Moldovans - Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. Moldovan families trace descent bilaterally, although the lineage of the father is considered more important. Men usually carry the first name of their father as their middle name. The grandparents play a very important role in the education of the children; often, given the living arrangement, they teach the children side by side with the parents, while also handing down to them a rich heritage of stories, tales, and superstitions. First cousins often grow up together and are almost as close as siblings. The incest taboo extends only to first cousins; marriages among second or third cousins are common, although usually performed following special authorization from the church.

Marriage. Arranged marriages have not been very common. Particularly in the countryside, if parents did attempt to find a spouse for their child, the search would be conducted with the help of relatives and neighbors. The bride or groom would be chosen with as much regard to wealth, ethnicity, and religion as to personal qualities such as beauty, kindness, and, most important, being a hardworking man or woman. Even though parents today have less and less of a role in the choice of partners for their children, their opinion is still very important in making the final decision and, sometimes, the cause of intense disputes if their future daughter- or son-in-law is not considered good enough or is from a different ethnic or religious group such as Jews or Gypsies.

The period of courtship is quite important. During this time a man is supposed to invite a woman to different social outings such as parties with friends, long walks, or, in the country, dancing the traditional Perinitsa or Hora on Sundays after church. The two are supposed to meet each other's families and visit them. Going to each other's houses in the absence of parents is not regarded as very proper, particularly for the woman, since premarital sexual relations are condemned and considered sinful, especially in the country. Among young educated people in urban areas the taboos against premarital sex are disappearing, although living together without marriage still carries a social stigma. Often, in the countryside, young men who are the friends of the groom-to-be dress in traditional attire and walk in procession to the house of the prospective bride to ask her father for her hand.

Even under Communist rule, marriage was most often celebrated in the church, usually after the civil marriage. The godparents are the most important participants in the ceremony. The godmother stands next to the groom and the godfather next to the bride, each holding a large white candle. The godparents are considered to be the defenders of the marriage; they become part of the family. In the country, the wedding party crosses the village with pomp and musical accompaniment (usually accordion and violin) and people come out on their porches or into the street to watch the bride. (It is considered good luck to see a bride.) A wedding without music and dancing is regarded almost an anomaly, both in the country and in the city (where traditional music has largely been replaced with pop music and even rock 'n' roll). In Romanian fairy tales, anonymous ballads, or poems inspired from folklore (such as Calin, by the major national poet Mihai Eminescu, or the anonymous ballad Mioritsa ) , weddings are of cosmic proportions, with the godparents representing the moon and the sun, sitting at the heads of the wedding table.

Domestic Unit. After marriage, it is common for the couple to live with the family of the bride. The maternal grandparents participate more in the management of the new household and in the education of the children than do the paternal grandparents. In urban areas, where there is a shortage of housing and usually both the husband and wife work, living with parents is more of a necessity than a matter of choice. Children are left in the care of their grandparents. The typical rural family has three or four children, whereas the urban family generally has one or two. The education of the children is left to the mother, although the authority of the father is usually undisputed. The other members of the family, particularly grandparents, and sometimes aunts and uncles or godparents, also have some role in raising the children, whether in matters of discipline or in sharing their wisdom and knowledge of folklore (such as tales, proverbs, superstitions, and songs) or in the actual teaching of a craft (such as sewing, weaving, or embroidery for girls or wood carving or sewing leather for boys).

Socialization. After marriage, the baptism of children is the most important event in the life of the family and is performed with much attention to the nuances of the religious ritual. The godparents are also crucial to this ceremony. They have to be a married couple, for it is considered bad luck for the child to have single godparents. Although most children are baptized in church, it is not unusual for the rite to take place at home. The godparents carry large candles, tied with blue ribbons for boys and pink ribbons for girls. The godparents have to repeat after the priest a special prayer of purification from any influence of Satan, and thus, through them, the child is also protected from such influence. The godparents establish a lifelong relationship with the children.

For higher education, the populace used to depend on the well-known universities in Jassy and Chernovitsy, outside the boundaries of present-day Moldova. It was not until 1935 that the university of Jassy opened two departments (theological and agricultural) in Kishinyov (Bessarabia). The first university of Soviet Moldavia was inaugurated in 1945, while Kishinyov still lay in ruins, in an old school building that had survived the war. Since that time, seven institutions of higher learning, including the medical, agricultural, and pedagogical institutes and the conservatory, have been opened in Kishinyov. Hundreds of doctors, teachers, agronomists, and other specialists graduate annually and take up positions in Moldovan towns and villages. By the 1970s illiteracy had been eliminated, and over 700,000 children were in eight-year schools, almost all of them finishing the course of study. The Moldovan Academy of Sciences, originally established in 1949, continues to promote research today.

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