Monday, March 8, 2021 2:38 PM
At the northeastern tip of India lives the Khas tribal community, which to this day is more or less characterized by the operating model of ancient mother societies. Modern feminist movements may be happy about this, but the men there are already strongly demanding their rights.
Johann Jakob Bachofen, a Swiss lawyer, sociologist and anthropologist (1815–1887), first drew the world’s attention to mother societies with scientific training.
Bachofen also took part in excavations in Greece in the 1850s, and studying the finds of the burials first came up with the idea that
the symbolism of the objects found in the tombs, the contradictions of mythology, could be explained by the assumption of an ancient female domination.
He then studied in depth the references of the surviving ancient Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Central Asian, and African sources, myths, to various forms of marriage and family, and then developed his theory.
Although he mechanically applied evolutionary theses to society, many of his views overcame time, and most of his conclusions were refuted, but social theory research on the role of women is based on, or argued with, his findings.
Moreover, even the feminist movements of the 1970s drew from his theses. If he were to live now, he would be delighted to study, among other things, the surviving matriarchal communities of present-day India and Southeast Asia and compare their modern-day functioning with those of ancient mother societies.
According to many, the Khazi tribal community in the state of Meghaya in Northeast India is one of the best examples of a society where women play a leading role. Nearly half of the state’s approximately three million inhabitants are Khazis belonging to the Austro-Asian language family, including the Mon-Khmer group, who follow the mother-tongue social traditions with the second largest number of ethnic groups, the Garos.
The descendants carry on the name of the mother’s family (clan), and the property is inherited by the youngest girl on the mother’s branch. If the couple does not have a daughter, they adopt one and testify to the property.
According to modern-day researchers, such a development of kinship relationships is lost in the mythical fog when women had a duty to lead the household while men were at war. Bachofen provides a much more prosaic explanation than this: since at the beginning of the matriarchate the female members of the tribes were characterized by a high degree of promiscuity, so in the case of childbirth only the identity of the mother was certain. In any case, caring for the heritage of the ancestors is the job of the youngest daughter as a kind of caretaker, a trustee. She is also responsible for caring for her parents and sisters who are still single. This will make it a social institution whose house is open to the whole family. This, of course, does not mean that you can own property (land, precious metals, valuable clothing, and so on) as your own property.
In gratitude, they are the heads of families, often playing a leading role in the public sector, and also financially supporting family members.
In the Northeast Indian state, a law passed in 1997 protects matriarchal traditions. The fact that descendants bear the mother’s name protects children from social exclusion even if the mother remarries or has a child born out of wedlock.
Women are everywhere, in bazaars, at the head of companies, in government offices, complained a former leader of a group of men’s rights activists, a correspondent for the German news portal Deutsche Welle. (It is true, however, that they do not have much political rights.)
The group’s predecessor organization was founded in the 1960s by tribal elders, including doctors and teachers, after realizing that men had completely disappeared from their communities.
It was widely believed that all this was due to the fact that they were simply suppressed by the Khazi matriarchal customs. If a Khasi man marries and marries the youngest daughter of a family, she must move into the girly house, that is, the residence of her mother-in-law and large family. (This custom is also typical of the Cham nationality scattered in Southeast Asia — Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand — where girls choose their husbands and their parents go to their chosen family to ask for boys.) Indian men’s advocates say this is one reason why many families do not make financial sacrifices to raise their boys, as the boys “take” this money to their wives ’house anyway.
If a man gets into trouble and needs help, he can only turn to his sister, who is in charge of his own family’s property and is responsible for supporting family members.
While in the rest of India the birth of boys is preferred, in Meghala the birth of a daughter is celebrated with much greater splendor. Many men therefore feel inferior. Perhaps that is why the word responsibility is missing from the dictionary of Khazi men. This perception often leads to drug use, alcoholism, and frequent changes of female partners. The latter does not even have a consequence, because if a married man likes another girl and gets pregnant, the child will go to the girl’s family anyway. For many men, this is a dream life, but people who become potentially discarded in this way are not much needed by Khassian women, and prefer a more acceptable groom not from their community but from the outside. However, this not only runs the risk of diluting the ethnic purity of the Khashiks, but also poses a threat to their way of life in an ecologically and culturally fragile environment.
The LAG, which numbers about five thousand people, including fifty women, is now working to change the law of succession so that the father’s surname is authoritative.
Incidentally, the largest known matriarchal community in the world is located in Indonesia, the Minangkabau people of four million souls. Their primacy is animism, which was later influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism, but many of them follow Islam. The latter have successfully reconciled their matriarchal tradition with the Qur’an, which in principle does not prohibit women from owning property and participating in decision-making. Then there are the mosques living in China, for whom the concept of husband or father is unknown. They live in a so-called walking marriage, in which the man can spend the night with the woman on occasion, but they do not live together.
Children are raised by the woman’s family, but their biological father has little say in this as they live in their own matriarchal family.
Cover image illustration. Photo: Pexels