The Minangkabau people in West Sumatra, Indonesia are considered the largest matrilineal society today. Their tribal laws require all property to go from mother, the most important person in the community, to daughter. Women rule the domestic and men the political and spiritual roles. After marriage, the woman has her own sleeping quarters. The husband may sleep with her but must leave in the morning to have breakfast with his mother. “While the clan chief is always male, women select the chief and can remove him from office should they feel he failed to fulfill his duties.”
Thanks to the work of Jane Goodall, we know how a hierarchical system works in our closest living relative, the chimpanzees, that share 98.6% of our DNA. janegoodall.org Just like us, they have complex emotions, plot, and plan. The highest-ranking female is below the lowest ranking male—with some exceptions. The alpha surrounds himself with his male buddies, juvenile friends, brothers, etc. who helped him become “top dog.” Females have a hierarchy lead by the alpha female. Her children achieve a higher social status than a lower-ranking mother.
Matriarchies are not about women ruling over men. It’s not about, “now we have the power.” To clear confusion, look at the work of Dr. Heide Goettner-Abendroth, the founder of the International Academy for Modern Matriarchal Studies, and others who have spent their lives learning about societies where women rule or ruled, with or without men.
“Matriarchies,” she writes, “are mother-centered societies. They are based on maternal values: care-taking, nurturing, mothering. This holds for everybody: for mothers and those who are not mothers, for women and men alike.”
Today, there are a handful of societies run by females in addition to the Minangkabaus. Another is the Mosuos in China near the Tibetan border who live in large households headed by a woman. For the Mosuos, there is no such thing as marriage, women choose whom to sleep with, and the children remain in the mother’s care. The mother’s approach is one of guiding rather than controlling. For example, lovers can stay one over-night in the girl’s clan house in sort of a trial run called “visiting-marriage.” Either party can decide after a night if this will lead to something or nothing. There is no stigma attached to not knowing the child’s paternity.
Women-led human societies emphasize the equality of all and an attitude of nurturing, and peacemaking without violence. These qualities are at all levels of society: economic, social, political, and the spiritual-cultural level.
“In matriarchies,” Dr. Goettner-Abendroth writes, “you don’t have to be a biological mother in order to be acknowledged as a woman, because matriarchies practice the common motherhood of a group of sisters. Each individual sister does not necessarily have to have children, but together they are all “mothers” of any children that any of them have. This motherhood is founded on the freedom of women to decide on their own about whether or not to have biological children.”
At the social level, women-led societies hold values derived from nature and spiritual principles. Mother nature cares about all living things, in all its diversity and sizes. Men who seek status among peers will abide by the principles and uphold “good mother” values.
“Matriarchal economy is a subsistence economy. There is no such thing as private property, and there are no territorial claims. The people have usage rights on the soil they till, or the pastures their animals graze, for Mother Earth cannot be owned or cut up in pieces. She gives the fruits of the fields and the young animals to all people. Parcels of land and a certain number of animals are given to each matri-clan, and work is shared communally.”
Women have the power of distribution, fields, flocks, and food. The clan’s matriarch distributes them equally among her children and grandchildren. Clans look out for other clans. It earns the giving clan honor. Those on the receiving end one year may be the givers at the next harvest festival.
“The patterns of the political level follow the principle of consensus, which means unanimity regarding each decision. The basis of each decision-making is the individual clan house. Matters that concern the clan house are decided upon by the women and men in a consensus process, of which the matriarch is the facilitator. Each person has only one vote – even the matriarch – and no member of the household is excluded.”
Matriarchies are grass-roots democracies. Clan delegates come together with the village council and communicate their clan’s wishes. Delegates move between the council and their clan until there is a consensus. (Reminiscent of our Founding Fathers who met at pubs and taverns in small groups, then all together in the Pennsylvania State House, 1774.)
At the spiritual and cultural level, matriarchies don’t have hierarchical religions based on an omnipotent male God. Instead, divinity is inborn, a feminine god-like spirit. This aligns with the widely held concept of the universe as the Great Goddess who brought forth everything by birth, and of the earth as the Great Mother who created everything living. We are all children of the Great Mother Nature.
Dr. Heide Goettner-Abendroth writes that “In such a culture, everything is spiritual. In festivals, which follow the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life, everything is celebrated. There is no separation between sacred and secular, so everyday tasks also have ritual significance. In this sense, matriarchal societies are sacred ones. The entire society is constructed in the image of the creative Mother Nature. This divine mother is in every woman’s being, and in her abilities to create. Every social, economic, and political action is informed by the principle of the world’s – and the universe’s – all-encompassing maternal attitude.”
Patriarchy sees nature as a resource to be used to make profits. Matriarchal social systems are nature-oriented, placing emphasis on maintaining a balance. Patriarchies lay down strict moral codes of conduct, governed by religion and government, that people are expected to follow. Matriarchy is an open social system without a hard and fast moral code of conduct, as long as people are not harming or disturbing others.
In conclusion, Matriarchy is not a social system to have power over men but to follow maternal values that revolve around nurturing the living, social, and cultural network based on mutual respect.