Matrilocality :7 Societies Where Women Rule (2)

The Nagovisi are one of three tribes of South Bougainville, a large tropical island west of New Guinea and north of Australia.


Here,women dominate in food production as men are dependent on women’s cultivation for food. Women are the garden authorities who cultivate sweet potatoes and other food stuff, and their husbands only help them in heavy tasks like clearing the land for a new garden. Shared garden labour is almost as much a part of marriage as is shared sexuality. Widows are sometimes denied assistance in clearing, to encourage them to remarry.

If a couple quarrels, the man will stop eating coconuts from his wife’s trees, sometimes because she forbids him to eat them, and sometimes because he chooses to avoid them. A conciliatory act (usually the gift of a pig) is required. Usually the wife has to give the compensation. A refusal to eat anything from the garden would mean divorce.

To Nagovisi, marriage is a relatively flux institutions, the signs of marriage are that the couple sleeps in the same house, the couple walks around together, and the man works in the woman’s garden. They consider sex equally pleasurable for men and women.

Every adult woman has the inalienable right to use some of her descent group’s land for food gardens and to transfer title to her daughters.

The Nagovisi are comprehensively divided into two society-wide exogamous and totemic matrilineal moieties (halves), which are divided into numerous land-owning matriclans, which are themselves subdivided into localized, land-using matrilineages. The latter retain their localized character through uxorilocal residence (the practice, wherein a man, upon marriage, goes to live in the home community of his wife). In addition, the clans and lineages of the Nagovisi are the owners of other kinds of valuables, including shell money, and they were the focal points of most religious rituals and of much political influence. The shell money is kept as strands of shell disks or beads. Among Nagovisi the finest are heirloom jewelry, given from mother to daughter; the second best form is used in buying pigs, in marriage exchanges (if there were any), and in compensation for insult, injury, or death.

Nagovisi women share leadership with men; a strong matrilineage system having political functions exists, with women playing significant roles in decision making and ceremonialism. Nevertheless, they have a dislike of chiefs and communal efforts.

The Bribri are an indigenous people of Costa Rica. They live in the Talamanca (canton) in Limón Province of Costa Rica and northern Panama. They live on reservations and non-protected areas. Some estimate the tribal population in Costa Rica to be around 35,000.

The Bribri social structure is organized in Clans. Each clan is composed of an extended family. The clan system is matrilineal, that is, a child’s clan is determined by the clan his or her mother belongs to. This gives women a very important place in Bribri society since they are the only ones that can inherit land and prepare the sacred cacao (Theobroma cacao) drink that is essential for their rituals.

Men’s roles are defined by their clan, and often are exclusive for men. Examples of these roles are the “awa” or shaman, and the “oko”, the only person allowed to touch the remains of the dead, sing funeral songs, and prepare the food eaten at funerals. Only certain clans are allowed to become awapa. Since the clan comes from the mother’s side of the family, an awa cannot teach his own sons, but rather the sons of his female relatives.

Chewa people are found in Malawi. When a Chewa boy and a girl agree to marry. They exchange gifts known as chikole. This is a gift from a boy to a girl in form of clothing, household items or money given at a time of proposing marriage. The gift may be returnable upon termination of betrothal.

However, it is not essential for the validity of a marriage. After the chikole, they both exchange information regarding the identity of their parents and their maternal uncles. The next step is for the boy to inform his mwini mbumba who eventually seeks the opinion of his nkhoswe wamkulu. Having obtained the approval of his nkhoswe wamkulu, the boy’s mwini mbumba institutes formal negotiations with the girl’s mwini mbumba. A further meeting is arranged for a later date to enable the girl’s mwini mbumba to consult his family elders, and to make private inquiries about the boy’s character and family background.

At the next meeting, if the boy’s proposal is accepted, a convenient date is fixed for the conclusion of the marriage negotiations, namely, the cohabitation between the spouses. Meanwhile, the boy will be encouraged to visit the girl’s home, and will be shown a piece of land on which he is expected to build the matrimonial home. This ends the formal negotiations for the proposed marriage. In some areas, if the marriage proposal has been accepted, a chicken by the boy’s mwini mbumba is offered to the girl’s mwini mbumba. The marriage may be regarded as concluded when the girl is handed over by her marriage guardian to the boy, and the parties begin to cohabit.

When a valid matrilineal customary marriage has been contracted, the husband is expected to go and live with his wife at his wife’s village. This is called chikamwini. Its original intent seems to have been a way of introducing a dependent male labourer into the wife’s family unit.
The residence for the married spouses is matrilocal. The husband is shown a piece of land on which to build the matrimonial home. They also allocate a piece of land to the newly wed couple to be used for cultivation of crops essential for the subsistence of their family. All the rights in respect of such land, are exercisable only with the consent of the wife’s kholo.

Similarly, land allocated to a wife in her husband’s village is subject to the control and interest of the husband’s kholo. However, residence elsewhere chitengwa may be permitted at a later stage if the parties are agreeable and the arrangement has the consent of the wife’s guardian.

The Khasi and the Garo
The Khasi and the Garo are agricultural peoples who live in hill districts in Meghalaya state in North-Eastern India. They practice wet rice (paddy) agriculture. Both inheritance of property and succession to tribal office run through female line, passing from mother to youngest daughter.


A Khasi woman

Among the Garo, one daughter, usually the youngest, is chosen as heiress. For the heiress, the husband is selected by her parents, and the groom ceremonially captured – the groom may even run away twice. The youngest son-in-law comes to live in his wife’s parents’ house and becomes his father-in-law’s nokrom, or clan representative in the mother-in-law’s family. If the father-in-law dies, the nokrom marries (and the marriage has to be consummated) the widowed mother-in-law, thus becoming the husband of both mother and daughter. This custom is now falling into disuse.

The Garos usually live as extended families in large longhouses. Other non -inheriting girls select their own husbands in a process that can be much more complex.

‘Initiative is always taken by the Garo girl. Boys behave demurely and fight shy of entering into wedlock without social pressure.’ However, no able-bodied adult must remain without mate; replacement marriages are arranged in case of death or dissolution of the marriage. Incompatible marriages can be dissolved; and illegitimately born child suffers no indignity (as the parents may marry anyway soon) if it is not a sequence of an incest within the same lineage. Marriages are exogamous, that means that the husband belongs to another matrilineage than the wife.

The managerial head of the land of the Garo lineage is the husband of the ‘matron’. Village council is formed by all the adult male members of the village.

While a Khasi clan mother is viewed as the wordly equivalent of the Primal Mother, Ka Blei. She is the most important person of the community, its chief and priestess, who administers the clan property.

Like the Garo people, the husband of the youngest daughter moves into the family house. A Khasi child takes the surname of the mother.

However, Khasi men had traditionally important duties as hunters and defending the community in case of war. The government administration is solely the responsibility of Khasi men. Important questions and decisions are discussed among all clan members, and most Khasi men’s opinions are taken into consideration.


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