Country Listing

Peru Table of Contents



Family life at all levels of society is nourished by an ample number of ceremonial events marking all rites of passage, such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or important religious events, such as baptisms, confirmations, and marriages. Family life is thus marked by small fiestas celebrating these events and passages. In this context, Peruvians have greatly elaborated the Roman Catholic tradition of godparenthood (padrinazgo) to encompass more occasions than simply celebration of the sacraments of the church, although following the same format. The parties involved include the child or person sponsored in the ceremony, the parents, and the godparents who are the sponsors and protectors. The primary relationship in this triad is between the godchild (ahijado) and the godparents (padrinos). The secondary bond of compadrazgo (see Glossary) is between the parents and godparents who after the ceremony will forever mutually call each other compadre or comadre. For the child, the relationship with the godparents is expected to be one of benefit, with the padrinos perhaps assisting with the godchild's education, finding employment, or, at the least, giving a small gift to the child from time to time. For the compadres, there is the expectation of a formalized friendship, one in which favors may be asked of either party.

Ritual sponsorship has two dimensions with respect to its importance to family and community. On the one hand, the mechanism can be utilized to solidify social and family relations within a small cluster of relatives and friends, which is generally the case for families concerned with enclosing their social universe for various reasons. Among the top upper class, it may provide a way of concentrating power relations, business interests, or wealth; among the Indian caste, the inward selection of compadres may follow the need to protect one's access to fields or to guarantee a debt. On the other hand, many families deliberately choose compadres from acquaintances or relatives who can assist in socioeconomic advancement. In this fashion, the original religious institution has lent itself to social needs in a dynamic and flexible manner. In the more closed type of community setting, there are only five or six occasions for which godparents are selected; among more socially mobile groups, there may be as many as fifteen or more ways in which a family may gain compadres. Thus, it would not be unusual for the parents of a family with four children to count as many as forty or more different compadres. In a more conservative setting, the number might be less than ten for a similar family.

Data as of September 1992