Accepted paper:

"Real godparents" and the other ones: ritual kinship among Roma and non-Roma in Romania


Stefania Toma (Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities)

Paper short abstract:

The article explores the institution of “not real godparents” developed between Roma and non-Roma families. The relationship is the transformation of a patron-client connection by conferring it more unwritten rules and symbolic importance.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will present the institution of godparenthood in multiethnic context based on extensive fieldwork. The classic frameworks of interpretation gain secondary importance when we look closely to the interpersonal relations between Roma and other ethnic persons. Roma choose "real godfathers" (Blau 1964) from among co-ethnics and this relationship follows the general rules of godparenting. We will explore the essence of the "not real godparents". These are Hungarian (who forms the ethnic majority in the locality), and usually there is already developed a patron-client relationship with the Roma family. Thus the core issue of the relationship is based not on the reciprocity of gifts, but on the economic action which was previously developed among Roma and Hungarian families. While the unwritten contracts of patron-client relationship do not confer a social surplus to this relationship, the Roma families try to raise their social status by building godparenthood with Hungarians. In the context of general mistrust, inequality, negative preconceptions and even hatred regarding Roma, the practice of the Roma families to bond with Hungarian persons/families through godparenthood gains particular importance (by transforming begging and charity into gifting they reduce social distance, dissolve the rule of reciprocity) which is deployed on different levels of sociality.

panel P48
Gifts and their circulation in a market-based economy