What are Matriarchal Societies?
Matri- words have wide-ranging applications and meanings, and are associated with the exhibition of egalitarian characteristics with considerable stress on activities which are wrongly classified as feminine in today’s world such as nurturing.
Matriarchy as a concept is often misconstrued as a societal structure which is ‘opposite of patriarchy’ and more often than not is held in high esteem as a feminist utopia where women ‘rule’, and on top of that is fancied as a backdrop for feminist utopian fiction, in turn, sometimes propagating the wrong idea of its meaning.
Into the bargain, certain prehistoric societies being referred to as true Matriarchies, where women ruled is a theory, debunked by several anthropologists on some occasions. Society’s identification as a matriarchy lies in the complex set of permutations and combinations of other matri- words such as matrilineality, matrilocality, and matrifocality etc.
‘Matrilineality’ is not only concerned with tracing one’s lineage through maternal ancestry, but it also indicates a civil system in which one inherits property through the female line and children tend to take up their maternal last name as opposed to the popular practice of taking up father’s last name in the modern world. Besides, ‘matrifocality’ pertains to the custom wherein mothers or grandmothers are the head of the families alongside ‘matrilocality’ a tradition wherein families settle close to the maternal line.
Let’s take a look at the Societies Where Women Are in Command.
Legend of the Amazons
The term Amazon first appeared in Homer’s Iliad in 8th century B.C., where he refers to them as Amazons Antianeirai, a term which over the years has acquired many different interpretations such as ‘the ones equal to men’. By the same token, various modern scholars have tried their hands at decoding the etymology of this puzzle from antiquity and the most popular explanation avouched that Amazon was a derivation of ‘A’ “without,” and mazos, “breasts”, which is very close to ‘mastos’, the Greek word for breasts. The idea came to be associated with that cauterized their right breasts to have better bow control.
In the 1990s, the legend of Amazons gained some archaeological reappraisal, with the excavation of burial mounds in Russia. Various graves lined with bows and quivers were discovered and bioarchaeological analysis adjudicated that these graves belong to the women warriors.
But the debate remains whether their society was a true Matriarchal society
Umoja, a village in the Samburu province of Kenya, welcomes all women and children who’ve been victims at the hands of a male-dominated society. A journey which began in 1990, when Rebecca Lolosoli along with 15 other women who were survivors of violence, rejected the traditional Samburu society, deep-dyed patriarchy, where women were dealt as ‘properties’ of men, today, continues to bea matriarchal haven for over 50 women and children, who’ve escaped gender-based violence in the form of rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and child marriage.
Rebecca Lolosoli founded Umoja which means ‘unity’ in Swahili and so far has served as the matriarch of the village and is a strong advocate of women’s rights. In 2010, she received a ‘Global Leadership Award’ for her unfaltering spirit and unparalleled initiative in the fight for women’s rights. Further in 2011, she met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Women in the World Summit in New York, bringing together the most influential figures in the fight for the recognition of women’s rights.
Umoja has uniquely capacitated its women and bestowed them with an ability to exercise their agency in an even more distinct manner, with women having turned their abilities to make jewellery into a means of earning a livelihood, have also worked to establish a school aimed at educating their daughters and sons.
In the foothills of Himalayas, the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces are homes to China’s last matrilineal society of Mosuo, but several anthropologists have also classified it as a ‘matriarchy’. With a strong population of 40,000, they are firmly placed in the map of China and are recognised by the Chinese government as an ethnic minority.
The Mosuo tradition of ‘Zouhun’ or ‘walking marriages’ have had women’s intimate lives, wrongly caught on to a promiscuous persona. Once past puberty in the Mosuo tradition, women receive their private bedrooms or ‘flower rooms’ in the house of their matriarch, where they are free to take different sexual partners but men and women do not live together. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters can inhabit the same house, without the presence of fathers or husbands.
Bribri, Costa Rica
Bribri is an indigenous tribe rooted in matrilineality, where land is handed down from the mother to her children. The tribe thrives on agriculture of cocoa and banana. Women are revered figures in the Bribri society and are the only people who are allowed to prepare the sacred cocoa drink which carries an important ritual significance.
Indigenous tribe of Meghalaya, along with bordering regions of Assam, comprising about 1 million people, as per 2017 statistics. Khasi society is matrilineal and practices the custom of passing on the maternal last name from one generation to the other alongside the inheritance which is bestowed upon the daughters of the family. The Khasi tribe also exhibits the matrilocal culture, according to which the children live with their mother’s family.The youngest daughter of the Khasi family is bequeathed with the family property and is called Khatduh– custodian of ancestral property.
Nagovisi, Papua New Guinea
The Nagovisi are one of the 3 tribes of South Bougainville. A strong matrilineage system of the Nagovisi enables women to play a significant role in politics and ceremonialism. Anthropologists Jill Nash reveals that “Food production in Melanesia is the basis of all wealth and women dominate its production, thus, its connection to the small family-group, its political uses, and its use in the conspicuous display and consumption at large political gatherings cannot be ignored.”
Alapine village, Alabama
A female-only society founded in 1997 by three visionary womyn: Morgana, Fayann and Barbara Lieu, called Womyn Land. The community traces their routes to the original “Pagoda by the Sea”, founded in St Augustine, Florida, in 1977. The Pagoda flourished for over 15 years with hundreds of women visiting every year, enjoying the cultural programs, circles, and oceanfront scenery.
In the early 90’s, it became clear that the dreams they had for the Pagoda were difficult to pursue at that location. The 3 womyn started looking for a larger piece of property to continue doing community work and soon came across Alapine Village, in a beautiful Alabama mountain top rural setting.
The residents are either part-time or permanent and enjoy various activities together such as hiking, kayaking etc. Moreover, they celebrate many forms of spirituality and some women also initiate the celebration of nature-based holidays and moon circles.
In a nutshell, the woman in early human history has been revered as a priestess and honoured for their ability to bear children. Over time, with development of matrifocal communities, older women became repositories of social knowledge, who oversaw the establishment and management of such egalitarian or sometimes exclusively female communes built around maternal values where women successfully till date continue to exercise their power over inheritance, politics and agriculture. Further, these societies also came to record significantly lower crime rate and violence in contrast to modern patriarchal societies.
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