Matriarchal societies are those where women rule political, social, and economic structures. The term matriarchal alludes to the fact that most societies the world over are predominantly ruled by men (referred to as a patriarchal system). While a matriarchal society is currently not the norm, there are still a few communities in some parts of the world, both indigenous and modern, where matriarchy is the preferred system of life. Here are some select examples:
The culture of the Mosuo is rooted in a matrilineal set-up where the family lineage of an individual is traced through the female line. This community of about 50,000 is nestled near Lugu Lake at the foot of the Tibetan Himalayas. Children of the Mosuo people live with their mother, who is called "Ah mi", or elder female. The Ah mi rules the Musuo family household and makes all important decisions related to the household.
The Minangkabau is the largest matriarchal society in the world. They are the indigenous tribe of the Sumatra region of Indonesia which is made up of 4.2 million members. Ownership of land, as well as the family name, is passed from mother to daughter whereas men are involved in political matters. The narrative of how the Minangkabau came to be matriarchal is said to be the death of a king who left behind three wives with three baby sons. Upon his death, his first wife took charge as her son was too young. This set the precedence for the matriarchal system that the Minangkabau follow today. One factor that has led to the continuation of matriarchy among the Minangkabau is the role of distant lands or the Diaspora. Men typically leave their homeland in search of opportunities and education, leaving women behind. This leaves women in charge of running the everyday activities of the community, including leadership.
Bribri (Costa Rica)
The Bribri is an indigenous community that lives in regions of Costa Rica and Panama. Only women can inherit land among the Bribri as well as prepare ritual cacao for use in the ceremonies of the tribe. The exact population of the Bribri is not known, however, estimates put their numbers at somewhere between 12,000 to 35,000. The origin of matrilineal preference among the Bribri has been tied to the legend which states that a woman was in the past turned into a cacao tree by Sibu, a Bribri god. It is for this reason that only women can prepare the sacred cacao drink. Men in the clans have specialized roles such as the awa who sing funeral songs and are the only ones allowed to touch the remains of the dead. The awa is trained for up to 15 years upon turning 8 through apprenticeship from an older awa, and the knowledge is passed on orally by the awa to the sons of his female relatives.
Umoja is a Swahili word that translates to mean oneness or unity. The language is the most widely spoken languages in Kenya and other countries in East Africa. Unlike other matriarchal communities, Umoja in Samburu, northern Kenya is a refuge for women who have faced the ills of patriarchal societies. The village was started in 1990 by Rebecca Lolosoli and its first members were victims of rape by British soldiers who were in Kenya at the time. Lolosoli advocated for the rights of women in a community where women have very little power. Presently, Umoja is a rescue center for women who are victims of gender-based violence, and sexual assault, female genital mutilation, and early forced marriages from the Rift Valley region. The women learn how to make crafts such as jewelry which they sell to tourists visiting the area. Men have been banned from the center.
What is a Matriarchal Society?
Matriarchal societies are those where women rule political, social, and economic structures. The term matriarchal alludes to the fact that most societies the world over are predominantly ruled by men (referred to as a patriarchal system).
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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