Tarascans - Kinship, Marriage, and Family



Tarascan kinship reckoning is bilateral to such a degree that each nuclear family must be seen as the union of the respective kindreds of mother and father. The major kinterm distinction is between highly familiar terms for members of the nuclear family and more formal bilateral terms for the extended kindred. There is, however, a degree of patrilineal bias. Ideally, postmarital residence is virilocal; daughters-in-law are clearly subordinate to their respective in-laws, especially the husband's mother. Similarly, the order of preferred namesakes for children reflects a flexible ambilateral kin hierarchy with patrilineal bias. The first-born is named by, or after, the parents' marriage godparents, who, as ritual kin, bring together the respective kindreds of husband and wife. The paternal grandparents are the next preferred namesakes, and the maternal grandparents follow in priority. Newlyweds are called acháti or warhíti sapichu ("little mister and misses") until the birth of their first child, when they usually will establish neolocal residence. Thus, at different moments in the domestic life cycle, a Tarascan will live in an extended-family compound composed of several separate family houses and in a single household compound cofounded by husband and wife.

Both rights of primogeniture and ultimogeniture are loosely recognized in inheritance. The lastborn often inherits the family compound, along with the obligation to provide daily care for parents in their old age. Inheritance is a major source of conflict, given the relative independence of a husband's and wife's property rights, the general and overlapping expectations of all offspring, and the tremendous irregularities in the written titles to the lands of the Tarascan homeland.

Tarascan adulthood is traditionally established by marriage and parenthood. Baptismal godparents are the preferred go-betweens in marriage negotiations, especially in cases of marriage by elopement. Sixteenth-century accounts of Tarascan marriages, as well as excellent ethnographic descriptions in the twentieth century, indicate striking continuities in the ritual process. Marriage leads to the establishment of new ritual-kin relations. It is common for the marriage godparents to name, or approve of, the baptismal godparents of each child. Baptismal godparents will, in turn, approve or name the marriage godparents of their godchild.

By tradition, a child is baptized after the patsákuni, the forty-day postpartum period of rest and isolation of mother and child. Prior to baptism, reference to the child is made in terms of the marriage godparents, painu pitántskata or maína pitántskata (godfather's or godmother's namesake). Children are swaddled for the first six weeks of life and usually remain in constant bodily contact with the mother or with an elder sister, cousin, or aunt during the first year. Nursing is prolonged, often lasting until the third or fourth year. Gender-differentiated imitation of adult activities results from prolonged periods of parallel play while accompanying adults engaged in everyday tasks. This is the most common mode of socialization in Tarascan towns and hamlets. In contrast to children socialized in urban environments, Tarascan children enjoy constant physical and emotional contact with care givers.


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