Matrilineal societies are societies in which descent is traced through the mother rather than through the father. In matrilineal societies property is often passed from mothers to daughters.
The Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia
The Minangkabau are the world’s largest matrilineal society with property, family name and land passing down from mother to daughter while religious and political affairs are the responsibility of men, although some women also play important roles in these areas.
Today 4.5 million Minangs live in the homeland of West Sumatra, while about 4.5 million more are scattered throughout many Indonesian and Malay Peninsular cities and towns.
The Minangkabau are strongly Islamic, but also follow their ethnic traditions, or adat. The Minangkabau adat was derived from animast and Hindu-Buddhist beliefs before the arrival of Islam.
The Tehuanas of the Zapotec tribe of Tehuantepec, Mexico
Zapotec women call themselves Tehuanas. The Zapotec civilization was an indigenous pre-Columbian civilisation. In Tehuantepec women are the heads of households, control the purse and represent the community to outsiders. To this day Tehuantepec is the centre of Zapotec culture. The city is known for its women and their traditional dress, which was adopted by Frida Kahlo. Women dominate the local markets and are known to taunt men. Political power, however, is still the domain of men.
The Mosuo of China – a major tourist attraction
The Mosuo of Lake Lugu, located on a plateau in the mountains between the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in China are a minority ethnic group said to be the country’s last matrilineal society. Here children take their mothers’ surnames and daughters are preferred to sons.
A fascination with such traditions has led to a booming tourism industry in this once-isolated region.
Lured by the promise of spectacular natural beauty and an exotic cultural experience, hundreds of thousands of visitors, mostly Chinese, are making the journey to Lake Lugu.
The Garo of India
The Garo is one of the few remaining matrilineal societies in the world. A large part of the Garo community follow Christianity.
In the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Garo tribe, property and political succession is passed on from mother to youngest daughter.
After getting married, a man lives in his wife’s house. While women own the property, the men manage the property and govern society.
The Native American Cherokee
The ancient Cherokee were matrilineal with a complex society structure. Cherokee women had many rights and privileges other than domestic duties. Not only did married women own property, such as homes, horses, cattle and fields of growing crops and fruit trees, they also participated in both the fighting of wars and the councils of war, and sat with the Civil Council of Peace.