Matrilineal societies are those in which the lineage of a family is passed on through the mother. Unlike in the patrilineal system where property and lineage are passed from one generation to the other through men, in the matrilineal system the mother is the head of the family and is usually the inheritor of the family property.
These kinds of communities are rare and are scattered across the world. Here’s a list of a few of these societies. By the way, there are three such communities in India itself!
1. Khasi Tribe
This community resides in Meghalaya, India. In this culture, the husband lives with his wife in his mother-in-law’s house. The youngest daughter of the house inherits the family property.
This tribe also lives in Meghalaya. Like in the Khasi tribe, the husband lives in his wife’s house, and takes his wife’s name. The youngest daughter inherits the property. However, men manage the property and are expected to be the provider for the family. Marriage is not a binding contract and there is no stigma if marriages do not work out.
They live in China, near the Tibetan government. Children take their mother’s name. The most fascinating part about this culture is that the institution of marriage doesn’t exist here. The Mosuo have ‘walking marriages’ i.e women can choose their partners by walking into the man’s home. Women can have as many partners as they like, couples do not live together, and children are brought up by the women in the family. Often, the identity of the father is not even known. In fact, there are no words in their language that describe the concept of father or husband. All adult men are known as uncles.
4. Minangkabau in West Sumatra, Indonesia
This is the largest matrilineal tribe known today. The society has four million people and all property is held by the women of the family. The mother is regarded as the most important person in society. However, men are in charge of political and leadership roles. But women select the clan chief, and have the discretion to remove a chief at any time.
When a woman gets married, she lives on her own. Her husband can spend the night, but must leave in the morning to eat at his mother’s home.
They live in Sourh Bougainville, an island west of New Guinea. They are a matrilineal society in which women are leaders and take charge of ceremonies and their own land. Gardening is very important in the community. Marriage is not an institution. However, if a couple is seen together and the man helps the woman with her garden, they are considered married.
If a couple fights then the husband i,s not allowed to eat the food from his wife’s garden, and must return home.
Matrilineal societies are dwindling:
Technology and globalisation are causing men who live in matrilineal systems to leave their communities and seek life in the larger world
“The men have stopped sticking around. They say they feel like they are just breeding bulls with no claim on their own children and it makes it easier for them to leave,” Patricia Mukhim, an editor at the Shillong Times, has said.
In China, the government has started marketing the Mosuo tribe as a tourist destination. This is leading to a culture of sex work and men questioning the matriarchal system, and wanting to leave.
In India, Kerala used to have a strong matrilineal culture. However, the state has officially banned the matrilineal family structure through the Joint Family System Act 1975. This, and the influence of the larger patriarchal culture has led to the fading away of Kerala's matrilineal system. However, there are still some families who follow the tradition.
These societies offer fascinating insight into how societies function if the patriarchal status quo is reversed. They sit on the cusp of modernity and tradition, and patriarchy and feminism.
Picture Credit: Indiannetzone