By Eleanna Giakounti,
Law Student at AUTh
Translated by Valentina Koumoulou
Living in a by definition patriarchal society, the concept of matriarchy is unknown in everyday life but not non-existent. Manifestations of it exist in various tribes around the world, maintaining their woman-centered character over the centuries until today. Fully functional societies which, however, in the teeth of capitalism and globalization, are on the verge of extinction. Now, most of them have retained their customs with some exceptions. Let’s see them a bit more detailed.
First of all, what is the meaning of matriarchy?
A matriarchal or otherwise feminist society is based on the element of motherhood, which differentiates women from men. The term first appeared around the 19th century, in analogy to the term patriarchy, originally referring to the family institution and soon evolved to the opposite of patriarchy. It signifies exactly that social model, where women are in the institutional roles maintained by the male sex in patriarchal societies. However already since the 17th century, the English term “gynecocracy” is used, which was based on the ancient Greek term “γυναικοκρατία” found in the texts of Aristotle and Plutarch.
Today the term is widely used to denote organization in the animal kingdom and in particular, within the matriarchal structures in the society of lions, elephants and especially hyenas, where there is a hierarchy based on the dominant female and her offspring.
Modern matriarchal structures
In this day and age, small structures of a matriarchal nature still survive in various societies and religions, such as the German-Scandinavian societies. In fact, in Judaism children take on the character of a Jewish person only if their mother is. In addition, traditions have developed in some parts of Albania and Kosovo where the woman/Eva is still in force. A custom of great interest is that a woman can swear to maintain her virginity and maintain equal rights with men and live as such, reminding us of the eunuchs of Central Europe in the Middle Ages. Bits of matriarchy also appear in Morocco, where the divorced woman is valued more than the unmarried girl and in fact, by asking for a divorce, she gains the respect of the community.
According to ethnographer, Peggy Reeves Sanday, there are still purely matriarchal social structures in Yunnan, China. In Naxi, the institutions of marriage and fatherhood do not exist, while a more liberated notion of the sexuality of the inhabitants prevails. In Indonesia, in a highly populous, conservative, Muslim country, the Minangkabau tribe on the island of Sumatra does not promote Islam, however the wealth, name and privileges are centered on the woman, who financially supports the family and men are completely dependent on them.
In the mountain villages of the Himalayas and in Bhutan there is polyandry or “polygamy”, where a woman can have two or more husbands, live with them and raise children. Specifically, the Mosuo tribe are semi-matriarchal societies, following the maternal line of kinship, polygamy for women and the management of their property. Today, older women are the custodians of their radical social values and strive to maintain their tradition in the face of the erosion of the modern world.
In India, where women’s rights have been the subject of much debate in the international community, the state of Meghalaya is making a difference. Here, the matriarchal system of inheritance applies as in Sumatra. Also in southern India, in Kerala, the Nayar community gives women a central role, as men traditionally die at a young age, being warriors.
Moreover, the island of Orango, in the Bijagos archipelago off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, women dominate public and private life. Women choose their husbands, make marriage proposals to them, and have their own property. They have the responsibility of children, they are the priestesses in the traditional ceremonies, and they are considered responsible for maintaining the balance between the worlds of the living and the dead. Finally, they organize the tasks and are responsible for ensuring justice.
Tropical forest tribes
Finally, the tribes of the Amazon play a leading role in matriarchy. They are already characterized by the name of the area, as the prefix “ama-” used in the Moso language means “mother”.
In the Kun tribe, wild girls, the Amazons, do housework and create clothes with beauty and delicacy. However, here the groom does not choose the bride but the girl chooses and proposes to the young man, who has no right to refuse her proposal and has to move to his wife’s house. The birth of a girl is considered preferable.
To conclude, I would like to mention that Freud attributes to women another “complex” characteristic which is based on the lack of a penis. Surprisingly, Freud could never have imagined that men would be complex due to the lack of mammary glands or uterus.
Where Women Reign: An Intimate Look Inside a Rare Kingdom (nationalgeographic.com)
International Women’s Day: What are matriarchies, and where are they now? | The Independent | The Independent
Guinea-Bissau – The Powerful Queens of Orango | Highlights | DW | 28.01.2021
Nāyar | Hindu caste | Britannica
6 Matriarchal Societies Around the World – Matriarchal Societies List 2021 (townandcountrymag.com)
Image source: nationalgeographic.com