the
same kind of usage is mentionedby Villa R. for the Maya Indian communityof
Tusik.81Yet compadrazgocannot overridethe emphasison group land tenure in
either of these societies. The mechanismis flexible and adaptable specifically
becauseit usually carrieswith it no legal obligations-particularly regardinginheritance.Paul makesthis point clearlywhen he writesthat,
Unlike the involuntaryties of kinshipthoseof ritualsponsorshipare formedon the
75 Wolf, op. cit.
76 Gamio,1922,vol. 2, p. 243.
77 Redfieldand Villa R., op. cit., p. 250.
78 Villa R., op. cit., p. 90.

79 RojasGonzales,op. cit., pp. 204-205.


80 Wisdom,op. cit., pp. 293-294.
81 Villa R., op. cit. p. 90.

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basis of choice.This enablesgodparenthoodto serve as the social link connecting


divergentincomegroups,disparatesocialstrata,and separatedlocalities.Affinitytoo
may cut acrossclass and localitythroughthe practicesof hypergamyand intermarriage.But the frequencywithwhichsuchirregularformsof marriageoccurthroughout
the worldis sharplylimitedby strongsocialpressuresoperatingto keep the unions
withinthe classor community.This is understandable
in viewof the fact thatmarriage
is the meansby whichthe in-groupperpetuatesitself. Becauseno such considerations
of social recruitmentimpedethe formationof godparentbondsbetweenpersonsof
differentsocialstrata,godparenthood
more readilyservesas a mechanismfor intergroupintegration.82
It may be fruitful to examinecases of compadrazgoas examplesof mechanisms crosscuttingsocio-culturalor class affiliations,or as taking place within the
socio-culturalconfinesof a single class. The authorsbelievesuch patterningswill
prove to be determined,not haphazardin character,nor determinedsolely along
continuumsof homogeneity-to-heterogeneity,
or greater-to-lesserisolation.Rather
they will dependon the amountof socio-culturaland economicmobility,real and
apparent,availableto an individualin a given situation. There is of course no
clear-cutdevice for the measurementof such real or apparentmobility.Yet the
utility of compadrazgomight profitablybe examinedin this light. The aim would
be to assesswhetherthe individualis seekingto strengthenhis positionin a homogeneous socio-culturalcommunitywith high stability and low mobility, or to
strengthencertain crosscuttingties by alignmentwith personsof a higher sociocultural stratum, via reciprocal-exploitative
relationshipsmanipulated through
compadrazgo.Some examplesmay illuminate the problem.
The Maya Indian people to Tusik,83a communityin east central Quintana
Roo, Yucatan, are homogeneousin a tribalsense, ratherthan having a mono-class
structure.Says Villa:
There are no classeshere in the sensethat differentgroupsof peoplehave different
relationsto the productionand distribution
of economicgoods;in the sensethat some
peopleown land on whichother peoplework, or that some people are engagedin
producinggoodswhileothersare engagedin distributingthemor in servicingthe rest
of the population.As we have alreadypointedout, everyonein the subtribehas the
samerelationto the landas everyoneelse; the land is commonlyheld by the subtribe,
and a man'srightsto a pieceof land restsonly on the right that he has put agriculturallaborinto the landand is entitledto the productsof his labor.Everymanmakes
milpa-even the sacredprofessionalsearn their living as farmers-and since the
seculardivisionof laboris practicallynonexistent,thereare no merchantsor artisans.
The economiclife of the group centersabout maize, and the people consume
82 Paul, op. cit., pp. 72-73.

83 Villa R., op. cit.

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RITUAL CO-PARENTHOOD

359

all that theyproduce.Laborfor othermenis rare,and whendone,paymentin


is chicle.SaysVilla:
kindprevails.The onlycashcommodity
all the peopleof the subtribeenjoythe sameeconomiccircumstances.
Apparently
of differin theirordinary,
one
suggeststheexistence
dailybehavior
Nothing observes
of wealthis relateddirectlyto the
wealth.. . . Theacquisition
encesin accumulated
and
in opportunity
of the individual,
for thereareno differences
personalambition
in privilege.
sourceof wealthis theextraction
no important
The principal
differences
is a recent
of opportunity
of chicle,whichis withinthereachof all. . . . Thisequality
the landsof the
matter,for someyearsagowhenthe chiefshadgreaterauthority,
for theirownuse.In
bushweredistributed
by themandthe bestportionpreserved
somecasesmenwerethusableto enrichthemselves
throughspecialadvantage.
of the childto be born,preferably
the grandparents
Regardingcompadrazgo,
the paternalones,arechosen.If theyarenot alive,chiefsor maestroscantores,as
personsof prestigeand good character,are selected.It is noteworthythat no
mentionis madeof any choiceof travellingmerchantsas compadres,
although
thetravelling
arethenatives'mainsourceof contactwiththeouterworld.
merchants
newsfromthecity ....
It is theywhobringintotheregion. . . themostimportant
The arrivalof the merchant
is the occasionfor the peopleto gathertogetherand
themerchant's
discusstheeventshe relatesto them,andin thisatmosphere
excitedly
ownfriendlytieswiththe nativesarestrengthened.
Chicleis sold, and commodities
boughtthroughthesetravellers,but apparently
ritualkinshipis not usedto bindthemwiththe community.
In markedcontrastto the isolated,subsistence
crop,tribalcultureof Tusik,
we may examinetwo communitieswhich exhibitculturalhomogeneityunder
and to a
completelydifferentconditions.
They are fully integratedeconomically,
is
greatdegreeweldedculturallyintonationalcultures.The firstof these Poyal.84
BarrioPoyalis a ruralcommunityon the southcoastof PuertoRico,in an
of land and
withcorporateownership
areaof large-scale
sugarcaneproduction,
of the singlecashcrop.
to the production
mills.The landsaredevotedexclusively
While the barrioworkingpopulationforms what is practicallya mono-class
couldbe selectedamongthe foremen,administrators,
isolate,compadres
public
store
owners,and so forth.Instead,thereis an overwhelming
tendency
officials,
A manwhoseeksa wealthy
to pickneighborsand fellowworkersas compadres.
his
in Poyalis heldin somecontemptby fellows;a wealthycompadre
compadre
whenthe old
wouldnot visit himnor invitehim to his house.Peopleremember
haciendaownerswerechosenas godparentsto the workers'children,but this
84 Mintz, 1950, ms.

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360

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practice is totally outmoded now. A local land-owning group no longer exists in


Poyal.
Compadre relationships generally are treated reverentially; compadres are addressed with the polite Usted, even if they are family members, and the compadre
relationship is utilized daily in getting help, borrowing money, dividing up available work opportunities, and so forth. However, as more and more Poyal workers
migrate to the United States, the utility of many compadre ties is weakened.
Another example of the same category is Pascua,85 a community of essentially
landless, wage-earning Yaqui Indian immigrants who, with their descendants,
form a village on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona. The economic basis of Pascua
life bears certain striking resemblances to Barrio Poyal: the almost total lack of
subsistence activities, the emphasis on seasonal variation, the emphasis on wageearning as opposed to payment in kind, and so on. Says Spicer:
Existence is wholly dependent on the establishment of relationships with individuals
outside the village. If for any reason the economic relations of a Pascuan with outside
persons are broken off for an extended period, it becomes necessary to depend upon
other Pascuans who have maintained such relations.
While the economic linkages are exclusively with external sources of income and
employment, the compadre structure is described
as an all-pervasivenetwork of relationships which takes into its web every person in
the village. Certain parts of the network, here and there about the village, are composed of strong and well-knit fibers. Here the relationships between compadres are
functioning constantly and effectively. Elsewhere there are weaker threads representing relationshipswhich have never been strengthenedby daily recognition of reciprocal
obligations. These threads neverthelessexist and may from time to time be the channels
of temporarily re-establishedcompadre relationships.
Spicer notes that:
sometimes in Pascua sponsors are sought outside the village in Libre or Marana, or
even among the Mexican population of Tucson.
But everything suggests that the ritual kinship system here functions predominantly within the wage-earning, landless mono-class grouping of the Yaqui themselves. Spicer's description of compadrazgo is probably the most complete in the
literature today, and the Pascua system appears to be primarily between contemporaries in emphasis, and as in Barrio Poyal horizontal in character.
These three cases, Tusik, Barrio Poyal, and Pascua, illustrate the selective
85 Spicer,1940.

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RITUAL CO-PARENTHOOD

361

characterof compadrazgoand some of its functionings, within small "homogeneous" groupings. The mechanismplainly has considerableimportanceand
utility and is treated reverentiallyin all three places. Yet while Tusik is isolated
and lacks a class-character,Barrio Poyal and Pascua are both involved in wageearning,cash crop,worldmarketproductivearrangementswherethe homogeneity
is one of class membershiponly, and isolationis not characteristic.
In Tusik, compadrazgois correlatedwith great internalstability,low economic
mobility,ownershipof land by the village, and the lack of a cash economyand
classstratification.In BarrioPoyal and Pascuacompadrazgocorrelateswith homogeneous class membership,landlessness,wage-earning,and an apparentgrowing
identity of class interest.
An interestingcontrast is provided by Gillin's study of Moche. This is a
Peruviancoastalcommunitywhich, accordingto the Foreword,
is in the last stagesof losing its identityas an Indian group and of being absorbed
into Peruviannationallife .... Surroundedby large,modernhaciendas,Moche is
"Indian"only in that its populationis largelyIndian in a racialsense, that it has
retainedmuchof its ownlands,that it existsin a certainsocialisolationfromsurrounding peoples,retaininga communitylife organizedon a modifiedkinshipbasis,mainly
of Spanishderivation.... Its lands,however,are now ownedindividually,and they
are beingalienatedthroughsale and litigation.It is on a cash ratherthan subsistence
basis economically.... Many Mocheroseven work outside the communityfor
wages, and some are in professions.. . . Formalaspectsof native social organization have disappeared,and contactswith the outsideworldare increasing.86
In Moche, the compadresystem would expectablybe subject to the same
stressesas those sufferedby any other local social institution.Yet
the whole idea of this type of relationshiphas been carriedto extremesin Moche.
There are moretypesof padrinazgo[i.e. godfatherhood]in this communitythan in
any other concerningwhich I have seen reports.This fact may be linked with the
absenceof spontaneouscommunityorganizationand solidarity.
Gillin finds evidencefor fourteendifferentkinds of compadrerelations.As to the
choice of compadres,Gillin says:
Godparentsmay be bloodrelatives,but usuallythe attemptis madeto securepersons
who arenot relativesof eitherof the parents.Not only Mocheros,but in these days,
trustedforasteros[i.e. outsiders]are chosen.Fromthe point of view of the parents
it is desirableto choosegodparentswho are financiallyresponsible,if not rich, and
also personswho have "influence"and prestigefulsocialconnections.The real function of godparentsis to broaden,and, if possible,increasethe social and economic
86 Gillin, op. cit.; Foreword by Julian H. Steward.

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resourcesof the childandhis parentsand by the sametokento lowerthe anxietiesof


the parentson thisscore.
In a later section,however,Gillin states that he does not feel that sociallydefined
classesas such exist in Moche.87
It is extremelynoteworthythat the mechanismof compadrazgohas maintained
itself here in the face of what appears to be progressivelyacceleratingsocial
change. We wonder whetherthe elaborationsof the mechanism'sforms may be
part of the community'sunconsciouseffort to answer new problems. It must
increasinglyface the insecurityof growing incorporationinto the national structure and increasinglocal wage-based,cash crop competition.This may call forth
an increasedemphasison techniquesfor maintainingand strengtheningface-toface relationships.Eggan's study of Cheyenne kinship terminology88suggests
that the kinship structure is sensitive to rapid social change if the changing
terminologyreflects genuine structural modifications.Ritual kinship structures
may react to the weakeningof certain traditionalobligationsby spreadingout
to includenew categoriesof contemporaries,and thereforepotential competitors.
Other examplessuggest that vertical phrasingsof the compadresystem may
take place in situations where change has been slowed at some point, and relationshipsbetweentwo defined socio-culturalstrata, or classes, are solidified. San
Jose is a highlandcoffee and minor crop-producingcommunityof Puerto Rico.89
The frequencydistributionof land shows a considerablescatter, with fifty-five
percentof the landownersholdingten percentof the land at one extreme,and five
percent holding forty-fivepercent of the land at the other. Thus, while Tusik
people hold their land communally,BarrioPoyal and Pascua people are landless,
and Moche people are largely small landownerswith no farm over four acres,
San Jose people are in large part landownerswith great variabilityin the size of
holdings. While a large part of the agriculturalpopulation is landless, agricultural laborersin San Jose may be paid partly in kind, and frequentlywill be given
in additiona small plot of land for subsistencefarming.Productionfor wages is
largely of the main cash crop, coffee.
In the rural zones of this community,a prevailingnumber of the compadre
relationstie agriculturalworkersto their landholdingemployers,or small landholdersto larger ones. Thus a large landownermay becomecompadreto twenty
smaller landownersliving around his farm. In isolated areas, where the "community" is defined entirely in familial terms, most compadrerelationshipstake
87 Gillin,op. cit., pp. 107, 113.
88 Eggan,1937.

89 Wolf, op. cit.

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RITUAL CO-PARENTHOOD

363

placewithinthe family.Yet it mustbe recognizedthat membersof the same


family,andbrothersof the samefilialgeneration,
maybe variouslylandowners,
and
laborers.
sharecroppers
(medianeros),
in SanJosemayhelpin the stabilization
of productive
relations
Compadrazgo
betweenlarge and small landholders,or betweenlandholdersand their sharecroppingemployeesand laborers.Interestingin this connectionis the fact that
theeconomicbasisin SanJoseis muchlessexclusively
cashthanin Tusik,Barrio
Poyal,or Pascua.The land tenurepatternin San Jose does not appearto be
relationsare phrasedvertically,so as to crosschangingrapidly.Compadrazgo
cut classstratification,
quiteprobablyservingin this connectionto solidifythe
of peopleto the land.Thereis evidenceof landowners
relationships
gettingfree
laborout of theirlaborerbrotherswhohavebeenmadecompadres.
Contrariwise,
laborersboundby compadrazgo
to theiremployers
areaccustomed
to relyon this
bondto securethemcertainsmallprivileges,suchas theuseof equipment,
counsel
andhelp,smallloans,andso on.
The authorsknow of no fully documentedstudy of compadrazgo
in the
contextof an "old-style"
or
material
on
the
hacienda.
GuateSiegel's
plantation
malanplantationcommunity
of SanJuanAcatanindicatesthatthe Indiansthere
ofteninviteLadinoswithwhomtheycomein contactto sponsorthe baptismsof
theirchildren.ButSiegeladdsthattherelationship
in thiscommunity
is "virtually
The authorsof the presentarticlewouldin generalpredictthat
meaningless."90
plantationlaborers,eitherboundor verydependenton the plantation,withdaily
face-to-facecontactswith the owneror hacendadowould seek to establisha
with the owner.Historicalmaterialfromold
reciprocalcoparentalrelationship
in BarrioPoyalofferevidenceof thistradition,nowmarkedlyaltered
informants
in the purewage,absenteeownershipcontext.
The mechanism
may be contrasted,then,in severaldistinctcontexts.In the
firstcontextareTusik,BarrioPoyal,andPascua.Thesecommunities
arealikein
their"homogeneity,"
andthe horizontalstructuring
of the compadre
system;yet
they are markedlydifferentin otherrespects.Tusik is tribaland essentiallyisolated fromthe worldmarket,whileBarrioPoyal and Pascuaare incorporated
andare fully formedworkingclassstrata.
into capitalisticworldeconomies,
In the secondcontextis San Jose,withits variedland ownership
pattern,its
its
mixed(cashandsubsistence)
and
several
classes.
cropproduction
Throughthe
San
verticalphrasingof its compadre
demonstrates
a
system, Jose
relativelystable
and
between
the
economic
and
social,
landed,large
small,and the
reciprocity,
laborers.
and
sharecroppers
90 Siegel, quoted in Paul, op. cit., p. 72.

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364

SOUTHWESTERN JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGY

In the third contextis Moche. Land is held predominantlyin small plots; the
crops, as in San Jose, are both cash and subsistence,and while Gillin doubts the
existenceof classes,certainlythe compadresystemis describedas a verticalstructuring one. Here, too, the elaborationof face-to-faceceremonialismmay help to
slow the acceleratedtrend towardland concentration,a cash economy,and incorporationinto the world market.
III. CONCLUSION

In the first section of this article, the writerstraced the relationshipbetween


land tenure and the functioningof ritual kin ties under conditionsof European
feudalism. During this period, ritual kin ties gradually changed from bonds of
blood brotherhoodto those of compadrerelationships.This accompanieda change
from neighborinheritanceto the family inheritanceof tenure. As these changes
in the pattern of land tenure took place, the ritual ties were shifted correspondingly from a horizontalcementingof relationshipsto a verticalphrasingof artificial kinshipat the height of feudalism.
With the breakdownof feudal land tenures and the increasedassertionof
peasant rights, such ritual ties were again rephrasedhorizontallyto unite the
peasantneighborhoodsin their struggle against feudal dues.
Under conditionsof advancedindustrialdevelopment,mechanismsof social
controlbased on biologicalor ritual kin affiliationstend to give way before more
impersonalmodesof organization.Compadrazgosurvivesmost activelyin presentday Europewithinthe areasof lesserindustrialdevelopment.Fromone such area,
Spain, compadrazgowas carriedto the New World, and developedhere in a new
historicaland functional context.
In the second section of this article, five modem communitieswith Latin
Americanculture were analyzed to show the functional correlatesof the compadre mechanism.In cases where the community is a self-containedclass, or
tribally homogeneous,compadrazgois prevailingly horizontal (intra-class) in
character.In cases where the community contains several interacting classes,
compadrazgowill structuresuch relationshipsvertically (inter-class).Last, in a
situationof rapid social change compadremechanismsmay multiply to meet the
acceleratedrate of change.
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