Matrilineality is the tracing of kinship through the female line. It may also correlate with a social system in which each person is identified with their matriline their mother's lineage – and which can involve the inheritance of property and/or titles. A matriline is a line of descent from a female ancestor to a descendant (of either sex) in which the individuals in all intervening generations are mothers  in other words, a "mother line". In a matrilineal descent system, an individual is considered to belong to the same descent group as their mother. This matrilineal descent pattern is in contrast to the more common pattern of patrilineal descent from which a family name is usually derived. The matriline of historical nobility was also called their enatic or uterine ancestry, corresponding to the patrilineal or "agnatic" ancestry.

In some traditional societies and cultures, membership in their groups was – and, in the following list, still is if shown in italics – inherited matrilineally. Examples include the Cherokee, Choctaw, Gitksan, Haida, Hopi, Iroquois, Lenape, Navajo and Tlingit of North America; the Kuna people of Panama; the Kogi and Carib of South America; the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra, Indonesia and Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia; the Trobrianders, Dobu and Nagovisi of Melanesia; the Nairs of Kerala and the Bunts and Billava of Karnataka in south India; the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo of Meghalaya in northeast India; the Ngalops and Sharchops of Bhutan; Muslims and the Tamils in eastern Sri Lanka; the Mosuo of China; the Kayah of Southeast Asia, the Picti of Scotland, the Basques of Spain and France; the Ainu of Japan, the Akan including the Ashanti of Ghana; most groups across the so-called "matrilineal belt" of south-central Africa; the Tuareg of west and north Africa; the Serer of Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania.

Early human kinship

In the late 19th century, almost all prehistorians and anthropologists believed, following Lewis H. Morgan's influential book Ancient Society, that early human kinship everywhere was matrilineal.[1] This idea was taken up by Friedrich Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. The Morgan-Engels thesis that humanity's earliest domestic institution was not the family but the matrilineal clan soon became incorporated into communist orthodoxy. In reaction, most 20th century social anthropologists considered the theory of matrilineal priority untenable,[2][3] although during the 1970s and 1980s, a range of feminist scholars often attempted to revive it.[4]

In recent years, evolutionary biologists, geneticists and palaeoanthropologists have been reassessing the issues, many citing genetic and other evidence that early human kinship may have been matrilineal after all.[5][6][7][8] One crucial piece of indirect evidence has been genetic data suggesting that over thousands of years, women among sub-Saharan African hunter-gatherers have chosen to reside postmaritally not with their husbands' family but with their own mother and other natal kin.[9][10][11][12][13] Another line of argument is that when sisters and their mothers help each other with childcare, the descent line tends to be matrilineal rather than patrilineal.[14] Biological anthropologists are now widely agreed that cooperative childcare was a development crucial in making possible the evolution of the unusually large human brain and characteristically human psychology.[15]

Matrilineal surname

Matrilineal surnames are names transmitted from mother to daughter, in contrast to the more familiar patrilineal surnames transmitted from father to son, the pattern most common among family names today. For clarity and for brevity, the scientific terms patrilineal surname and matrilineal surname are usually abbreviated as patriname and matriname.[16]

Cultural patterns

There appears to be some evidence for the presence of matrilineality in Pre-Islamic Arabia, in a very limited number of the Arabian peoples (first of all among the Amorites of Yemen, and among some strata of Nabateans in Northern Arabia);[17] on the other hand, there does not seem to be any reliable evidence for the presence of matrilineality in Islamic Arabia, although the Fatimid Caliphate claimed succession from the Islamic Prophet Mohammad via his daughter Fatima.

A modern example from South Africa is the order of succession to the position of the Rain Queen in a culture of matrilineal primogeniture: not only is dynastic descent reckoned through the female line, but only females are eligible to inherit.

Clan names vs. surnames

Most of the example cultures in this article are based on (matrilineal) clans. Any clan might possibly contain from one to several or many descent groups or family groups – i.e., any matrilineal clan might be descended from one or several or many unrelated female ancestors. Also, each such descent group might have its own family name or surname, as one possible cultural pattern. The following two example cultures each follow a different pattern, however:

Example 1. Members of the (matrilineal) clan culture Minangkabau do not even have a surname or family name, see this culture's own section below. In contrast, members do have a clan name, which is important in their lives although not included in the member's name. Instead, one's name is just one's given name.

Example 2. Members of the (matrilineal) clan culture Akan, see its own section below, also do not have matrilineal surnames and likewise their important clan name is not included in their name. However, members' names do commonly include second names which are called surnames but which are not routinely passed down from either father or mother to all their children as a family name.[18]

Note well that if a culture did include one's clan name in one's name and routinely handed it down to all children in the descent group then it would automatically be the family name or surname for one's descent group (as well as for all other descent groups in one's clan).

Care of children

While a mother normally takes care of her own children in all cultures, in some matrilineal cultures an "uncle-father" will take care of his nieces and nephews instead: in other words social fathers here are uncles. There is not a necessary connection between the role of father and genitor. In many such matrilineal cultures, especially where residence is also matrilocal, a man will exercise guardianship rights not over the children he fathers but over his sisters' children, who are viewed as 'his own flesh'. These children's biological father – unlike an uncle who is their mother's brother and thus their caregiver – is in some sense a 'stranger' to them, even when affectionate and emotionally close.[19]

According to Steven Pinker, attributing to Kristen Hawkes, among foraging groups matrilocal societies are less likely to commit female infanticide than are patrilocal societies.[20]

Matrilineality in specific ethnic groups

In Europe

Ancient Greece

While men held positions of religious and political power, Spartan constitution mandated that inheritance and proprietorship pass from mother to daughter.[21]

Ancient Scotland

In Pictish society, succession in leadership (later kingship) was matrilineal (through the mother's side), with the reigning chief succeeded by either his brother or perhaps a nephew but not through patrilineal succession of father to son.[22]

In the Americas


Occupied for 10,000 years by Native Americans, the land that would become New Jersey was overseen by clans of the Lenape or Lenni Lenape or Delaware, who farmed, fished, and hunted upon it. The pattern of their culture was that of a matrilineal agricultural and mobile hunting society that was sustained with fixed, but not permanent, settlements in their matrilineal clan territories. Leadership by men was inherited through the maternal line, and the women elders held the power to remove leaders of whom they disapproved.

Villages were established and relocated as the clans farmed new sections of the land when soil fertility lessened and when they moved among their fishing and hunting grounds by seasons. The area was claimed as a part of the Dutch New Netherland province dating from 1614, where active trading in furs took advantage of the natural pass west, but the Lenape prevented permanent settlement beyond what is now Jersey City.

"Early Europeans who first wrote about these Indians found matrilineal social organization to be unfamiliar and perplexing. ... As a result, the early records are full of 'clues' about early Lenape society, but were usually written by observers who did not fully understand what they were seeing."[23]


The Hopi (in what is now the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona), according to Alice Schlegel, had as its "gender ideology ... one of female superiority, and it operated within a social actuality of sexual equality."[24] According to LeBow (based on Schlegel's work), in the Hopi, "gender roles ... are egalitarian .... [and] [n]either sex is inferior."[25] LeBow concluded that Hopi women "participate fully in ... political decision-making."[26] According to Schlegel, "the Hopi no longer live as they are described here"[27] and "the attitude of female superiority is fading".[27] Schlegel said the Hopi "were and still are matrilinial"[28] and "the household ... was matrilocal".[28]

Schlegel explains why there was female superiority as that the Hopi believed in "life as the highest good ... [with] the female principle ... activated in women and in Mother Earth ... as its source"[29] and that the Hopi "were not in a state of continual war with equally matched neighbors"[30] and "had no standing army"[30] so that "the Hopi lacked the spur to masculine superiority"[30] and, within that, as that women were central to institutions of clan and household and predominated "within the economic and social systems (in contrast to male predominance within the political and ceremonial systems)",[30] the Clan Mother, for example, being empowered to overturn land distribution by men if she felt it was unfair,[29] since there was no "countervailing ... strongly centralized, male-centered political structure".[29]


The Iroquois Confederacy or League, combining five to six Native American Haudenosaunee nations or tribes before the U.S. became a nation, operated by The Great Binding Law of Peace, a constitution by which women retained matrilineal-rights and participated in the League's political decision-making, including deciding whether to proceed to war,[31] through what may have been a matriarchy[32] or "'gyneocracy'".[33] The dates of this constitution's operation are unknown: the League was formed in approximately 1000–1450, but the constitution was oral until written in about 1880.[34] The League still exists.

In Africa


Some 20 million Akan live in Africa, particularly in Ghana and Ivory Coast. (See as well their subgroup, the Ashanti, also called Asante.) Many but not all of the Akan still (2001)[35] practice their traditional matrilineal customs, living in their traditional extended family households, as follows. The traditional Akan economic, political and social organization is based on maternal lineages, which are the basis of inheritance and succession. A lineage is defined as all those related by matrilineal descent from a particular ancestress. Several lineages are grouped into a political unit headed by a chief and a council of elders, each of whom is the elected head of a lineage which itself may include multiple extended-family households. Public offices are thus vested in the lineage, as are land tenure and other lineage property. In other words, lineage property is inherited only by matrilineal kin.[35][36]

"The principles governing inheritance stress sex, generation and age that is to say, men come before women and seniors before juniors." When a woman's brothers are available, a consideration of generational seniority stipulates that the line of brothers be exhausted before the right to inherit lineage property passes down to the next senior genealogical generation of sisters' sons. Finally, "it is when all possible male heirs have been exhausted that the females" may inherit.[37]

Each lineage controls the lineage land farmed by its members, functions together in the veneration of its ancestors, supervises marriages of its members, and settles internal disputes among its members.[38]

The political units above are likewise grouped into eight larger groups called abusua (similar to clans), named Aduana, Agona, Asakyiri, Asenie, Asona, Bretuo, Ekuona and Oyoko. The members of each abusua are united by their belief that they are all descended from the same ancient ancestress. Marriage between members of the same abusua is forbidden. One inherits or is a lifelong member of the lineage, the political unit, and the abusua of one's mother, regardless of one's gender and/or marriage. Note that members and their spouses thus belong to different abusuas, mother and children living and working in one household and their husband/father living and working in a different household.[35][36]

According to this source[37] of further information about the Akan, "A man is strongly related to his mother's brother (wɔfa) but only weakly related to his father's brother. This must be viewed in the context of a polygamous society in which the mother/child bond is likely to be much stronger than the father/child bond. As a result, in inheritance, a man's nephew (sister's son) will have priority over his own son. Uncle-nephew relationships therefore assume a dominant position."[37]

Certain other aspects of the Akan culture are determined patrilineally rather than matrilineally. There are 12 patrilineal Ntoro (which means spirit) groups, and everyone belongs to their father's Ntoro group but not to his (matrilineal) family lineage and abusua. Each patrilineal Ntoro group has its own surnames,[39] taboos, ritual purifications, and etiquette.[36]

A recent (2001) book[35] provides this update on the Akan: Some families are changing from the above abusua structure to the nuclear family.[40] Housing, childcare, education, daily work, and elder care etc. are then handled by that individual family rather than by the abusua or clan, especially in the city.[41] The above taboo on marriage within one's abusua is sometimes ignored, but "clan membership" is still important,[40] with many people still living in the abusua framework presented above.[35]


The Tuareg (Arabic:طوارق, sometimes spelled Touareg in French, or Twareg in English) are a large Berber ethnic confederation found across several nations in north Africa, including Niger, Mali and Algeria. The Tuareg are clan-based,[42] and are (still, in 2007) "largely matrilineal".[42][43][44] The Tuareg are Muslim, but mixed with a "heavy dose" of their pre-existing beliefs including matrilineality.[42][44]

Tuareg women enjoy high status within their society, compared with their Arab counterparts and with other Berber tribes: Tuareg social status is transmitted through women, with residence often matrilocal.[43] Most women could read and write, while most men were illiterate, concerning themselves mainly with herding livestock and other male activities.[43] The livestock and other movable property were owned by the women, whereas personal property is owned and inherited regardless of gender.[43] In contrast to most other Muslim cultural groups, men wear veils but women do not.[42][44] This custom is discussed in more detail in the Tuareg article's clothing section, which mentions it may be the protection needed against the blowing sand while traversing the Sahara desert.[45]


The Serer people of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania are patrilineal (simanGol in Serer language[46]) as well as matrilineal (tim[47] ). There are several Serer matriclans and matriarchs. Some of these matriarchs include Fatim Beye (1335) and Ndoye Demba (1367) — matriarchs of the Joos matriclan which also became a dynasty in Waalo (Senegal). Some matriclans or maternal clans form part of Serer medieval and dynastic history, such as the Guelowars. The most revered clans tend to be rather ancient and form part of Serer ancient history. These proto-Serer clans hold great significance in Serer religion and mythology. Some of these proto-Serer matriclans include the Cegandum and Kagaw, whose historical account is enshrined in Serer religion, mythology and traditions.[48]

In Serer culture, inheritance is both matrilineal and patrilineal.[49] It all depends on the asset being inherited — i.e. whether the asset is a paternal asset — requiring paternal inheritance (kucarla[49] ) or a maternal asset — requiring maternal inheritance (den yaay[47] or ƭeen yaay[49] ). The actual handling of these maternal assets (such as jewelry, land, livestock, equipment or furniture, etc.) is discussed in the subsection Role of the Tokoor of one of the above-listed main articles.


The Berber inhabitants of Gran Canaria island had developed a matrilineal society by the time the Canary Islands and their people, called Guanches, were conquered by the Spanish.[50]

In Asia

Sri Lanka

Matrilineality among the Muslims and Tamils in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka arrived from Kerala, India via Muslim traders before 1200 CE.[51][52][53] Matrilineality here includes kinship and social organization, inheritance and property rights.[54][55][56] For example, "the mother's dowry property and/or house is passed on to the eldest daughter."[57][58] The Sinhalese people are the third ethnic group in eastern Sri Lanka,[59] and have a kinship system which is "intermediate" between that of matrilineality and that of patrilineality,[60][61] along with "bilateral inheritance" (in some sense intermediate between matrilineal and patrilineal inheritance).[55][62] While the first two groups speak the Tamil language, the third group speaks the Sinhalese language. The Tamils largely identify with Hinduism, the Sinhalese being primarily Buddhist.[63] The three groups are about equal in population size.[64]

Patriarchal social structures apply to all of Sri Lanka, but in the Eastern Province are mixed with the matrilineal features summarized in the paragraph above and described more completely in the following subsection:

A matrilineal and patriarchal mixture

According to Kanchana N. Ruwanpura, Eastern Sri Lanka "is highly regarded even among" feminist economists "for the relatively favourable position of its women, reflected" in women's equal achievements in Human Development Indices "(HDIs) as well as matrilineal and" bilateral "inheritance patterns and property rights".[65][66] She also conversely argues that "feminist economists need to be cautious in applauding Sri Lanka's gender-based achievements and/or matrilineal communities",[67] because these matrilineal communities coexist with "patriarchal structures and ideologies" and the two "can be strange but ultimately compatible bedfellows",[68] as follows:

She "positions Sri Lankan women within gradations of patriarchy by beginning with a brief overview of the main religious traditions," Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, "and the ways in which patriarchal interests are promoted through religious practice" in Eastern Sri Lanka (but without being as repressive as classical patriarchy).[69] Thus, "feminists have claimed that Sri Lankan women are relatively well positioned in the" South Asian region,[70][55] despite "patriarchal institutional laws that .... are likely to work against the interests of women," which is a "co-operative conflict" between women and these laws.[71] (Clearly "female-heads have no legal recourse" from these laws which state "patriarchal interests".)[72] For example, "the economic welfare of female-heads [heads of households] depends upon networks" ("of kin and [matrilineal] community"), "networks that mediate the patriarchal-ideological nexus."[73] She wrote that "some female heads possessed" "feminist consciousness"[74][lower-alpha 1] and, at the same time, that "in many cases female-heads are not vociferous feminists ... but rather 'victims' of patriarchal relations and structures that place them in precarious positions.... [while] they have held their ground ... [and] provided for their children".[75]

On the other hand, she also wrote that feminists including Malathi de Alwis and Kumari Jayawardena have criticized a romanticized view of women's lives in Sri Lanka put forward by Yalman, and mentioned the Sri Lankan case "where young women raped (usually by a man) are married-off/required to cohabit with the rapists!"[76]


In the Minangkabau matrilineal clan culture in Indonesia, a person's clan name is important in their marriage and their other cultural-related events.[77][78][79] Two totally unrelated people who share the same clan name can never be married because they are considered to be from the same clan mother (unless they come from distant villages). Likewise, when Minangs meet total strangers who share the same clan name, anywhere in Indonesia, they could theoretically expect to feel that they are distant relatives.[80] Minang people do not have a family name or surname; neither is one's important clan name included in one's name; instead one's given name is the only name one has.[81]

The Minangs are one of the world's largest matrilineal societies/cultures/ethnic groups, with a population of 4 million in their home province West Sumatra in Indonesia and about 4 million elsewhere, mostly in Indonesia. The Minang people are well known within their country for their tradition of matrilineality and for their "dedication to Islam" despite Islam being "supposedly patrilineal".[77] This well-known accommodation, between their traditional complex of customs, called adat, and their religion, was actually worked out to help end the Minangkabau 1821-37 Padri War.[77] This source is available online.[77]

As further described in the same online source, their (matrilineal) adat and their Islam religion each help the other to avoid the extremes of some modern global trends: Their strong belief in and practice of adat helps their Islam religion to not adopt a "simplistic anti-Western" version of Islam, while their strong belief in and practice of both Islam and adat helps the Minangs to limit or avoid some undesired effects of modern global capitalism.[77]

The Minangkabau are a prime example of a matrilineal culture with female inheritance. With Islamic religious background of complementarianism and places a greater number of men than women in positions of religious and political power. Inheritance and proprietorship pass from mother to daughter. The society of Minangkabau exhibits the ability of societies to lack rape culture without social equity of genders.[82]

Besides Minangkabau, several other ethnics in Indonesia are also matrilineal and have similar culture as the Minangkabau. They are Suku Melayu Bebilang, Suku Kubu and Kerinci people. Suku Melayu Bebilang live in Kota Teluk Kuantan, Kabupaten Kuantan Singingi (also known as Kuansing), Riau. They have similar culture as the Minang. Suku Kubu people live in Jambi and South Sumatera. They are around 200 000 people. Suku Kerinci people mostly live in Kabupaten Kerinci, Jambi. They are around 300 000 people --


Originally, Chinese surnames were derived matrilineally,[83] although by the time of the Shang dynasty (1600 to 1046 BCE) they had become patrilineal.[84]

Archaeological data supports the theory that during the Neolithic period (7000 to 2000 BCE) in China, Chinese matrilineal clans evolved into the usual patrilineal families by passing through a transitional patrilineal clan phase.[84] Evidence includes some "richly furnished" tombs for young women in the early Neolithic Yangshao culture, whose multiple other collective burials imply a matrilineal clan culture.[84] Toward the late Neolithic period, when burials were apparently of couples, "a reflection of patriarchy", an increasing elaboration of presumed chiefs' burials is reported.[84]

Relatively isolated ethnic minorities such as the Mosuo (Na) in southwestern China are highly matrilineal, and use matrilineal family names, i.e., matrinames. (See the General practice section of the Mosuo article.)

Cambodia and Việt Nam

Most ethnic groups classified as "(Montagnards, Malayo-Polynesian and Austroasian)" are matrilineal.[85]

On North Vietnam, according to Alessandra Chiricosta, the legend of Âu Cơ is said to be evidence of "the presence of an original 'matriarchy' ... and [it] led to the double kinship system, which developed there .... [and which] combined matrilineal and patrilineal patterns of family structure and assigned equal importance to both lines."[86][lower-alpha 2]


Of communities recognized in the national Constitution as Scheduled Tribes, "some ... [are] matriarchal and matrilineal"[87] "and thus have been known to be more egalitarian."[88] Several Hindu communities in South India practiced matrilineality, especially the Tiyyas[89] and Nair[90][91] (or Nayar) in the state of Kerala, and the Bunts and Billava in the states of Kerala and Karnataka. The system of inheritance was known as Marumakkathayam in the Nair community or Aliyasantana in the Bunt and the Billava community, and both communities were subdivided into clans. This system was exceptional in the sense that it was one of the few traditional systems in western historical records of India that gave women some liberty and the right to property.

In the matrilineal system, the family lived together in a tharavadu which was composed of a mother, her brothers and younger sisters, and her children. The oldest male member was known as the karanavar and was the head of the household, managing the family estate. Lineage was traced through the mother, and the children belonged to the mother's family.Earlier times surname would be of the maternal side. All family property was jointly owned. In the event of a partition, the shares of the children were clubbed with that of the mother. The karanavar's property was inherited by his sisters' sons rather than his own sons. (For further information see the articles Nair and Bunts and Billava.) Amitav Ghosh has stated that, although there were numerous other matrilineal succession systems in communities of the south Indian coast, the Nairs "achieved an unparalleled eminence in the anthropological literature on matrilineality".[92]

In the northeast Indian state Meghalaya, the Khasi, Garo, Jaintia people have a long tradition of a largely matrilinear system in which the youngest daughter inherits the wealth of the parents and takes over their care.[93]


A culture similar to the those practiced by the Minangkabau as a product of West Sumatran migration into the Malay peninsular in the 15th centurybecoming the basis for the state of Negeri Sembilan known as the Adat Perpatih.[94][95]

In Oceania

Some oceanic societies, such as the Marshallese and the Trobrianders,[96] the Palauans,[97] the Yapese[98] and the Siuai,[99] are characterized by matrilineal descent. The sister's sons or the brothers of the decedent are commonly the successors in these societies.

Matrilineal identification within Judaism

Matrilineality in Judaism or matrilineal descent in Judaism is the tracing of Jewish descent through the maternal line. Virtually all Jewish communities have followed matrilineal descent from at least early Tannaitic (c. 10-70 CE) times to Modern times.[100] The origins and date-of-origin of matrilineal descent in Judaism are uncertain. Orthodox Jews, who believe that matrilineality and matriarchy within Judaism are related to the metaphysical concept of the Jewish soul,[101] maintain that matrilineal descent is an Oral Law from at least the time of the Receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai (c. 1310 BCE).[102] Conservative Jewish Theologian Rabbi Louis Jacobs suggests that the marriage practices of the Jewish community were re-stated as a law of matrilineal descent in the early Tannaitic Period (c. 10-70 CE).[100]

The law of matrilineal descent was first codified, as all Jewish Oral Law, in the Mishnah (c. 2nd century CE).[103] The Talmud[104] (c. 500 CE) adduces the law of matrilineal descent from Deuteronomy: you shall not intermarry with them: you shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son. For he will turn away your son from following Me, and they will worship the gods of others...[105] Conservative Jewish Theologian Rabbi Louis Jacobs dismisses the suggestion that "the Tannaim were influenced by the Roman legal system..."[106] and that "even if the Rabbis were familiar with the Roman law, they might have reacted to it [instead] by preserving the patrilineal principle, holding fast to their own system." [100]

The Jewish Oral Tradition cites the Book of Ezra, Chapters 9, 10, regarding the law of matrilineal descent in Judaism.[102] The medieval French commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE) in his commentary on Prophets references the law of matrilineal descent regarding Tamar, daughter of King David.[107] Maimonides re-codified the law of matrilineal descent in his compilation of Jewish Law, Mishneh Torah (c. 1170-1180 CE).[108] The law of matrilineal descent was again re-codified in the Code of Jewish Law, Shulchan Aruch (1563 CE) without mention of any dissenting opinion.[109]

The Hellenized Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE – 50 CE) calls the child of a Jew and a non-Jew a nothos (bastard), regardless of whether the non-Jewish parent is the father or the mother.[110] While Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 CE), the Romanized Jewish historian, writing about events that were alleged to have occurred a century prior, has Antigonus II Mattathias (c. 63-37 BCE), the last Hasmonean king of Judea, denigrating Herod –whose father's family were Idumean Arabs forcibly converted to Judaism by John Hyrcanus (c. 134-104 BCE)[111] and whose mother, according to Josephus, was either an Idumean Arab[112] or Arabian (Nabatean-Arab)[113]– by referring to him as "an Idumean i.e. a half-Jew" and as therefore unfit to be given governorship of Judea by the Romans.[114]

In practice, Jewish denominations define "Who is a Jew?" via descent in different ways. All denominations of Judaism have protocols for conversion for those who are not Jewish by descent.

Orthodox Judaism practices matrilineal descent and considers it axiomatic.[115] The Conservative Jewish Movement also practices matrilineal descent as virtually all Jewish communities have for at least two thousand years.[100] In 1986, the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly reiterated the commitment of the Conservative Movement to the practice of matrilineal descent.[116] In 1983, the Central Conference of American Rabbis of Reform Judaism passed a resolution waiving the need for formal conversion for anyone with at least one Jewish parent, provided that either (a) one is raised as a Jew, by Reform standards, or (b) one engages in an appropriate act of public identification, formalizing a practice that had been common in Reform synagogues for at least a generation. This 1983 resolution departed from the Reform Movement's previous position requiring formal conversion to Judaism for children without a Jewish mother.[117] However, the closely associated Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism has rejected this resolution and requires formal conversion for anyone without a Jewish mother.[118] Karaite Judaism does not accept Jewish Oral Law as definitive, believing that all divine commandments were recorded with their plain meaning in the written Torah. As such, they interpret the Hebrew Bible to indicate that Jewishness can only follow patrilineal descent. In 1968, the Reconstructionist movement became the first American Jewish movement to pass a resolution recognizing Jews of patrilineal descent.

In mythology

Certain ancient myths have been argued to expose ancient traces of matrilineal customs that existed before historical records.

The ancient historian Herodotus is cited by Robert Graves in his translations of Greek myths as attesting that the Lycians[119][120] of their times "still reckoned" by matrilineal descent, or were matrilineal, as were the Carians.[121]

In Greek mythology, while the royal function was a male privilege, power devolution often came through women, and the future king inherited power through marrying the queen heiress. This is illustrated in the Homeric myths where all the noblest men in Greece vie for the hand of Helen (and the throne of Sparta), as well as the Oedipian cycle where Oedipus weds the recently widowed queen at the same time he assumes the Theban kingship.

This trend also is evident in many Celtic myths, such as the (Welsh) mabinogi stories of Culhwch and Olwen, or the (Irish) Ulster Cycle, most notably the key facts to the Cúchulainn cycle that Cúchulainn gets his final secret training with a warrior woman, Scáthach, and becomes the lover of her daughter; and the root of the Táin Bó Cuailnge, that while Ailill may wear the crown of Connacht, it is his wife Medb who is the real power, and she needs to affirm her equality to her husband by owning chattels as great as he does.

The Picts are widely cited as being matrilineal.[122][123]

A number of other Breton stories also illustrate the motif. Even the King Arthur legends have been interpreted in this light by some. For example, the Round Table, both as a piece of furniture and as concerns the majority of knights belonging to it, was a gift to Arthur from Guinevere's father Leodegrance.

Arguments also have been made that matrilineality lay behind various fairy tale plots which may contain the vestiges of folk traditions not recorded.

For instance, the widespread motif of a father who wishes to marry his own daughter—appearing in such tales as Allerleirauh, Donkeyskin, The King who Wished to Marry His Daughter, and The She-Bear—has been explained as his wish to prolong his reign, which he would lose after his wife's death to his son-in-law.[124] More mildly, the hostility of kings to their daughter's suitors is explained by hostility to their successors. In such tales as The Three May Peaches, Jesper Who Herded the Hares, or The Griffin, kings set dangerous tasks in an attempt to prevent the marriage.[125]

Fairy tales with hostility between the mother-in-law and the heroine—such as Mary's Child, The Six Swans, and Perrault's Sleeping Beauty—have been held to reflect a transition between a matrilineal society, where a man's loyalty was to his mother, and a patrilineal one, where his wife could claim it, although this interpretation is predicated on such a transition being a normal development in societies.[126]

See also


  1. Feminist consciousness raising, a means of raising awareness of a feminist perspective or subject
  2. Patrilineal, belonging to the father's lineage, generally for inheritance


  1. Murdock, G. P. 1949. Social Structure. London and New York: Macmillan, p. 185.
  2. Malinowski, B. 1956. Marriage: Past and Present. A debate between Robert Briffault and Bronislaw Malinowski, ed. M. F. Ashley Montagu. Boston: Porter Sargent.
  3. Harris, M. 1969. The Rise of Anthropological Theory. London: Routledge, p. 305.
  4. Leacock, E. B. 1981. Myths of Male Dominance. Collected articles on women cross-culturally. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  5. Hrdy, S. B. 2009. Mothers and others. The evolutionary origins of mutual understanding. London and Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  6. Knight, C. 2008. Early human kinship was matrilineal. In N. J. Allen, H. Callan, R. Dunbar and W. James (eds.), Early Human Kinship. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 61-82.
  7. Opie, K. and C. Power, 2009. Grandmothering and Female Coalitions. A basis for matrilineal priority? In N. J. Allen, H. Callan, R. Dunbar and W. James (eds.), Early Human Kinship. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 168-186.
  8. Chris Knight, 2012. Engels was Right: Early Human Kinship was Matriliineal. .
  9. Destro-Bisol, G; Donati, F; Coia, V; Boschi, I; Verginelli, F; Caglia, A; Tofanelli, S; Spednini, G; Capelli, C (2004). "Variation of female and male lineages in sub-Saharan populations: the importance of sociocultural factors". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 21 (9): 1673–82. doi:10.1093/molbev/msh186. PMID 15190128.
  10. Verdu, P.; Becker, N.; Froment, A.; Georges, M.; Grugni, V.; Quintana-Murci, L.; Hombert, J-M.; Van der Veen, L.; Le Bomin, S.; Bahuchet, S.; Heyer, E.; Austerlitz, F. (2013). "Sociocultural behavior, sex-biased admixture and effective population sizes in Central African Pygmies and non-Pygmies". Mol Biol Evol. 30 (4): 918–937. doi:10.1093/molbev/mss328. PMC 3603314. PMID 23300254.
  11. Schlebusch, C.M. (2010) Genetic variation in Khoisan-speaking populations from southern Africa. Dissertation, University of Witwatersrand this is available online, see pages following p.68, Fig 3.18 and p.180-81, fig 4.23 and p.243, p.287
  12. Hammer, MF; Karafet, TM; Redd, AJ; Jarjanazi, H; Santachiara-Benerecetti, S; Soodyall, H; Zegura, SL (2001a). "Hierarchical patterns of global human Y-chromosome diversity". Mol Biol Evol. 18 (7): 1189–203. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a003906. PMID 11420360.
  13. Wood, ET; Stover, DA; Ehret, C; Destro-Bisol, G; Spedini, G; McLeod, H; Louie, L; et al. (2005). "Contrasting patterns of Y chromosome and mtDNA variation in Africa: evidence for sex-biased demographic processes". Eur J Hum Genet. 13 (7): 867–76. doi:10.1038/sj.ejhg.5201408. PMID 15856073.
  14. Wu, J-J; He, Q-Q; Deng, L-L; Wang, S-C; Mace, R; Ji, T; Tao, Y (2013). "Communal breeding promotes a matrilineal social system where husband and wife live apart". Proc R Soc B. 280 (1758): 20130010. doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.0010. PMC 3619460. PMID 23486437.
  15. Burkart, J. M.; Hrdy, S. B.; van Schaik, C. P. (2009). "Cooperative breeding and human cognitive evolution". Evolutionary Anthropology. 18 (5): 175–186. CiteSeerX doi:10.1002/evan.20222.
  16. Sykes, Bryan (2001). The Seven Daughters of Eve. W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-02018-5; pp. 291-2. Bryan Sykes uses "matriname" and states that women adding their own matriname to men's patriname (or "surname" as Sykes calls it) would really help in future genealogy work and historical record searches. Sykes also states (p. 292) that a woman's matriname will be handed down with her mtDNA, the main topic of his book.
  17. Korotayev,  A. V. (1995), "Were There Any Truly Matrilineal Lineages in the Arabian Peninsula?" Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 25 (1995); pp. 83-98.
  18. de Witte, Marleen (2001). Long live the dead!: changing funeral celebrations in Asante, Ghana. Published by Het Spinhuis. ISBN 90-5260-003-1, p. 55. Readers may verify this (i.e., that surnames are not passed down as a family name) by inspecting an actual family tree on p. 55 via Google Books at,+Marleen&hl=en&sa=X&ei=L_ihT5_jM4Tg2gX7_-jaCA&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22Adwoa%20Dufie%22&f=false .
  19. Schneider, D. M. 1961. The distinctive features of matrilineal descent groups. Introduction. In Schneider, D. M. and K. Gough (eds) Matrilineal Kinship. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 1-29.
  20. Pinker, Steven, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (N.Y.: Viking, hardback 2011 (ISBN 978-0-670-02295-3)), p. 421 (author prof. psychology, Harvard Univ.).
  21. Historia Civilis. "The Constitution of the Spartans" via YouTube.
  22. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. This quote is from Lenni-Lenape's Society section.
  24. Schlegel, Alice, Hopi Gender Ideology of Female Superiority, in Quarterly Journal of Ideology: "A Critique of the Conventional Wisdom", vol. VIII, no. 4, 1984, p. 44 and see pp. 44–52 (essay based partly on "seventeen years of fieldwork among the Hopi", per p. 44 n. 1) (author of Dep't of Anthropology, Univ. of Ariz., Tucson).
  25. LeBow, Diana, Rethinking Matriliny Among the Hopi, op. cit., p. [8].
  26. LeBow, Diana, Rethinking Matriliny Among the Hopi, op. cit., p. 18.
  27. Schlegel, Alice, Hopi Gender Ideology of Female Superiority, op. cit., p. 44 n. 1.
  28. Schlegel, Alice, Hopi Gender Ideology of Female Superiority, op. cit., p. 45.
  29. Schlegel, Alice, Hopi Gender Ideology of Female Superiority, op. cit., p. 50.
  30. Schlegel, Alice, Hopi Gender Ideology of Female Superiority, op. cit., p. 49.
  31. Jacobs, Renée E., Iroquois Great Law of Peace and the United States Constitution: How the Founding Fathers Ignored the Clan Mothers, in American Indian Law Review, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 497–531, esp. pp. 498–509 (© author 1991).
  32. Jacobs, Renée, Iroquois Great Law of Peace and the United States Constitution, in American Indian Law Review, op. cit., pp. 506–507.
  33. Jacobs, Renée, Iroquois Great Law of Peace and the United States Constitution, in American Indian Law Review, op. cit., p. 505 & p. 506 n. 38, quoting Carr, L., The Social and Political Position of Women Among the Huron-Iroquois Tribes, Report of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology, p. 223 (1884).
  34. Jacobs, Renée, Iroquois Great Law of Peace and the United States Constitution, in American Indian Law Review, op. cit., p. 498 & n. 6.
  35. de Witte, Marleen (2001). Long live the dead!: changing funeral celebrations in Asante, Ghana. Published by Het Spinhuis. ISBN 90-5260-003-1. All de Witte (2001) pages referenced below, and many more pages, are available online via Google Books at .
  36. Busia, Kofi Abrefa (1970). Encyclopædia Britannica, 1970. William Benton, publisher, The University of Chicago. ISBN 0-85229-135-3, Vol. 1, p. 477. (This Akan article was written by Kofi Abrefa Busia, formerly professor of Sociology and Culture of Africa at the University of Leiden, Netherlands.)
  37. (before 2010)., "Ashanti Home Page: The Ashanti Family unit" Archived at WebCite on 28 March 2011.
  38. Owusu-Ansah, David (November 1994)., "Ghana: The Akan Group". This source, "Ghana", is one of the Country Studies available from the US Library of Congress. Archived by WebCite® at on 31Aug11.
  39. de Witte (2001), p. 55 shows such surnames in a family tree, which provides a useful example of names.
  40. de Witte (2001), p. 53.
  41. de Witte (2001), p. 73.
  42. Haven, Cynthia (23 May 07)., "New exhibition highlights the 'artful' Tuareg of the Sahara," Stanford University. Archived at WebCite on 1Apr11.
  43. Spain, Daphne (1992). Gendered Spaces. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2012-1; p. 57.
  44. Murphy, Robert F. (April 1966). Untitled review of a 1963 major ethnographic study of the Tuareg. American Anthropologist, New Series, 68 (1966), No. 2, 554-556. (The main part of this review is available online at, a JSTOR-archive Permalink.)
  45. Bradshaw Foundation (2007 or later)., "The Tuareg of the Sahara". Archived by WebCite® at on 15Jun2011.
  46. (in French) Kalis, Simone, "Médecine traditionnelle religion et divination chez les Seereer Sine du Senegal", La connaissance de la nuit, L'Harmattan (1997), p 299, ISBN 2-7384-5196-9
  47. Dupire, Marguerite, "Sagesse sereer : Essais sur la pensée sereer ndut, KARTHALA Editions (1994). For tim and den yaay (see p. 116). The book also deals in depth about the Serer matriclans and means of succession through the matrilineal line. See also pages : 38, 95-99, 104, 119-20, 123, 160, 172-4 (in French) ISBN 2865374874 (Retrieved : 4 August 2012)
  48. (in French) Gravrand, Henry, "La Civilisation Sereer - Cosaan", p 200, Nouvelles Editions africaines (1983), ISBN 2723608778
  49. (in French) Becker, Charles: "Vestiges historiques, trémoins matériels du passé clans les pays sereer", Dakar (1993), CNRS - ORS TO M. Excerpt (Retrieved : 4 August 2012)
  50. Jose Farrujia de la Rosa, Augusto (2014). An Archaeology of the Margins: Colonialism, Amazighity and Heritage Management in the Canary Islands. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 8. ISBN 9781461493969.
  51. Ruwanpura, Kanchana N. (2006). Matrilineal Communities, Patriarchal Realities: A Feminist Nirvana Uncovered. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, paperback (ISBN 978-0-472-06977-4)(fieldwork in 1998–'99 during the Sri Lankan civil war, per p. 45); see p. 51.
  52. This page 51 of the Ruwanpura book is accessible online via Google Books ( The book's TOC and pages 1-11 and 50-62 are currently accessible.
  53. McGilvray, Dennis B. (1989). "Households in Akkaraipattu: Dowry and Domestic Organization among Matrilineal Tamils and Moors of Sri Lanka," in J. N. Gray and D. J. Mearns (eds.) Society From the Inside Out: Anthropological Perspectives on the South Asian Household, pp. 192-235. London: Sage Publications.
  54. Humphries, Jane (1993). "Gender Inequality and Economic Development," in Dieter Bos (ed) Economics in a Changing World, Volume 3: Public Policy and Economic Organization. New York: St. Martin's Press; pp. 218-33.
  55. Agarwal, Bina (1996). A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press. (First edition was 1994.)
  56. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 1. Accessible online as above.
  57. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 53. Accessible online as above.
  58. McGilvray, 1989, pp. 201-2.
  59. Ruwanpura, 2006, pp. 3-4(accessible online as above) and p. 39.
  60. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 72.
  61. Yalman, Nur (1971). Under the Bo Tree: Studies in Caste, Kinship, and Marriage in the Interior of Ceylon. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  62. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 71.
  63. Ruwanpura, 2006, pp. 3-4. Accessible online as above.
  64. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 39.
  65. Ruwanpura, (2006), p.1. Accessible online as above.
  66. Humphries, 1993, p. 228.
  67. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 3. Accessible online as above.
  68. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 10 and see p. 6 ("prevalence of patriarchal structures and ideologies"). Accessible online as above.
  69. Ruwanpura, 2006, pp. 4–5. Accessible online as above.
  70. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 4. Accessible online as above.
  71. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 182.
  72. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 182 (both quotations).
  73. Ruwanpura, 2006, pp. 145–146.
  74. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 142 (both quotations).
  75. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 37.
  76. Ruwanpura, 2006, p. 76 n. 7.
  77. Sanday, Peggy Reeves (Dec2002)., "Report from Indonesia". Archived by WebCite® at on 23May11.
  78. Sanday, Peggy Reeves (2004). Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-8906-7. Parts of this book are available online at .
  79. Fitzsimmons, Caitlin (21Oct09)., "A matrilineal, Islamic society in Sumatra". Archived by WebCite at on 23May11.
  80. Sanday 2004, p.67
  81. Sanday 2004, p.241
  82. Peletz, Michael G. (2005). "The King Is Dead; Long Live the Queen!". American Ethnologist. 32 (1): 39–41. doi:10.1525/ae.2005.32.1.39. JSTOR 3805147.
  83. (2004)., "Naming practices". A PDF file with a section on "Chinese naming practices (Mak et al., 2003)". Archived at WebCite on 1Apr11.
  84. Zhimin, An (1988). "Archaeological Research on Neolithic China". Current Anthropology. 29 (5): 753–759 [755, 758]. doi:10.1086/203698. JSTOR 2743616. (The first few sentences are accessible online via JSTOR at, i.e., p.753.)
  85. Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "UNHCR - Document Not Found". UNHCR.
  86. Chiricosta, Alessandra, Following the Trail of the Fairy-Bird: The Search For a Uniquely Vietnamese Women's Movement, in Roces, Mina, & Louise P. Edwards, eds., Women's Movements in Asia: Feminisms and Transnational Activism (London or Oxon: Routledge, pbk. 2010 (ISBN 978-0-415-48703-0)), p. 125 and see p. 126 (single quotation marks so in original) (author Chiricosta philosopher & historian of religions, esp. intercultural philosophy, religious & cultural dialogue, gender, & anthropology, & taught at La Sapienza (univ.), Urbaniana (univ.), & Roma Tre (univ.), all in Italy, School of Oriental & African Studies, & Univ. of Ha Noi).
  87. Mukherjee, Sucharita Sinha, Women's Empowerment and Gender Bias in the Birth and Survival of Girls in Urban India, in Feminist Economics, vol. 19, no. 1 (January, 2013) (doi:10.1080/13545701.2012.752312), p. 9, citing Srinivas, Mysore Narasimhachar, The Cohesive Role of Sanskritization and Other Essays (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989), & Agarwal, Bina, A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994).
  88. Mukherjee, Sucharita Sinha, Women's Empowerment and Gender Bias in the Birth and Survival of Girls in Urban India, op. cit., p. 9.
  89. Nossiter, Thomas Johnson (1982). Kerala's Identity: Unity and Diversity. In Communism in Kerala: A Study in Political Adaptation. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-04667-2. Retrieved 2011-06-09. P. 30.
  90. Panikkar, Kavalam Madhava (July–December 1918). "Some Aspects of Nayar Life". The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 48: 254–293. doi:10.2307/2843423. JSTOR 2843423. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  91. Schneider, David Murray, and Gough, Kathleen (Editors) (1961). Matrilineal Kinship. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 298–384 is the whole "Nayar: Central Kerala" chapter, for example. ISBN 9780520025295.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link) Accessible here, via GoogleBooks.
  92. Ghosh, Amitav (2003). The Imam and the Indian: prose pieces. Orient Blackswan. p. 193. ISBN 9788175300477. To access it via GoogleBooks, click on book title.
  93. Sanghamitra Choudhury (5 February 2016). Women and Conflict in India. Taylor & Francis. p. 92. ISBN 978-1-317-55361-8.
  94. "Negeri Sembilan - History and Culture".
  95. "The Minangkabau of Negeri Sembilan". 4 April 2016.
  96. Malinowski, Bronisław. Argonauts Of The Western Pacific, esp. or only chaps. I, II, & VI.
  97. The Palauan culture
  98. The Yapese kinship
  99. Hogbin, H. Ian (1950). ": Studies in the Anthropology of Bougainville, Solomon Islands . Douglas L. Oliver". American Anthropologist. 52 (2): 250–251. doi:10.1525/aa.1950.52.2.02a00140.
  100. Reviewed by Louis Jacobs, Originally published in Judaism 34.1 (Winter 1985), 55-59.
  101. Schaapkens, Natan. Inside Orthodox Judaism: A Critical Perspective On Its Theology. ISBN 978-1-365-39059-3. Also, from the perspective of classical Jewish belief, the primary identity of all people follows the mother. Genesis 20:12, Rashi.
  102. Midrash Rabbah, Numbers, 19
  103. Kiddushin 3:12. Interestingly science currently believes that mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA), a human genome that is exceptionally both circular and distinct from Nuclear DNA, is unique in that it is transmitted exclusively by a mother to both her daughters and sons. (Nuclear DNA in a human consists of 22 pairs of autosomes and two sex chromosomes. The 22 pairs of autosomes are derived half from each parent. The two sex chromosomes, XX in females XY in males, are also derived half from each parent. A female inherits one X from her father and one from her mother. Y-DNA, inherited exclusively by a male from his father, contains fewer genes than an X chromosome because it is shorter and is one of his two sex chromosomes, the other being the X that he inherits from his mother.) The Torah may similarly be suggesting that a brother and sister from the same mother are closer than a brother and a sister from just the same father (Genesis 20:12).
  104. see Kiddushin 68b and Yebamoth 23a
  105. Deuteronomy 7:3-4
  106. In Roman law, without connubium, the right to contract a legal marriage according to Roman Law (i.e. where both parties are Roman citizens and where both parties gave consent), the marriage was not a justum matrimonium, a legal Roman marriage and the children from such a union had no legal father and therefore followed the status (i.e. Roman citizenship status) of the mother. Interestingly, “[t]hese restrictions as to marriage were not founded on any enactments; they were a part of that large mass of Roman law which belongs to Jus Moribus Constitutum [unwritten Roman law].”*/Matrimonium.html
  107. II Samuel 13:13, Rashi
  108. Maimonides' Laws of Forbidden Relationships, 15:4.
  109. Even HaEzer 8:5
  110. On the Life of Moses 2.36.193, On the Virtues 40.224, On the Life of Moses 1.27.147
  111. Josephus, Antiquities, 13.9.1.
  112. Josephus, Antiquities, 14.7.3.
  113. Josephus, Wars, 1.8.9.
  114. Josephus, Antiquities, 14.15.2.
  115. see Rabbi Moses Feinstein’s re-affirmation of matrilineal descent, Elberg, Rabbi S., September, 1984, HaPardes Rabbinical Journal, Hebrew, vol.59, Is.1, p. 21.
  117. "Reform Movement's Resolution on Patrilineal Descent (March 1983)".
  118. Reform Judaism in Israel: Progress and Prospects Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  119. Herodotus, before 425 BCE., "History of Herodotus". Graves's notation is "i.173" meaning in Book 1 – Scroll down to paragraph 173 to find the (matrilineal) Lycians.
  120. Graves, Robert (1955, 1960). The Greek Myths, Vol. 1. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-020508-X; p. 296 (myth #88, comment #2).
  121. Graves 1955,1960; p. 256 (myth #75, comment #5).
  122. "thanks to the practise of matrilineal descent followed by the Picts, and a large number of eligible would-be kings"
  123. "the Picts are known as strong adherents to the concept of matrilineal descent"
  124. Schlauch, Margaret (1969). Chaucer's Constance and Accused Queens. New York: Gordian Press. ISBN 0-87752-097-6; p. 43.
  125. Schlauch 1969, p. 45.
  126. Schlauch 1969, p. 34.

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