Accepted Paper:

Patron-client relations: ritualized Okyl ata-ene in Kyrgyzstan  


Aksana Ismailbekova (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO))

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines ritual kin relations (okyl ata-ene) that take on a patron-client form and looks at the manipulative strategies of such relations.

Paper long abstract:

Kyrgyz patron-client relationships have been substantially modified in response to the current socio-economic conditions in the country. During the trial and error process of privatization after 1991, an emerging moral crisis and ideological search has led to a confusion of identities and the rule of a profit-oriented ideology. This has encouraged people to seek more personal connections which provide greater security. People respond to rapid social changes by resorting to traditions, accepting informal networks, and legitimating impersonal commercial transactions. Due to economic changes that led to social stratification, economically secure kin have excluded their economically unstable kin from their social circle. In response, the 'poor' have established 'patron-client' networks with non-kin local elites in order to secure their economic interests. This relationship is encoded through 'kinship terminology', and has given particular practices significant status and assumed responsibilities. 'Poor' families honour wealthy businessmen, as 'spiritual parents' (okyl ata-ene) of young married couples or as 'milk-parents' for new born infants. In this way, the disintegration of actual 'rich-poor' kinship relations is addressed through non-kin patron-client ties that are wrapped in kinship language. Such patron-client relationships form vital links in larger social networks, and as such can be analyzed as a coping strategy for survival in response to the specificities of the "market economy". Patron-client relations - traditional patterns of Kyrgyz social relations - are increasingly disguised under the umbrella of ritual kin relations. The purpose is not to exhaustively map patron-client relations (okyl ata-ene) but to examine how they represent an adaptive response to dramatic economic, social and political changes in Kyrgyzstan's post-Soviet environment.

Panel W106
'Kinning' with the neighbours, ritualizing the kin: ritual bonding and negotiating resources