{70.} Artificial Kindred, Neighbourhood

We will mention only a few from among the numerous versions of artificial kindred. Because research has been insufficient, we know these ties only sparsely, nor do we have the necessary overall view into the extent of their permeation. Such, for instance, is the “milk brotherhood” (tejtestvérség), formed when a mother for some reason could not nurse her child and one of the neighbours, relatives, or godmothers took care of the infant. They kept track of this relationship and spoke of it all through life, and in some areas it was even held to be a barrier to marriage. Milk brothers in most cases held together and helped each other as much as if they were blood brothers.

Earlier, the tasting of each other’s blood played a big role in adopting the other as a brother or kin, through which the participants became related to each other. Anonymus (12th century) mentions in his chronicle that the Magyar chieftains made a blood compact before the Conquest (end of the 9th century). According to the old custom, the seven chieftains let their blood trickle into a vessel and with this act ratified the oath they took to Álmos, head of the tribes. This blood oath was not to be broken, and they all kept it until their death. It has been noted many times in later Hungarian history that two men, or perhaps small or large groups, became relatives through such a blood compact and inherited each other’s property like real brothers.

We can find traces of becoming brothers through blood in some places among the peasantry, for example, among the Székelys of Bukovina. The children play together, but there are always some among the friends who would like to maintain life-long contact with each other. They decide by mutual wish to adopt each other as brothers. This can happen only between members of the same sex who have descended from different clans. The day for adopting blood brothers is the second day of Our Lady, August 16, when they go off to a place where no one else is present. They prick the tip of their middle finger with a needle and taste the trickling blood. With this they become brothers, which is also reflected in the way they address each other. They can count on each other in time of hardship, but this relation has no consequence in property inheritance.

Basically, adoption (örökbefogadás) is also a form of artificial kindred, which usually came about when the marriage of the gazda was barren and the family wanted to ensure the inheritance of property. They selected a boy, usually from among the relatives, and adopted him to their name. This also happened when the child’s father or both parents died off. In such cases some relatives adopted a child or children even if they already had offspring. The adopted children shared the property equally with the natural children.

The most widely spread form of artificial kindred is choosing future godparents, the general name of which is koma (cf. p. 604). The Magyars {71.} borrowed this word and most certainly the concept itself from one of the Slavic languages, and it spread along with Christianity. According to the instruction of the Church, there can only be one pair of komas, but in peasant practice there are often as many as four, or even thirty. The parents choose the godparents from among their old boyhood companions and girlfriends, but they must be already married. Generally, in the past they were not chosen from among the relatives. The latter practice spread only during the last half of the 19th century. Among the komas there is a main koma pair (főkomapár), whose name is also noted in the register of birth. The main godmother (főkomaasszony) holds the child over the baptismal font.

The parents try to plan for komas even before the child is born. After their choice they make inquiries to find out if for some reason their request might be refused. If the response is favourable, then after the birth of the child the father goes and asks them ceremoniously. A koma pair should in turn invite the other parry to act as komas for them if they should have a child, and failure to do so counts as a crass insult even today.

Fig. 8. The number of godparents at the turn of the century in the Carpathian Basin.

Fig. 8. The number of godparents at the turn of the century in the Carpathian Basin.
1. One pair of godparents, the same for each child 2. One pair of godparents, a different pair for each child 3. Several pairs of godparents, the same for all children (siblings) 4. Several pairs of godparents, a different one for each child 5. All four variations present

The system makes an extremely strong tie not only between child and godparents, but among the parents as well, who not infrequently help each other more than if they were blood relations. But a strong tie is {72.} formed among various komas also, which is reflected in the way the komas address each other. Acting as godparent was forbidden or opposed only in two cases. If the woman was menstruating or was pregnant, she could not hold the child under the baptismal water, and the responsibility then went to one of the koma women, to whom, in this case, the name édeskoma (sweet koma) was due. Engaged couples could not be komas, because to do so, according to belief, would have led to the breaking up of their relationship.

An extremely strong connection, equal in value to artificial kindred, is the neighbourhood (szomszédság), which is based on living immediately next to each other. The word szomszéd (neighbour) belongs to the oldest Slavic loans in the Hungarian language, and probably became part of it at the time of the development and general diffusion of the village settlements. Relations and neighbours were one and the same in certain parts of the settlement, since relations in many places lived near each other. The importance of the neighbourhood institution is made clear from proverbs such as “One good neighbour is worth more than a hundred bad relatives”.

Neighbours are distinguished according to their location. The neighbour at the side of the settlement is the first neighbour, the one whose house is on the opposite side is the back neighbour, and the one at the foot of the lot is the next-door neighbour. The building and maintaining of fences is organized in such a way that everybody is obliged to build and maintain the eastern side. Everybody digs the post-holes of his own lot. Along the high fence only a half-roofed shed can be built. Furthermore, the manure heap had to be placed at least five metres away from the property line.

The fence, or hedge, is an exceedingly important boundary. If trees are planted on it, the fruit belongs to both owners. If the tree is rooting further in but a branch overhangs the other side, the neighbour can pick its fruit and even has the prerogative of cutting it off. In many places the well is placed on the property line, because in this way the cost of digging it is only half for each neighbour and both can use it equally. According to unwritten law, the owner of the property can kill the poultry, dogs, and cats that wander on his lot, but as this can lead to long-term animosity, it is rarely done. The owner has to maintain the wall of the house overlooking the neighbour’s property, but this extends mostly to plastering, for it is whitewashed only very rarely.

Contact between neighbours was partly social, partly economic in character. Neighbouring families got together by age groups. The children played together and perhaps guarded the stock together. The women visited each other several times a day for a little chat, maybe for a longer chat in the evening, and above all they got together for spinning. Gatherings of the men, called tanyázás in the Great Plain, were most regular. In the evening, after feeding and watering the stock, neighbours got together in the barn. An especially developed form of this is the so-called ólaskert, where the men gathered and shortened the long winter evenings with talking and story telling.

Generally, the economic ties are even stronger, since hardly a day passed when they did not borrow some domestic tool from each other. {73.} If they were short of salt, paprika, or bread before baking time, the wife or child ran and asked some from the neighbour. They had to return such a loan exactly, or even in heaped measure, as it is told also in the proverb: “Borrowed bread must be returned”. They always returned borrowed tools, plates and platters carefully cleaned. Another form of contact was to send samples of fresh baking and bread to the neighbour, just as they had to send a sample when the pig was killed.

Neighbours were called upon to help in any kind of work even before the immediate relatives. They were counted on to help build the house and dig the well and to hold down the pig when it was slaughtered. Neighbours were present at family holidays, and they usually went to market together. It also frequently happened that they helped each other to carry out agricultural work on a basis of total equality.

The economic aspect of the neighbourhood relationship lasted for a long time and in some respects it can even be found today. Social contact, however, is being pushed more and more into the background. As the result of the speedy and almost complete permeation of radio and even more of television, evening visits have mostly stopped and the gatherings in the barn–even where they keep stock privately around the house–can no longer be found. The peasant population is progressively turning inward on the example of the cities, and consequently the place of meeting is primarily the place of work and not the home.