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Some Historical Implications of Kinship Organization for Family-based Politics in the Brazilian Northeast

  • Linda Lewin (a1)

The still modest literature devoted to the history of the family in Brazil offers two conflicting interpretations of elite family organization. On the one hand, scholars have often ascribed an exaggerated organizing propensity to the elite extended family or parentela. Gilberto Freyre's early identification of ‘patriarchal cohesion’ as the foundation of Brazilian national organization persisted as the conventional wisdom until very recently. For Freyre, the elite patriarchal family assumed a ‘civilizing’ mission by imposing solidarity and order in an otherwise disorganized social milieu. Other commentators have been less impressed with the elite family's achievements over time. For them, Brazil's great families were disorganized, destructively violent, and even ‘schools of vice.’ Oliveira Viana, who probably best summed up the limitations of elite family organization, argued that the extended family (clã parental) lacked a common life except in crisis situations when its solidarity was only ephemerally evident.

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A preliminary version of this article was presented to the Family History Seminar of the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University in the fall of 1977. The author wishes to acknowledge her appreciation to members for their comments. Joyce Riegelhaupt and Z. I. Giraldo deserve special thanks for their suggestions for the revised version.

1 Freyre Gilberto, Casa-grande & senzala: Formaçāo da familia brasileira sob o regime de economia patriarchal, 3rd ed. (Rio de Janeiro, 1938), pp. xiv-xvii.

2 Junior Caio Prado, The Colonial Background of Modern Brazil, Macedo Suzette, trans. (Berkeley, 1967), pp. 410–11;Francisco José de Oliveira Vianna, Instituićões politicas brasileiras (Rio de Janeiro, 1955), I, 259–60.

3 Duarte Nestor, A ordem privada e a organização politico national, Brasiliana 172, 2nd ed. (São Paulo, 1966), pp. 7071;Carone Edgard, A República Velha (São Paulo, 1970), pp. 249–84;Willems Emílio, ‘The Structure of the Brazilian Family,’ Social Forces, 31 (1953), 345;Smith T. Lynn, Brazil: People and Institutions, 2nd ed. rev. (Baton Rouge, 1963), pp. 459–61;Wagley Charles, An Introduction to Brazil, pp. 192203.

4 Prado Caio, p. 400.

5 Lewin Linda, ‘Politics and Parentela in Paraiba: A Case Study of Oligarchy in Brazil's Old Republic,’ Diss. Columbia University 1975.

6 Political correspondence was drawn from the Arquivo Epitácio Pessoa at the Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro in Rio de Janeiro and the Arquivos Col. Antonio Pessoa and João Pessoa at the Instituto Historico e Geográfico Paraibano in João Pessoa, Paraíba.

7 The officeholding population of 303 men was defined to include everyone who had been a national cabinet member, senator, federal deputy or a governor, gubernatorial cabinet member or state assemblyman. At any given time they numbered about fifty. Genealogy was elicited in oral interviews and drawn from published sources: Bittencourt Liberato, Parahyba, vol. 2 of Homens do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro, 1914);de Azevêdo Bastos Sebastiāo, No roteiro dos Azevêdo e outras familias do nordeste (João Pessoa, Paraíba, 1954);da Nóbrega Trajano Pires, A familia Nóbrega (São Paulo, 1956).

8 Camilo de Holanda to Epitácio Pessoa, Capital, 13 May 1918; Arquivo Epitácio Pessoa (henceforth AEP), 12/117. The implications of family-based politics for the escalation of local conflict during the Old Republic are discussed in Lewin Linda, ‘The Oligarchical Limitations of Social Banditry in Brazil: The Case of the "Good" Thief Antônio Silvino,’ Past & Present, 82 (02 1979).

9 Willems, pp. 339–43;de Queiroz Maria Isaura Pereira, O mandonismo localna vidapolitico brasileira (São Paulo, 1969), pp. 1618;Candido Antonio, ‘The Brazilian Family,’ in Smith T. Lynn and Marchant Alexander, eds., Brazil: Portrait of Half a Continent (New York, 1951), pp. 297301;Kottak Conrad Philip, ‘Kinship and Class in Brazil,’ Ethnology, 5:2 (1967), 428 and 442n.

10 Freeman J. D., ‘On the Concept of the Kindred,’ Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society, 91 (1961), 195–99. Wagley has equated parentela with kindred, contrary to Freeman and Firth. See Wagley Charles, ‘Luso-Brazilian Kinship Patterns: The Persistence of a Cultural Tradition,’ in Maier Joseph and Weatherhead Richard W., eds., Politics of Change in Latin America (New York, 1964), p. 175.

11 Firth Raymond, ‘Bilateral Descent Groups: An Operational Viewpoint,’ in Schapera I., ed., Studies in Kinship and Marriage, Dedicated to Brenda Z. Seligman on her Eightieth Birthday, (London, 1963), pp. 3031. On individual recognition in Brazil see Kottak, pp. 432–33;Wagley, ‘Luso-Brazilian Kinship,’ pp. 174–77; and Miller Charlotte I., ‘Middle-Class Kinship Networks in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais,’ Diss. University of Florida, 1976, pp. 1112.

12 Pinto Luis de Aguiar Costa, Lutasdefamilia no Brasil (São Paulo, 1949), p. 90;Azêvedo, p. 21;Duarte, p. 68.

13 Firth proposed the appropriate term ‘ambilineal’ (p. 32). See also Kottak, p. 429. The naming pattern originated in Willems Portugal. E., ‘A familia portuguesa contemporanea,’ Sociologia (Sâo Paulo), 17: (1955), 24. For examples of differing elite sibling names, see Candido, p. 298n, and Marcilio Maria Luiza, A cidadede Sāo Paulo: Povoamento e população, 1750–1850 (São Paulo, 1974), pp. 7273. The absence of a firm naming rule makes Brazilian family reconstruction very difficult. Marcilio noted it is a problem which still awaits solution or adaptation of technique. Cidade São Paulo, p. 74;Nóbrega, pp. 68. She has suggested that intergenerational patterns in given names of a descent group might be more useful for family reconstruction than family names: ‘Variations des nomes et prenoms du Bresil,’ Annales (1972), esp. 347, 353.

14 Marcilio, Cidade São Paulo, p. 70;Decretos do Governo Provisorio … Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, 1890), Decree No. 181 of 24 Jan. 1890, Art. 56, Par. 4; Codigo Civil da Republicados Estados Unidos do Brasil… annotado pelo Dr. João Luiz Alves (Rio de Janeiro, 1917), Art. 240.

15 Wolf Eric R., ‘Kinship, Friendship, and Patron-Client Relations in Complex Societies,’ in Banton Michael, ed., The Social Anthropology of Complex Societies (London, 1968), p. 9.

16 Except for Governor Venancio Magalhāes Neiva, whose brother married a sister of the Baron of Lucena, four of the five gained political influence originally through connections with maternal uncles: Epitácio Pessoa, Alvaro Machado, Solon de Lucena, and Joāo Pessoa Cavalcanti de Albuquerque. See Lisboa Joáo Goncalves, Oligarquias, séccas do none e clericalismo (Rio de Janeiro, 1909), pp. 1112.

17 Firth, p. 213. On the vulnerability ofbilateral descent systems to collateral fragmentation and recombination, see Davenport William, ‘Nonunilinear Descent and Descent Groups,’ in Graburn Nelson, ed., Readings in Kinship and Social Structure (London, 1971), esp. p. 209.

18 Isaura Maria, p. 17;Candido, p. 294;Bevilaqua Clovis, Direito da familia (Rio de Janeiro, 1896), pp. 213–14. Nineteenth-century prenuptial agreements regulated a couple's property as either community (Comunhāo dos bens, segundo o costume do Reino or da carta de metade), simple separation (separaçāo dos bens), a mixture of the two and/or dowral. In the absence of a prenuptial agreement the community property regulation prevailed. Pereira Lafayette Rodrigues, Direito de familia, 4th ed. (Rio de Janeiro, 1945), pp. 158–69 (Arts. 5683, 92, 96).

19 Brazilian civil law has always reckoned degrees of consanguinity according to Roman, not canon, law. Lineal degrees are counted by generation. Collateral degrees are reckoned by counting the generations back to a common ancestor and then down to the individual. Thus, reckoning one's uncle or aunt is two generations to a common ancestor (grandparent) and one more down in direct descent, a third-degree collateral. Bevilaqua Clovis, Direito da familia (Rio de Janeiro, 1896), pp. 6062. Except where defined as a term in civil law, all classificatory kinship terminology in this paper is drawn from family genealogies or the letters of the Paraiba Coronéis.

20 Verbal usage confirms the historical weakening of cousin bonds in mid-twentieth-century Brazilian family structure. Today ‘primos filhos de irmāos’ has disintegrated to merely ‘primos irmaõs’ and is indiscriminately applied to all first cousins. ‘Coirmāos’ is already archaic.

21 Pinto Costa, pp. 90, 152;Vianna Oliveira, I, 275;Schwartz Stuart, Sovereignty and Society in Colonial Brazil (Berkeley, 1973), p. 343;Chandler Billy Jaynes, The Feitosas and the Sertdo dos Inhamuns (Gainesville, Florida, 1972), p. 78.

22 Codigo Civil 1916/Alves, Art. 183, IV and p. 158.

23 This interpretation of cousin marriage and the concept of ‘kin and affines’ is drawn from Dumont L., ‘The Marriage Alliance,’ in Goody Jack, ed., Kinship: Selected Readings (Baltimore, 1971), pp. 183–85. Subsequent discussion draws on Fox Robin, Kinship and Marriage (Baltimore, 1967) esp. pp. 175207.

24 Similar aspects of cousin marriage among Boston Brahmins are discussed in Hall Peter Dobkin, ‘Family Structure and Economic Organization: Massachusetts Merchants, 1700–1850,’ in Herevin Tamara, ed., Family and Kin in Urban Communities, 1700–1850 (New York, 1977), pp. 3861.

25 Cabral Nelson Lustosa, Paisagensdo nordeste (São Paulo, 1962), pp. 129–33; cf. Alves Marcio Moreira, A Grain of Mustard Seed (New York, 1973), pp. 2640.

26 In Portuguese law surviving spouses first acquired inheritance rights from King Pedro (1357–67) only in the absence of lineal descendants and ascendants or collaterals to the tenth degree. Ordenações do Senhor Rey D. Affonso V, (Coimbra, 1787), Livro III, Titulo LXXXXV. The one-third (one-half after 1907) customarily assigned to wives was not theirs by legal right as a surviving spouse, as is commonly assumed. It was bequeathed by the husband as that part of his estate over which he had testamentary freedom, the other two-thirds (a legitima) being assigned inalienably by law to his lineal necessary heirs.Ord. IV, 94;Bevilaqua, p. 213; Decree No. 1839 of 31 Dec. 1907, Art. 1. Codigo Civil 1916/Alves, Art. 1576. Filial challenges were eliminated by Art. 1725.

27 Brazil. Decretos do Governo Provisorio … (jan.-abril de 1890) (Rio de Janeiro, 1890). Decree No. 181 of 24 Jan. 1890, Art. 58, Par. 1–3.

28 One hundred members of the officeholding elite had identifiable wives. Fifteen percent married cousins and 14 per cent did not. The remaining 71 percent could not be identified conclusively in terms of kinship. Twenty-nine percent of the officeholding elite had identifiable sets of parents. Thirty, or about one-third, married cousins or nieces, but thirty-two, or slightly more than one-third, did not. The kinship of the remaining third could not be verified or excluded. Darrell E. Levi discovered a coeval decline in endogamous marriage among the Prados of São Paulo; A familia Prado (São Paulo, 1977). pp. 103–05.

29 The ratio of Nóbregas who did not marry jumped from 7.5 percent in the fourth generation to 24 percent in the fifth generation (or 19 percent if those with unknown spouses are included), suggesting that both patrimony and land were much less available by the close of the last century. Fifteen hundred and seven Nobregas lived to adulthood: 13 in the second generation, 118 in the third, 381 in the fourth, and 995 in the fifth. Those without identifiable spouses and those who did not marry (a combined total of 387) were excluded from Tables 1–3. (The sex distribution of the unmarried was nearly even.)

30 The probable effect of the distribution of consanguineous marriages shown in Table 3 corresponds to an average value of shared genes in the population of the third (0.0270) and fourth (0.0260) generations close to that of a first cousin once removed (0.03125). The fifth generation average inbreeding coefficient (0.0178) fell closer to that of a second cousin (0.0156), i.e., a sixth-degree collateral. Coefficients were derived from Salzano Francisco M. and Maia Newton Freire, Problems in Human Biology (Detroit, 1970), pp. 8283. See ch. 4 for an extensive treatment of consanguineous marriage in Brazil from a geneticist's perspective.

31 A Paraiba historian has observed regarding nineteenth-century endogamy: ‘Consanguineous unions were frequent, above all, between uncles and nieces, not only because of prejudice about white skin but also because of the fear of allowing an outsider to enter the intimacy of the family group.’ de Almeida Horácio, Brejo de Areia (Rio de Janeiro, 1958), p. 217.

32 Freyre Gilberto, Sobrados e mucambos, 4th ed. (Rio de Janeiro, 1968), I, 129–33;de Almeida E., pp. 139–46;de Almeida H., pp. 216–25;Nobrega, pp. 578–80.

33 Decree of 31 Oct. 1831, Colleção das leis do Imperio do Brazil de 1831, 1a pie. (Rio de Janeiro, 1875).

34 Decree No. 181 of 24 Jan. 1890, Arts. 17, 23–46; Codigo Civil 1916/AIves, Art. 213.

35 Inácio Dantas to Epitacio Pessoa, Teixeira [Paraiba], 18 Jan. 1912; AEP 10/81.

36 The literature reiterates the same set of dramatic examples: cf. Freyre, Sobrados, pp. 6970;Pinto Costa, pp. 56, 185–91;Candido, p. 295;Araripe Alencar, ‘Pater-familias nos tempos coloniais,’ Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro, LV, Pte 2 (1893): 1523. The legal basis for physically punishing a wife (Ord., L. 5, Tit. 36, Par. 1,36, and L. 95, Par. 4) was struck down by the Brazilian Criminal Code of 1831 that superseded the criminal provisions of the Philippine Code. Rodrigues Pereira, p. 133. The father was permitted to punish minor children moderately. Ibid., pp. 275–76.

37 Candido, p. 303;Pinto Costa, pp. 7989.

38 Nóbrega, p. 146. See also, Freyre, 1, 95108 and 140.

39 The ‘loophole’ in the law was the provision permitting distribution of portions of the legitima as gifts prior to the testator's death. The colação facilitated the legal return of such portions to the deceased's estate posthumously. Codigo Civil 1916/Alves, Art. 1785. The distribution of urban real estate to heirs by the testator in contemporary Brazil is discussed in Miller, pp. 176–77;Duarte, p. 69.

40 Entailed heirs (morgados) were prohibited by Law No. 57 of 10 Oct. 1835. John Armitage suggested, however, that the entailed estate (morgadio) never took hold in Brazil. Historia do Brasil desde o período da chegada da familia de Bragança em 1808 até a abdicação de D. Pedro lo em 1831, 3rd ed. (Rio de Janeiro, 1933), I, 5051; II, 8, 16.

41 Freyre contends only sons of inferior intelligence and poor health returned to the patriarchal domain. Sobrados, I, 18.

42 Vianna Oliveira, I, 263, 295338.

43 Lewin, Politics, p. p.

44 Decree No. 1839 of 31 Dec. 1906, Art. 1; Codigo Civil 1916/Alves, Art. 1603. The legal range of the kindred in Brazil has been progressively restricted so that it is now considerably narrower than in the United States. Decree-Law No. 9.461 of 15 July 1946 limited inheritance rights to collaterals within the fourth degree (first cousins), in whose absence the estate escheats to the federal government.

45 Pinto Luiz, Sintese historica da Paraiba, 2nd ed. (Rio de Janeiro, 1960), pp. 113–20;Juliāo Francisco, Cambão—The Yoke (Middlesex, England, 1972), pp. 7679, 132–35;de Carvalho Jose Murillo, ‘Barbacena: A família, a politica e um hipotese,’ Revista Brasileira de Estudos Politicos, 20 (1966), 153–94;de Andrade Manuel Correia, A terra e o homem no nordeste, 2nd ed. (Sao Paulo, 1964), p. 203;Soares Glaucio Dillon, Sociedade e politica no Brasil (Sāo Paulo, 1973), esp. pp. 97135.

46 Miller, pp. 211–17;Wagley, ‘Luso-Brazilian Kinship,’ p. 174;Maeyama Takashi, Familialization of the Unfamiliar World: The Familia, Networks and Groups in a Brazilian City (Ithaca, New York, 1975), pp. 3234, 138–40;Berlinck Manuel Tosta, The Structure of the Brazilian Family in Sāo Paulo (Ithaca, 1969), pp. 137–38.

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