8 ancient matriarchal societies around the globe where women still call the shots
8 communities where women are the primary decision-makers and inheritors.
1. THE MOSUO, CHINA
Lugu Lake, known as the Kingdom of Women, is the home of the Mosuo tribe, one of the world's largest matrilineal societies. There is no native word for "father" or "husband" as women choose not to marry. Instead, these independent women take lovers; the traditional concept of "one man and one home" is absent. Inheritance of property is through the mother's lineage and there is absolutely no stigma in not knowing who the father of the child is.
The Mosuo live in large households with extended family, which is headed by the lead matriarch. The women take care of business decisions and men co-handle political decisions. Children are raised in the mother's households and take her name. Since children remain in the mother’s care, the role of men is limited to taking care of kids in his own matriarchal home.
However, the current situation of the community is not as utopian as it used to be. Visitors and foreigners arrived with misconceptions that Masuo women offer free sex, and the village is now fighting against powerful hotel and casino owners who are trying to take over, adding to the image of it being a red-light district. The tribe's population has dwindled down to 40,000 native inhabitants.
2. MINANGKABAU, INDONESIA
The Minangkabau of West Sumatra, hosting over four million inhabitants, is the largest known matriarchal society today. While the tribal law that requires all clan property to be passed down from mother to daughter makes it a matrilineal community, the social norm of the mother being the primary decision maker makes it a powerful matriarchal social structure as well.
Unlike other matriarchal groups, the interesting trait of this group is that the clan chief is always male. The catch? The women of the clan pick the chief and have the power to remove him from the position if he fails to execute his duties.
Power is distributed between both the genders, but one is not regarded as higher than the other. For example, the women take domestic decisions, decisions regarding finances and household choices, including child-rearing decisions. However, the men who are selected by the women, are expected to take political and spiritual positions to lead the community.
When a couple gets married, the woman acquires her own sleeping quarters, where the husband may visit and sleep with her, but is expected to return to his mother's house for breakfast.
3. THE KHASI TRIBE, INDIA
This ancient tribe lives in the state of Meghalaya in north-east India. The dense forest and hilly terrain seclude this cozy community from the neighboring towns in the plains. The community is matrilineal, wherein the youngest daughter inherits the properties. The domestic affairs and affairs of the tribe are determined by the women of the clan; although, women hold very few political positions in the state of Meghalaya.
Like all other matrilineal communities, children take the mother's family name and the house bears the same name, too.
The Khasi clan mother is viewed as the living embodiment of the Mother Goddess, Ka Blei. The chief of the community and priestess, representing the Goddess, administers the clan properties. The high priestess of the village of Smit is the most powerful shaman in northeast India. She picks the Khasi village chiefs and selects important dates for ceremonies.
4. AKAN, GHANA
The Akan community is a matriclan, where an individual's identity, inheritance, wealth, and politics are all determined by the mother. All founders are female, but men traditionally hold leadership positions, co-elected by women, within the society. The inherited roles are passed down matrilineally, through the mothers and sisters of the house.
5. BRIBRI, COSTA RICA
This small indigenous group with just over 13,000 people is found in the Limón province of Costa Rica. Like other matrilineal societies, this community is organized into clans. Women are the only ones who can traditionally inherit land, and women have the right to prep the cacao used in sacred Bribri rituals, symbolic of the power women hold spiritually and as social decision-makers.
6. NAGOVISI, NEW GUINEA
Residing on an island west of New Guinea, South Bougainville, this matrilineal society is divided into matriclans. The Nagovisi women are involved in social leadership and religious ceremonies. However, these strong and spirited women take most pride in working the land inherited by them.
Marriage is not institutionalized in this society. If a couple moves around together, sleep together, and the man is seen to assist the woman in her garden, then they are viewed as a committed couple. Men depend on women for food as women dominate food production. This reflects in women having a larger role in social and community decisions as well.
7. MATRIARCHAL GROUPS IN KERALA, INDIA
The state of Kerala is one of the most progressive states in the country, where women were always known to be key decision makers. The ancient culture of matrilineage, where property was passed from mother to daughter, was discontinued by a law passed in 1975, which expected equal division among all children. However, the historic tradition of matriarchy still influences how households and extended families make decisions.
As one young, modern Keralite woman describes her family, which is representative of many families in the state, "No decision is made without consulting the matriarch of the family. Whether it is a business decision or a larger community decision if the matriarch says NO, it's a definite NO."
She continues, "More recently, things have changed. Although it might appear like men are being more vocal, all the major decisions are driven by the women."
8. GARO TRIBE, INDIA
Much like their Khasi neighbors in north-east India, this Tibeto-Burman-speaking Garos inherit property and political succession from mothers. Typically, the successor is the youngest daughter of the family. However, this society is not entirely matriarchal, the men manage the practical governance of the property.
Socially, the women pick the husbands. The Garo girls take the initiative in finding a mate, and the boys are seen to be demure and unsure of entering a wedlock. Once married, the husband lives in his wife’s house. A Garo family is headed by the mother, but the father is responsible for providing sustenance. The daughter of the family carries the clan name throughout her life, whereas the son takes up his wife's clan name after marriage.
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