Ritual Kinship

Paraguay Table of Contents

Ritual kinship in the form of godparenthood (compadrazgo) played an important role in strengthening and extending the ties of kinship, as it did in much of Latin America. Parents selected godparents for a child at his or her baptism, confirmation, and marriage. The godparents were then tied to the parents as coparents . Those chosen for the child's baptism were considered the most important, and great care was exercised in their selection.

Ideally co-parents should be a married couple; they were preferred because their unions were typically more stable and they were more likely to be able to provide a home for the child should the need arise. In most communities, however, there were not enough couples to serve as godparents for all children, so single women of good reputation were frequently chosen. It was important that the person asked should be of proper character and good standing in the community.

Often parents asked a close, important relative to serve as godparent. The tie between co-parents reinforced that of kinship. The same godparents could serve for the couple's successive children, a practice that further strengthened the ties between the families involved.

A godparent was expected to see to his or her godchild's upbringing, should the parents be unable to do so. In many ways the social link between co-parents was more significant than that between godparents and godchildren. Co-parents were required to treat each other with respect and assist one another in times of need. Marriage or sexual relations between co-parents were considered incestuous; an insult to a co-parent was a grave matter, condemned by the community at large. In the countryside, ties to godparents had daily social significance; children visited their godparents often and were expected to treat them with particular respect. Not even quarrels or the death of the godchildren should break the ties between co-parents.

Compadrazgo served different purposes in rural and urban areas and among different social classes. In cities and among the more prosperous, the institution principally fulfilled the requirements for a Roman Catholic baptism. Godparents assumed the cost of the baptism and were expected to give gifts on a godchild's birthday and other significant occasions. Rarely did they have to assume the responsibility of raising a godchild; if they did, the financial wherewithal was provided through inheritance. In the countryside and among the poor, the responsibility to care for the godchild was taken more literally. If the parents were unable to care for their offspring, a godparent was expected to do so or find someone who could. Godparents should not only give gifts to the godchild on special occasions, but also assist with his or her schooling. Co-parents should come to one another's aid in times of social or economic distress.

The choice of a godparent also varied by social class. The urban and rural upper class and the urban middle class selected friends or relatives. In both groups co-parents were usually social equals. The institution had less practical significance than it had among the poor. For those of limited means, the emphasis was less on the feeling of friendship the co-parents shared and more on the potential economic benefits that the child might enjoy. Among peasants or the urban poor the choice could be either a relative or an influential benefactor (patrón). When a patrón agreed to serve as a godparent, the lower-class individual was entitled to more extensive dealings with the higher-status person. He or she could, for example, visit the patrón's house and expect to be received hospitably. The patrón expected in return absolute and unquestioning loyalty. In essence, this system satisfied the poor person's need to look above his or her class for protection, while satisfying the desire of the wealthy for a more loyal following. Where the expectations were met on both sides, compadrazgo could blunt the obvious economic disparities in small towns and the countryside. It also had important political implications. It was through such traditional kinlike ties that landholders from the ruling National Republican Association-Colorado Party (Asociación Nacional Republicana--Partido Colorado) could mobilize support among the peasantry.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress