There were no matriarchies in precolonial Africa

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mucubal woman during a festivity near virei angola There were no matriarchies in precolonial AfricaFollowing a passioned debate on my last post Feminism has always existed in Africa, I started to question why the myth of matriarchy in precolonial Africa is popular and here’s why. Because it poses less of a challenge to the status quo.

It numbs the anger of the persisting patriarchy we have found ourselves in for centuries. It curbs revolution. It controls feminist activism. It reinforces gender stereotypes. It lets male privilege off the hook when inhabited by men who “at least” are aware of how motherly women warriors once ruled in some distant age.

Claiming the myth of matriarchy in precolonial societies also makes it easier to blame colonialism for patriarchy and forget of the African patriarchs. Patriarchy was not imported from Europeans. Patriarchy as we know it, perhaps. But not as the norm. There’s too much historical evidence of male-dominant systems in precolonial Africa to even go near such a claim. Furthermore, we shouldn’t frame history as though Africans stopped thinking for themselves during colonialism. How frankly, belittling. For example, my family is from a town in Nigeria–Abeokuta, which resisted colonial dictatorship even whilst the majority of Yorubaland had been incorporated into the southern protectorate. However, in 1914, following violent trials and tribulations, Abeokuta was forced to be part of colonial Nigeria. During this period, there was a necessary relationship between colonial officials and some of our leaders. The chiefs of my town negotiated with the colonial administrators, sometimes vehemently opposing their demands and sometimes collaborating. And the women of Abeokuta (and less privileged men too, I’d say) often bore the brunt of this new relationship between British and Yoruba patriarchs.

The appeal is that if we once upon a time lived in matriarchies–that is–societies which are governed by women and where women are the heads of the family, then maybe we  will return to them automatically, as a law of nature. This nostalgia helps us to lazily continue with our lives without challenging the serious problem that in the times in which we live, if you are a female you are not considered fully human by society. You don’t possess the same rights as men; you are disadvantaged in the most important aspects of livelihood; your religion is at warfare with you; you don’t have access to equal education or land ownership as men; the medical system is not tailored to your female anatomy, in fact it is often spun against it; walking down the streets isn’s safe as you are at the risk of being violently abused simply because of your gender; your history is unwritten and thwarted. I could go on.  We live in a kind of gender-apartheid.

Myths are powerful tools to help us in shaping our identities, they can be psychologically empowering and balancing and I hate to be unsentimental about them therefore. Like many women, I love to read books such as “Women who run with wolves” or “‘The Goddess in Every Woman” because they give me a grounded sense of womanhood by exploring the archetypes of the feminine mind. And those archetypes I believe are very real. But as empowered as they make me feel I can’t claim that the stories are factual. And nor are the matriarchal myths about Africa. There is no intellectual integrity in distorting history to make oneself feel better. We are avoiding confronting reality by confusing it with myths.

Thoughts please!

 

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  • http://selfra.blogspot.com dantresomi

    I will be the first to admit that I used to believe that myth without any doubts even though I only had the Kentakes of Ethiopia to prove that myth right.

    I think many of us call these kinds of mythologies “Afrotopia” where the entire continent of Africa was this magical place where we all got along, were vegetarians, and floated as we meditated.

    I agree with you. Believing in this myth relieves many of the corrupt leaders of their crimes, ethnocentrism, and patriarchy.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks Dan Tres Omi!
      I literally burst out laughing when I read the 2nd sentence in your comment. I just can’t with all that…

  • Robbie Shilliam

    My understanding of this was that matriarchy didn’t necessarily mean women in sole authority. It inferred that some areas of life (public and private) were governed by women, in principle. In other words, there was a complex mosaic of multi-level governance with a matrix of ethics to match which accorded sanctity to the feminine as well as masculine. So it might be misleading to run with the term “matriarch” if we imagine it as the verso to “patriarch”. Both of these extremes were created in the colonies by administrators, missionaries etc to create both a pristine civilized Europe and a pristine savage Africa. As far as i understand it, in pre-colonial AFrica, the gravity was very variable both within, between, societies and over time too. It could be more or less gravitation to patriarchal rule, but there was not these either/ors of matriarchy (exclusive rule of women/feminine) or patriarhcy (exclusive rule of men/masculinity). This matrix of ethics and pluarlistic governance system (which was still imbued with power) was significantly impacted by islam, and much more so by missionary christianity and colonial rule that de-sanctified any public valuation of feminine ethics, and (not the same, of course, but related) womens authority. I never thought of this as Afrotopia: i.e. power and differentiation all around. But the way of thinking about ethics and rule: i think that has been calcified by colonialism. If you look at a lot of the cosmologies that came across to the Americas with enslaved peoples, you will see this pluralistic matrix of ethics i am talking about still in there. in many of these cosmologies, baptism is sanctified because it invokes the feminine water spirits. So my thing with this is not to deny anything you say Ms Afropolitan – I think you are bang on and have laid down the challenge acutely. But i do think that there are things to retrieve and creatively re-employ to sort it out. We cannot map the colonial or pre-colonial history of African continent with the same pen as colonial administrators who themselves had a totally mythical view of even what “patriarchial” and “victorian” Europe had been. (Greeks were much more like Puerto Ricans, says Derek Walcott!). I.e. sovereignty does not just mean absolute authority over a life. That paramount chief model was imported, as was a mono-vocal hierarchical value system. Patriarchal Europe was made in the colonies at the expense first and foremost of the women who lived in the colonies. The decolonization of value systems can’t take Europe as a guide or as a verso. Hence the value of thinking otherwise…

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks Robbie!
      Some comments responding to your points…

      “My understanding of this was that matriarchy didn’t necessarily mean women in sole authority.”

      Matriarchy means governing by women, in sole or let’s say majority authority. If we are speaking of other types of rule then this article isn’t disputing those. We need to be clear about what we are discussing. Because when we use the term “matriarchy” as I’m challenging here, we are not talking about the multi-level governance you mentioned.


      “It could be more or less gravitation to patriarchal rule, but there was not these either/ors of matriarchy (exclusive rule of women/feminine) or patriarhcy” (exclusive rule of men/masculinity).

      I’m not sure I understand this? The gravitation to patriarchal rule that is. Who would determine that there wasn’t either’ors? If women who weren’t queen mothers or spiritual diviners weren’t part of the gender equilibrium as we know they often weren’t) would they say they lived in gravitation to patriarchal rule or in patriarchy? And the masses of women killed under witch accusations also come to mind.. It wasn’t the white man who carried out those acts.

      “Both of these extremes were created in the colonies by administrators, missionaries etc to create both a pristine civilized Europe and a pristine savage Africa”

      I’m not so concerned with what image Europe tried to create. This is not about Europe/Africa, hardly anything I write here is giving much consideration to the western gaze (unless explicitly outlined as such) but if we can speak about this on a south-south level the fact still remains that before colonialism men dominated the governing of homes and political affairs.

      Agree with this “there are things to retrieve and creatively re-employ to sort it out. We cannot map the colonial or pre-colonial history of African continent with the same pen as colonial administrators who themselves had a totally mythical view of even what “patriarchial” and “victorian” Europe had been.”
      I know that women lost even that realm where they possessed the most power in precolonial Africa (the divine) with the adoption of new religions and systems, however, that isn’t really the point here.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Just to clarify in case my post wasn’t clear enough, the fact women in Africa were often negatively impacted by interactions with the west is not being questioned here. This is in fact why African feminists trace women’s inequality in Africa not only to patriarchy but also to colonialism and imperialism. But we can and must explore the multiple layers of oppression that have emerged from the entanglement of external and indigenous patriarchies so that we can not only write more accurate history but also understand our past as it relates to our present concerns. This way, we also see that women have always acted both as agents and resistors of the patriarchal machinery and stop producing false ideas that women in Africa just accepted a subsumed role.

      • Robbie Shilliam

        Hey Ms Afropolitan,
        awesome discussion! I agree with you on everything. Thank you for all these words of wisdom.

        Myths are often structured by the matrix of ethics i was mentioning. I was reading about many of the Legba stories. Read with an acute eye, one can see some situations and choices in those stories which significantly complicate the ruling practices of pure patriarchy AND matriarchy. Societies and those who can practice power in them, never “comply” to these myths. But the myths do complicate the naturalness of brute oppression and injustice. Perhaps the myths you are speaking of are ones which no longer complicate. To rely on those myths would normalise brute oppression and blind any vision of justice. One of my favourite readings along this line is Ashis Nandy, “Third World Utopias”.

        I know a Samoan reverend, who is busy trying to decolonize Christianity in the Pacific. He says the worst thing that happened is this: in many Pasifika mythologies there is a special relationship between filial brother and sister. Very special, and very complicated. The allegiance to Jesus proselytised by the missionaries, he says, purposefully replaced this pre-existing relationship. And how many men were quite happy with that? Maybe none, at heart. But certainly, it made life less complicated for the powerful men. They no longer had to complicate the gendered nature of their power. The reverend i am talking of wants to retrieve that old, complicated relationship. And perhaps he wants to make the love of Jesus work through those other mythologies. Maybe we need to retrieve the complicated mythologies? What do you think?

        • MsAfropolitan

          Thank you also Robbie, your comments have contributed greatly to the discussion.

          The myth that I have heard, most recently in my previous post says that matriarchy is “where women have the central role in political office, land ownership, defining moral rules, and have superior status in society” and that this form of society existed in Africa at and around the time that most African societies became colonialized.

          Patriarchy has been defined as “a familial-social, ideological, political system in which men—by force, direct pressure, or through ritual, tradition, law, and language, customs, etiquette, education, and the division of labour determine what part women shall or shall not play, and in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male”

          My argument is that for centuries long African societies have known the latter and not the former. Whether it is to do with the household, marriage customs, production methods, the physical body and sexual freedoms, African traditions for the most part made and makes distinctions between male and female in ways that disadvantage the female.

          This is a reality that we don’t want to accept but unfortunately until we do we can’t solve the gender inequality problem we have in our modern day for we are looking at the branches of the colonial era when the roots extend beyond that. We need to forget for at least a short pause what role the white man played in our conflict between the genders. I refuse to believe that we are not capable of thinking by ourselves, which we are saying if the white man made us forget how to love each other. So I’m asking did we give up the skill of loving one another as men and women because of the white man? If not, and I believe not, then what can we decipher in our his(her?)stories? What problems in our modern societies emanate from us ourselves? Not someone else’s culture. Ours.

          I by no means wish to contest that if using other tools of measurement to evaluate gender positions at the given time, such as indigenous spiritual practices especially, but also trade or farming, we would not find egalitarian traditions which regrettably didn’t survive the colonialist invasion because they became punishable.
          Nor is it to say that the historical (patriarchal) societies did not within them experience a form of harmony between the genders, the same could be said even today still. Not everyone is a frustrated feminist ;)

          Hmm retrieving the old mythologies? If someone could provide an example with solid historical evidence of a society that wasn’t patriarchal as defined above, then sure :)

  • Lesley Agams

    Pre-colonial Africa is a riddle. Its history an elaborate mosaic of truths and half truths. And even outright lies. Whether written or oral. Speaking of more contemporary times (early 20th c) women in traditional communities still retained a lot of ‘power’ further eroded since by religion. While some people can be accused of romanticism I think and laziness I think its been more about differentiating an African type of feminism from the roots of white feminism. Catherine Acholonu used patri-focal and matri-focal to disassociate from the loaded ‘patriarchy’ and the misleading matriarchy. Both maternal and paternal lineage had significant purpose and meaning in a persons life. It wasn’t a femtopia but it didn’t completely de-value the feminine.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks Lesley for the comment.

      I’m not a huge fan of Acholonu’s ‘motherism’ theory which in my opinion is problematically heteronormative and reinforces stereotypical (judeo-christian) gender roles, but I did like the matrifocal thesis. That said, I’m not putting that to question here.

      Also, I do agree that the roots of African feminism are different to those of white feminism. I don’t see what warrants this concern though? Does the idea of not having matriarchies in Africa make African feminism more europianized? And if so, what is it that we are getting from the ‘African’ in ‘African feminism?

  • http://www.blacklooks.org Sokari

    @dantresomi – Great comment on AfroTopia. I would think we all agree on differentiating feminisms whether historically or ideologically – I prefer the more intersectional term ‘Kyriarchy’ explained and differentiated from patriarchy as follows;

    “Kyriarchy seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression. ” Which is further complicated within a colonial and post-colonial context to include sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, normativity [hetero/homo] and so on. See here for more : http://bit.ly/4vhZOS
    ;

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks Sokari. Kyriarchy seems a useful term to know about. I’ll be checking out the article and reading some more about it.

  • http://none Ashera

    I read the title of this article to be a generalization, and therefore not true. You cannot assert this for all of Africa at any given time, and the diversity of structures throughout the continent of Africa is a little more complex than saying Patriarchy versus Matriarchy.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for stopping by.

      People are sure that it’s a generalization but no one has examples to prove the generalisation wrong.

      On the issue of complexity, I agree that African societies, like most others in all honesty, are not simply aligned on this dualistic nature. I have not made that claim.

      But more importantly why are we so adamant to defend the matriarchal myth? What or who are we protecting?

      • http://none Ashera

        You sound defensive, and have not defended your assertion as well. I think you should direct your questions toward your self and answer them more intelligently.

        • MsAfropolitan

          Thanks for the advice. It was not my intention to sound defensive but rather to understand more clearly what made you claim my position was false.

  • http://www.gabrielteodros.com Gabriel Teodros

    Happy to see this discussion happening…

    A film suggestion regarding matriarchy: “Blossoms Of Fire” a beautiful film about the Zapotec people in Oaxaca, Mexico… it streams on Netflix. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA8MmmrX-6s it’s just an important film on the subject!

    I spent some time studying matriarchy in Africa… I was really interested in the Candaces of Meroe, Hatshepsut (and possibly a line of other woman Pharaohs before her) in Aincent Egypt and Sheba in Ethiopia. Some believe Hatshepsut and Sheba were the same person. A common theme I seemed to run into had to do with religion. With the introduction of monotheism, patriarchy was always hand in hand. And women’s stories of being in power were methodically erased. For example, in Egypt, the Pharaoh who came after Hatshepsut literally had her image chiseled off of stone walls. Yet she was the most prolific builder in Aincent Egypt.

    And your right, patriarchy does go back way before any European colonization.

    I was interested in the real story of Sheba because the popular story you hear about her (i think it’s in the Kebra Negast… i never even had to read the story to hear it a million times) has to do mostly with her being raped by King Solomon, who is considered so “wise”. Then after this incident she brought Solomon’s religion to Ethiopia, and now today you have Ethiopians and Rastafarians alike who proudly call themselves “Sons of Solomon”, they don’t call themselves “Sons of Sheba” and violence against women in these communities continues to go unchecked, the irony is insane.

    Patriarchy and the Abrahamic religions… I feel like they miiight of started together… but if they didn’t, those 2 ideas sure hold each other up.

    • Robbie Shilliam

      Gabriel, Kebra Negast suggests that Sheba was in some ways wiser than Solomon. KEbra NAgast is read by Rastafari. As for your Rastafari comments, you must go forward with overstanding not assumption. Rastafari – as is most of conscious peoples in the world- is deprogramming patriarchy from the vision. Rasta is not ignorant of the challenges, especially not Rasta empresses who have forwarded the challenge over 80 challenging years.
      http://rastaites.com/news/archives/ET2004/03.htm
      working in easy absolutes is not working.

  • MsAfropolitan

    Wow, thanks so much for your contributions, can you recommend resources to learn more on the rewriting of this history? The theory that monotheism and patriarchy are linked seems logical and as you say even if they didn’t start together they sure met up quickly along their journeys. Furthermore, monotheism as tied to the shift from pantheism also introduces exploitation of land and nature which in return also is linked to gender, as in the right to property and so on.

    I’ll so be checking out that movie.

    • http://www.gabrielteodros.com Gabriel Teodros

      about Hatshepsut… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatshepsut#Changing_recognition

      there’s books about her too.

      the theory that Sheba/Makeda/Bilquis and Hatshepsut are the same person comes from a book i read over a decade ago called “Stolen Legacy” it’s a theory that says the Bible is a re-telling of events in Aincent Egypt. When I did my own research comparing what the Bible says about Sheba and what history says about Hatshepsut, i found something that might back it up. Sheba is supposed to be the great-great-great-granddaughter of Noah. So I looked at Ahmose I (who is believed to be Hatshepsut’s great-great-great-grandfather) to look for Noah’s flood, and found that he did move the capital of Egypt to Thebes, and rebuilt pyramids that were destroyed by a storm. The storm was caused by the Minoan eruption http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minoan_eruption which if you read about could very well be Noah’s flood.

      i haven’t found books about the Candaces of Meroe… what I’ve read about them sounds so fierce though, I’d love to find more!

    • Robbie Shilliam

      We need to be careful with the categories we have inherited. The mono/poly theism divide is based on European-christian (missionary) theology. It is not helpful. Christianity itself is polytheistic -i.e. there is more than one spiritual agency (the devil, the holy spirit, the angels etc). Most cosmological systems will posit a begotten source – often a very distant source, which is neither female, male, OR both and more. Then there are a whole set of spiritual agencies that have particular roles, functions, ethics – they relate to eachother, often in a contested way. Missionaries decided that spiritual agencies should be translated as “gods”. hence polytheism vs supposed white christian monotheism. The strongest support of patriarchy as we know it is this particular monotheistic thesis which attribues one state line to god through man and orders property rights, sanctification of bodies, and transmission of power. But the majority of cosmologies in the world never worked with a straight line like this. there are visions to retrieve and creatively transform. i agree with ms afropolitan that certain myths will not help in this regard at all. But other myths might.

      • Robbie Shilliam

        lol sorry, one “Straight” line, not state line. but come to think of it, that too! :)

  • http://eccentricyoruba.wordpress.com cosmicyoruba

    I agree with the general sentiments of this post. I’m not comfortable with “AfroTopia” either and I happen to know a lot of people who use the “matriarchy myth” as an excuse to blame all the problems African women face on colonialism and to suggest that if we went back in time everything will be better.

    I do believe that there were real matriarchies in the African continent, not only in the past but also today. Societies change and majority of these societies have become matrilineal or matrifocal. Reading about the experiences of women in pre-colonial Africa, it has really stood out to me how different experiences were depending on ethnic group and society. Some women had it way better than others, and so far some of the most “free” women I’ve encountered in literature have been Igbo women. Although they lived in a patriarchal culture, I would say there was more movement in between.

    My realistic response now to those who stick to the AfroTopia matriarchy-was-everywhere myth is to say that if I were to go back in time to pre-colonial Africa, I would rather be a slightly older, very wealthy Igbo woman because then I’d have more “freedom”.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for the contribution. I agree that it seems the nuances from region to region were vast, but certain shared aspects were VERY widespread, like polygamy. Select Igbo women, for example, could buy wives too but for the most part polygamy seems to have been 1 male to plural number of females.

      Curious to hear which societies would you call matriarchies today?

      For equality, the choice of a wealthy elderly Igbo woman and especially one with spiritual power too, would be a safe bet!
      But you see, that’s the type of thing that adds to the patriarchal history. If it hadn’t been the case it would be equally tempting to time-travel to more regions as a woman of any rank or age.

      • http://eccentricyoruba.wordpress.com cosmicyoruba

        The thing with patriarchy is that it affects both men and women, in different ways. For example with polygamy, not all men would have been able to marry more than one wife, just as there were select Igbo women who could buy wives I do believe the men who could afford to marry many wives were also select. And from what I know, the wives married were usually as servants or for male members of the family. I’m going with Nwando Achebe who argues that “bride price” is actually “child price” in Igbo culture, because the price paid ensured that any child born from a union would belong to the man’s family whether the man was his biological father or not.

        As for matriarchies today, I really can’t list a role call of societies but I do know of people who refer to their societies as matriarchal and that has made me more open-minded because Africa is such a diverse place. It was just last month when I met a Ugandan lady who spoke of the difficulties in reconciling what she referred to as the matriarchy among her ethnic group to the larger Ugandan society.

        With regards to elderly Igbo women adding to the patriarchal history, that was my point exactly, that there are only a few regions on the African continent that women could time-travel to and experience “freedom”. But then again things were much more different, and what we may look at now and say “oh that is very woman friendly” were actually not in the larger view of things. At the same time there seems to have been more flexibility that allowed women to crave their own destinies, if they were old/wealthy/powerful enough.

        • http://eccentricyoruba.wordpress.com cosmicyoruba

          And from what I know, the wives married were usually as servants or for male members of the family

          Here, I mean the wives that were married to women, i.e. “female husbands”.

          • MsAfropolitan

            Furthermore, the female children of a ‘female husband’, became ‘male daughters’ (according to Ifi Amadiume and Mercy Adedoye) and had the same privileges a male child would have had so for example they had authority over their mother’s wives.
            Delightfully complex!

        • MsAfropolitan

          I’m confused about Nwando Achebe’s argument, if the child was male does he say it would still have a “bride price’?

          • http://eccentricyoruba.wordpress.com cosmicyoruba

            “Child price” was first coined by Ifi Amadiume, and both Amadiume and Achebe argue that this is a more appropriate term because the transfer of money from a man to a woman or from a female husband to wife apparently had nothing to do with the wife as this payment was part of a contract that transferred all rights over children to the husbands. So that way a man or female husband was obliged to take care of any child, regardless of sex, that was born to the wife after the bride price/child price was paid.

            Does this clear the confusion?

            And I’m not sure Nwando Achebe is “he”.

          • MsAfropolitan

            Yes it makes perfect sense now, thanks for explaining.

  • Robbie Shilliam

    thank you Cosmicyoruba and Ms AFropolitan for your discussion. it’s very enlightening. :)

  • hsfim

    Hey guys,
    what about Queen N’Zingha from Angola who ruled as a ‘King’, had male concubines and went to war against the Portuguese in order to prevent further enslavement and colonisation.

  • Blak Betty

    I’ve only just read this post and haven’t read all of the responses so apologies if someone has already made these points. I would agree that patriarchy is something that existed in pre-colonial Africa but I think its form has evolved which has been influenced by colonialism and its effects as well as economic and other social factors.

    I think that saying that there were no Matriarchies in pre-colonial Africa is a bit of a sweeping statement. Africa is a big continent. I am from Zambia and there are 72 languages spoken- so many different tribes groups and ethnic groups in Africa so maybe some of them did have matriarchal systems. I briefly saw some people in earlier posts pointing out some African Queens and leaders so there must have been at least a few.

  • Joy-Mari

    Hear, hear!!!!

  • Zavara

    Peace. Thank you for your insights, I appreciate your information about Yorubaland and precolonial history of your area. I however wold like to remind you about the diversity of Afrika and also warn us in these dialogues to be careful not creating linear conclusion to a very diverse and complex culture like afrikan culture. Matriachial is not myth in some areas it is reality that exist until today. In East Afrika my family Zaramo people from the Tanzanian coast use to Matriachal and still are today. I know of many Afrikan nations which they clan names are from mother side. Please revisit this subject you will find some insightful information. Investigate about Queen Nyabhingi from Great Lake area, Batutsi people had Matriachal ways before colonial and many more. Take a moment and go through materials by Cheick Anta Diop, Oba T’Shaka. These people are not typical Intellectuals as we know them today but are multy disclinary scholars they have done their field research and they have lived with the people they are talking about. Another material to also gather some insights should be Yurugu by Marimba Ani. Thiss woman has done extensive works on Eropean minsed from Afrikan perspective. I think their world view is still predominant in our thinking. Blessed love.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Peace to you too and thanks for the contribution.
      I would love to know more about the power structure of the Zaramos…
      What do you mean by clan names by mother’s side, as in matrilineally? Also, what do you mean by matriarchal ‘ways’? Either it’s a matriarchy or it isn’t (in the case of the argument in this post). I am familiar with work of the people who you suggest, they are valuable, informative resources for Africans without a doubt but I have my hesitations in their accuracy and motive when it comes to defining matriarchy. Those hesitations (to numb the feminist spirit and activism etc.) are listed in this article.

  • Simmi

    Hi Minna

    Wishing you love, solidarity and consciousness on your journey in 2013. I have skim read your post and some of the comments, so forgive me if I repeat something or if I get it wrong. I think it would be helpful to offer a clear definition of what you mean when speaking of matriarchy. I found this definition by Heide Goettner-Abendroth: The subject of matriarchal studies is the investigation and presentation of non-patriarchal societies of past and present. Even today there are enclaves of societies with matriarchal patterns in Asia, Africa, America and Oceania. None of these is a mere reversal of patriarchy where women rule -as it is often commonly believed -instead, they are all egalitarian societies, without exception. This means they do not know hierarchies, classes and the domination of one gender by the other. They are societies free of domination, but they still have their regulations. And this is the fact that makes them so attractive in any search for a new philosophy, to create a just society.

    Equality does not merely mean a levelling of differences. The natural differences between the genders and the generations are respected and honoured, but they never serve to create hierarchies, as is common in patriarchy. The different genders and generations have their own honour and through complimentary areas of activity, they are geared towards each other.’. Ofcourse there were patriarchal societies before colonisation, but what i find significant is the devastating capitalist economy of colonial patriarchy on a global scale. With that said I hear your argument, that we must always be critical of ourself and deal with the different forms of structural oppression within our own cultures or we will continue to mimic Eurocentric ethnocentricism…rather than decolonize our minds. I am reminded of our politics here in south Africa, which is using ‘africanist culture’ as an excuse to entrench gross sexism.

    The following is a link to different matriarchal cultures across the globe. http://www.matriarchiv.info/?page_id=34&lang=en

    • MsAfropolitan

      Hi Simmi,
      Thanks and the very same to you. Thanks for sharing thoughts..
      I appreciate your request to “offer a clear definition of what you mean when speaking of matriarchy” as there have been suggestions of matrifocal and matrilineal society to dispute my argument. I am not denying the existence of those.
      Rather I am being very specific, and the definition of matriarchy that I am familiar with and that I refer to here is a matriarchy as the worst nightmare of patriarchy, the reverse image of today’s world, a world where women have authority over men, are ruthless leaders and control the resources of humanity and prevent men from having access to it(in the way patriarchy similarly has always operated).
      Such a society has not been documented in African history to my knowledge (but if it has I would gladly be proven wrong) and also, just in case it be misunderstood, I do not find the idea of such a society any more desirable than the patriarchal ones we currently have. There are indications that the candaces of Kush might have been matriarchs but we are going very far back in history with them and although we know for sure that they were powerful there is not enough evidence of whether they were rulers of a matriarchy

      I agree with the devastating effects of colonial patriarchy and capitalism on egalitarian structures.

      I also think it’s important to be clear that matriarchy is not the same as egalitarian and complementary which I’m not suggesting haven’t existed and still do to some extent.

      I don’t know all the African ethnicities in the link you share but I know that Yorubas were not matriarchal as incorrectly listed on it which makes me dubious as to whether to spend time researching the others…

      Thanks for the discussion
      Minna

      • Ama

        Hi there,
        I have read through your blog and it is quite interesting. I am from the Twi clan in Ghana and we still practice Matriarchy. Women own the land, property, family business and my children take my surname. Wealth is handed down through the mother line. Women do not control men but each has their own role and are respected. Men are the warriors and take advice from their aunties and mothers. While women control the trade, finances, religion, education, youth and children.

        • MsAfropolitan

          Hi Ama,

          Thanks for the comment.

          I’d love to know more about the Twi matriarchy. Any recommendations on further study?

          Minna

        • Havah

          Bonjour,

          I am a Baoule woman from Cote d’Ivoire, we are part of the Akan people and most of our customs which are similar to the Twi of the Ghana are considered by anthropologist as matriarchal/matrilineal ones (just google Akan+people+matriarchy). I think you have a very narrow definition of matriarchy which makes it impossible for almost any precolonial or primitive society around the world to be deemed, at any point of the history, as matriarchies. Just to make an analogy, I live in Canada and some first nations claim to have been matriarchal/matrilineal societies because of the roles and the weight women used to have with regard to the functioning of the clan, and above all, compared to whatever rights white women used to have at the same time in their own societies. Yet, if I apply your interpretation of matriarchy to these nations, I am afraid that some Canadan first nations like the Mohawks might have been deluding themselves all this time with some folk myths in order to feel good about themselves. If you need real evidence and I am not talking about a study (because what happened if someone was never interested in going into the bush to study some clan), you might wanna travel to some African villages and talk with the elders.
          On a less historic note, I really like your blog.

          Cordialement,

          Havah.

          • MsAfropolitan

            Hi Havah,

            Thanks so much for the comment and blog compliment.

            Just wondering, how would you define a matriarchy and how would you differentiate it from matriliny?

          • Havah

            @MsAfropolitan,

            Hello,

            I read your question and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud because I do agree that when it comes to semantics, “matriarchy” is different from “matriliny”. Yet, could you give me an example of any true matriarchal society, in the same meaning that patriarchal societies are perceived and described in social sciences? I mean, has history ever recorded a matriarchal society anywhere in the world, except the mythical Amazons? I think the real point here (and please allow me to veer a little bit off the topic) is that there have never ever been (true) matriarchal societies in the history of humanity so African people cannot make the claim that it was the case in precolonial Africa. Yet, once again, this conclusion can only be reached if you make a clear distinction between matriarchy and matriliny, as feminist theories do.

            Cheers,

            Havah

  • Ankh

    The more I study precolonial Africa, the more I find this post to be utter, utter BS. Precolonial Africa was not a matriarchy, but it was CERTAINLY NOT a patriarchy.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Would be good to hear more about your study findings.
      You seem to be agreeing with what the post title says: there were no matriarchies in precolonial Africa.

    • Joe

      Completely agree. This whole article is so unfortunate.

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