Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents


The Extended Family and Kinship Relations

The extended family and kinship relations, including ritual kinship, were also important. The role of the godparent, for example, had an importance in Portugal that it lacked in the United States. Being a godparent implied certain lifetime obligations, such as helping a godchild in trouble, arranging admission to a school, finding employment, or furthering a professional or political career. The godchild, in turn, owed loyalty and service to the godparent. The system was one of patronage based on mutual obligation.

Political kinship networks could consist of several hundred persons. Such extended networks were especially prevalent among the elite. Members of the elite were bound not only by marriage and family, but by business partnerships, friendships, political ties, university or military academy bonds, and common loyalties. It was long the practice to have such family connections in the government so as to be able to extract favors and contracts. The elite and middle-class families also tried to have a "cousin," real or ritual, in all political parties so that their interests were protected no matter which party was in power. Sometimes the parties or interest groups were just "fronts" for these family groupings. These extended families also tried to have members in different sectors of the economy, both to enhance profits and to enable each sector to support and reinforce the others. Although these extended family networks were difficult for outsiders to penetrate, some observers regarded them as the country's most important political and economic institutions, of greater real consequence than political parties, interest organizations, or government institutions.

The poor and working class lacked the extended family networks of the middle class and the wealthy. Kin relations outside the nuclear family were weak. Little premium was placed on building economic alliances through an extended family network because there was little wealth to be shared or gained. Similarly, there was no reason to build strong political connections because the poor lacked political power. However, a poor person might succeed in persuading a local landowner or village notable to serve as godfather to his children. In that way, the individual became part of a larger network, expecting favors in return for loyalty and service. If that network became wealthy or achieved political prominence, then the poor person attached to it might also expect to benefit--perhaps by obtaining a low-level government job. But if it fell, the individual also fell. The entire Portuguese local and national system was based on these extended family and patronage ties, which were often as important as formal institutions.

Data as of January 1993