I may be naive to think that polyandry also indicates a different outlook
in the society. Despite the power at times wielded by the maternal brother,
polyandry gives us a rather different idea of societies we think we know.
There has been much talk of Islamic laws replacing a usage of female
infanticide in Arabia, but W. Robertson Smith would have it that the women of
the oases were really polyandrous.
The practice has ceased in our time in most areas of Southern India where
it was prevalent, such as the Malabar Coast, but I believe it still continues
in isolated parts of Sri Lanka & certainly in the Western Himalayas, in
Polyandry may serve many different purposes, of course. Among Tibetan
people in the Eastern Himalayas, it keeps the land & wealth in the hands of
the family, by not dividing it among the separate households of the progeny.
In Sri Lanka women seem to use it as a device for consolidating their land
holdings, which are not large.
One of our problems in the search for "matriarchy" (which I surely hope
includes polyandry) is that we don't know what it would be & wouldn't know if
we found it.
As I said before, we seem to think that "patriarchy" just popped men into
women's places in the social organization. "Patriarchy" replaced
"Matriarchy," right? But, of course, women were really nice, when they ruled
the world. Why, then, do we think it was a revolution? I don't think the
search for a Matriarchy is a very rewarding line of endeavor. Fruitless,
I think it will soon enough be as laughable an idea as the "agricultural
revolution" models we had until only a few years ago. What we need is a new
way of seeing our evidence, & that will only come with societal change, which
we bring about, ourselves.
Male domination is not built into our genes. We really do not need
"bosses". And yet we look back to some Edenic time when the roles were
simply reversed. As if that would give us permission for a better future, as
women & as scholars. To whom are we trying to prove that there was a time
when life was good & women were powerful? To men. And they have set us this
task of spinning gold from straw. 'Go find me a Matriarchy, & then I'll
listen to you.' Ho, ho, ho!
Sheila Shiki y Michaels
In a message dated 12/22/99 5:59:12 PM Eastern Standard Time,
[log in to unmask] writes:
<< Secondly, I would define a matriarchy as a society where leadership, status
and property -- privileges usually accorded to men in patriarchies -- are
accorded to women instead. Also, I would expect to see these privileges
handed down from mother to daughter. I agree that matrilinerality or
matrilocality are not equivilent to a society where the dominant authority
is held by women, but honor and recognition of the mother's clan rather than
the father's is closely allied to women's power and visibilty in general.
In historic times, we have examples of matriarchies from all over the world:
ancient China, Africa, Tibet, and the Iroquios, to name a few. In the
1840s, the Khasis near Dacca in Bangladesh were subject to British rule. A
Lieutenant Gurdon reports on the culturally isolated society whose center of
life is the village: *
" . . . Not only is the mother the head and source of the only bond
of union of the family; in the most primitive part of the hills, the Synteng
country, she is the only owner of real property, and through her alone is
inheritance transmitted. The father has no kinship with his children, who
belong to their mother's clan. What he earns goes to his own matriarchal
stock, and at his death his bones are deposited in the cromlech of his
* From "Studies in Ancient Greek Society," by George Thomson, Citadel Press,
Thomson also quotes Herodotus, Strabo and Nicolaus of Damascus who describe
several matriarchal situations. Strabo, for example, says that the Cantabri
of Spain 'have a form of matriarchy; their daughters inherit and give their
brothers in marriage.'
If you would be interested in more evidence, I could provide more. I am
hoping that others on our list-serve will respond and we can more clearly
evaluate our common history, rather than taking on the beliefs fostered by
institutions whose best interests are served by promoting a dominant male
paradigm as though it were all that ever was or will be.
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