Tracing the roots of Compersion

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Anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss suggests 'comperage'
for 'brother-in-law (sharing wives)'.

Famed anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss - quoting a 17th century French Capuchin missionary who worked with Brazilian Indians, Yves d'Evreux - introduces the French term comperage to denote the 'brother-in-law' relationship among South American Indians - including sexual sharing of wives.


American Anthropologist (Jul-Sept 1943) 'The Social Use of Kinship Terms among Brazilian Indians' p. 406-9,

(page 406)
"We first quote Yves d'Evreux: 'They scattered the French through the villages so that they might live according to the custom of the land, which consists in having chetouasap, that is to say, hosts or god-sibs (comperes), giving them merchandise instead of money. Such hospitality or god-sib relationship is very close among them, for they regard you as their child as long as you stay with them. They hunt and fish for you, and what is more, they used to give their daughters to their god-sibs (comperes)'.

(Reference 19: Voyage dans le Nord du Bresil, ed. F. Denis (Leipzig et Paris, 1864, II), p. 14)

The same author refers later to the 'French who are established in the villages in a god-sib relationship (comperage)'.

(Reference 20: Ibid., XXVIII, p. 109)

Evidence of the aboriginal institution may also be found in Jean de Lery: ...".

(page 407)
"Cross cousin marriages seem to have resulted chiefly from a reciprocal exchange of their respective sisters by the male cross cousins. (The same holds for a giving of a daughter by a father.) The potential or actual brothers-in-law then enter into a relationship of a special nature based upon reciprocal sexual services. both cases the marriage is the result of an agreement between cross-cousins, actually or potentially brothers-in-law ... Now this special 'brother-in-law' relationship could be established, under the name chetouasap (Evreux) or coton-assap (Lery), between individuals not united by any kinship tie, or else only more remotely related, or even between strangers (as was the case of the French and the Indians). The reason for such a step was to ensure intermarriage and by this means to amalgamate familial or social groups, previously heterogenuous, into a new homogeneous unit."

(page 408)
"...we shall suggest the use of the word comperage - borrowed from the French - to identify the institution ..

...The stranger or newcomer was adopted by means of reciprocal appellation of compere or commere which he received from - and returned to - his male adult contemporaries. On the other hand, since the stranger usually assimilated himself to the group by marrying within his new community, the terms compere and 'brother-in-law' soon became synonymous, so that men allied by marriage usually called each other by the first term. In all small communities of Mediterranean Europe and Latin America, the compere or compadre is an actual or potential brother-in-law."