Sociology Index


Matrilineal societies are societies in which descent is traced through mothers rather than through fathers. In matrilineal societies, property is often passed from mothers to daughters and the custom of matrilocal residence may be practiced. Patrilineal descent is traced through fathers rather than through mothers. Matrilineage is sometimes associated with polyandry or group marriage where women have a variety of sexual partners and lines of male descent are uncertain. In matrilineal societies, the descendants of men are their sister's children and not their own, who belong to their mother's matrilineage. Matrilineal societies existed in ancient times and matrilineal descent was recognised. Matrilineal descent is not the mirror image of patrilineal descent.

Matrilineal societies differ from both patrilineal and bilateral societies in that the institution of marriage tends to be, relatively weak (Schneider and Gough 1961, Goode 1963). In a gerontocratic matrilineal society, women's influence and prestige tended to increase with age and were usually expressed in informal settings, although there were offices of formalised informality such as mothers of matrilineages. Matriliny required the subordination of marriage and conjugal duties to loyalty to and participation in the descent group. This, combined with economic activities, farming, artisan work, and trading, gave women considerable independence. Women (like elders) had prestige in the matrilineal home town, where black stools symbolised the seat of power. (Bartle).

In a matrilineal society, women generally have a greater autonomy in terms of sexuality and reproduction than their counterparts in male dominated societies.
The woman in a matrilineal society represents the clan and her children carry on the name of her clan.

Land Inheritance and Schooling in Matrilineal Societies: Evidence from Sumatra - Agnes R. Quisumbing, and Keijiro Otsuka
Abstract: This paper explores statistically the implications of the shift from communal to individualized tenure on the distribution of land and schooling between sons and daughters in matrilineal societies, based on a Sumatra case study. The inheritance system is evolving from a strictly matrilineal system to a more egalitarian system in which sons and daughters inherit the type of land that is more intensive in their own work effort. While gender bias is either non-existent or small in land inheritance, daughters tend to be disadvantaged with respect to schooling. The gender gap in schooling appears to be closing for the generation of younger children.

Oppong, C. (1974) Marriage Among a Matrilineal Elite, Cambridge University Press.

Matrilineal Society in India - Dr. Madhumita Das
When most of the people in the world follow the patrilineal system, there exist a few groups here and there who believed to be the descendants of Japheth (son of Noah), and are followers of the matrilineal system (Syiemlieh, 1994).
At the global level, the existence of matrilineal society is found among the tribes of African countries, in some part of Southeast Asia and among three groups of India. It is the Minangkabaus of West Sumatra, Indonesia, comprising the largest ethnic group in the world who follow a matrilineal system (Tanius, 1983).
In Indian context, the matrilineal social system is found only among small pockets of south the and northeast India. The Nairs and Mappilles in Kerala, the tribal groups of Minicoy Island and the Khasis and the Garos of Meghalaya are the followers of matrilineal system. However, the matrilineal system of the African countries differs considerably from that of the Southeast Asian groups. Even within India, the system differs from one group to another (Kapadia, 1966).
Among these groups, difference is mostly observed in the type of residence after marriage. The pattern of duo-local residence exists among the Ashanti of the Gold Coast in Africa, Minangkhau of Sumatra and the Nayars of Central Kerala. However, the Khasis of Meghalaya, generally follow the residential pattern known as matrilocal residence, where the husband resides with his wife's matrilineal kin or in other case couples settle down together in a new residence in and around his wife's maternal place (neolocal residence).
We discuss the changes that are occurring among the only few existent matrilineal societies in terms of their attitudes and behavior. Along with the qualitative analysis, the profile of women living in original matrilineal arrangement as against those who have completely transited in the form of percentage distribution is also presented. A few socio-economic, demographic, and developmental characteristics of both women and her husband has been taken into consideration. Lastly, a multivariate analysis has been undertaken to substantiate the findings from bivariate analysis and to find out the factors, which brought changes among the society.
In Meghalaya there exists three tribal groups, namely Khasi, Jaintia and Garo. The state is predominantly inhabited by the Khasi tribe, who are known for their matrilineal social system.
The term matriarchy or matriliny has become inseparably associated with the Khasi social organisation since it was first used in 1914 by Gurdon to describe Khasi social customs (Das. Gupta, 1964). Although the term is used to explain the pattern of residence after marriage among the Khasis, it is, however, known that matrilocal residence is not an invariable concomitant of matriarchal or matrilineal society. As among the Nayars of India, though they are also the followers of matrilineal system, the residential system among them is duolocal, where husband is usually the night visitor to their wife.
The Khasis have matrilocal residence and matrilineal descent. Participation in the family religion and the common sepulchre, where bones of the members of the family are interred after death, are the two elements that bind the members together. Besides the matrilocal residential pattern and matrilineal descent, family property is mainly transmitted through the female line.
Marriage is a great social institution among the Khasis, as it determines the system of matrilocal residential pattern among them (Sinha, 1970).
Being the followers of a unique social system of matriliny, the Khasi women enjoy a special place of status and dignity (Kyndiah, 1990). A Khasi woman is the guardian and preserver of the family goods.
The original system and moral efficacy has now a days been largely distorted (Bareh, 1994). The literature shows that a shift is taking place in the matrilineal society towards parental or patrilineal one (Tanius, 1983; Syiemlieh, 1994). Syiemlieh (1994), in his write-up on the Khasis and their matrilineal system has explained that due to some basic reasons there exists a transition in the matrilineal set-up in Meghalaya. This transition in the matrilineal society is due to the changes in the overall set-up. We get the idea that over time these matrilineal societies are undergoing changes in its characteristics.
What is interesting is that 21 per cent women following the matrilineal system live in urban areas and also almost half of the women who have deviated from matrilineal system continue to live in rural areas. This indicates that the transition that we witness in Khasi society is a complex phenomenon operating at family level than merely the outcome of urbanisation and modernisation process.
Dr. Madhumita Das - Research Officer, National Family Health Survey-2, International Institute for Population, Govandi Station Road, Deonar, Mumbai- 400 088.