FAMILY AND KIN
Young boy carrying water to his home in Guayaquil
Courtesy World Bank
Family and kin constituted the most enduring and esteemed
institutions in the country's social fabric. Both Indian and
Hispanic traditions emphasized the family; indeed, few alternative
institutions competed for an individual's loyalty. The family
buffered Indians from the vagaries of a hostile world. For the
landed gentry, a distinguished family name played a major role in
the assignment of status.
As circumstances dictated, a household commonly consisted of a
nuclear family--husband and wife with their unmarried children--and
one or more members of the wider circle of kin. Couples often
resided with the parents of one of the spouses for a period after
marriage. Parents typically spent their declining years with the
youngest son and his spouse, who remained at home to care for them.
Although individuals owed their primary allegiance and
responsibility to their families, ties extended outward from this
group. The wider circle of kin offered the individual a potential
source of assistance and support. Trust and responsibility flowed
along the lines of kinship at each level of the social scale.
The Hispanic man served as the unquestioned head of the
household and the model of manhood to his sons. Although he might
also be a kindly and affectionate parent, he was unlikely to take
an active role in the day-to-day functioning of the family. Social
tradition granted men the right of independence in their leisure
time; many took full advantage of their freedom, spending much time
in clubs, coffeehouses, and bars or simply on the street, depending
upon the social stratum to which they belonged.
A woman's range of activity, by tradition, rested within the
home and that remained true into the 1980s. She managed the
household and the day-to-day upbringing of children. Provided she
ran the family in a way her husband deemed appropriate, a woman
could normally expect considerable autonomy. Even in the more
cosmopolitan sectors of the larger cities, the traditional role of
the wife and mother remained largely unchanged. Even young women
who had high levels of education and a professional career were
subordinate to their husbands in a wide variety of matters.
Less stress on the contrasting roles of men and women existed
among Sierra Indians. Women's economic role in the household
economy demanded that they take the initiative in many matters.
Women bore primary responsibility for the health and welfare of the
family's members. In addition, the double standard for marital
fidelity--tacitly accepted or even lauded in Hispanic culture--was
replaced among Indians by a moral code demanding faithfulness on
the part of both members.
Family and kin served as a bulwark against the
indígena's frequently precarious circumstances. The married
couple was the center of a social system extending outward in
concentric circles. The couple's parents and their siblings (and
the siblings' spouses) formed the primary extended kin group and
were bound by strong ties of trust and cooperation. Most marriages
took place within the small village or community; generations of
intermarriage created a web of reticulate kin ties within the
community. The bonds of kinship reinforced cohesion and a sense of
shared identity among kin and community members alike.
For all ethnic groups, the range of recognized kin beyond the
nuclear family and close relatives varied depending on their
economic and social circumstances. Large landowning families of the
Sierra derived part of their status and power from their farreaching kinship ties. Families of lower status typically chose
which of their kin to recognize and cultivate. Beyond a fairly
narrow circle, an individual had an element of choice and activated
the relationship through mutual gift giving, shared meals, and
reciprocal participation at family and community fiestas.
The strength of kin ties at every level of society often
allowed unrelated persons to establish bonds of fictive kinship
through the institution of compadrazgo. In Hispanic and
Indian traditions alike, compadres (people related through
compadrazgo) should manifest the highest regard and loyalty
toward one another. Although individuals might criticize and argue
with relatives, such actions with compadres would be
The occasions for selecting godparents varied from group to
group; Christian Indians and Hispanics commonly choose them at
baptism, confirmation, and marriage. In each instance, the
godparents assumed ritual and financial obligations to the child
(or couple) and the parents involved. In the case of baptism, the
tie between the child's godparents and parents persisted even if
the child died. Marriage compadres were part of a four-way
relationship linking the couple, the compadres, and each
spouse's parents. Beyond their immediate responsibilities in the
marriage ceremonies, compadres had a duty to take an ongoing
interest in the marriage. Great care went into the choice of
godparents for every occasion.
Compadrazgo ties cut across class and ethnic boundaries.
Indians and mestizos often asked wealthy and influential whites to
serve as godparents. In so doing, they established a patron-client
relationship with the higher status person. The lower status person
expected to receive various forms of assistance; in return, the
higher status person gained a loyal follower. For Indians the link
with white or mestizo compadres represented one of the few
relationships of trust with members of the dominant ethnic group.
People also chose compadres of equal status, selecting
distant kin, close friends, business associates, or neighbors to
serve as godparents. The advantage in asking neighbors and kin was
that the parents knew their reputation and standing in the
community more thoroughly than they knew this about the others.
Among compadres of equal status, people tried to match the
economic resources of the couples involved, so that the reciprocal
obligations and gifts between the two families balanced evenly.
Data as of 1989