Communities where women are powerful

Living near the border of Tibet in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, the Mosuo are perhaps the most famous matrilineal society. The Chinese government officially classifies them as part of another ethnic minority known as the Naxi, but the two are distinct in both culture and language.

The Mosuo live with extended family in large households; at the head of each is a matriarch. Lineage is traced through the female side of the family, and property is passed down along the same matriline. Mosuo women typically handle business decisions and men handle politics. Children are raised in the mother’s households and take her name.

The Mosuo have what’s called “walking marriages.” There is no institution of marriage; rather, women choose their partners by literally walking to the man’s home and the couples never live together. Since children always remains in the mother’s care, sometimes the father plays little role in the upbringing. In some cases, the father’s identity is not even known. Instead, the male’s childrearing responsibilities remain in his own matrilineal household.

    At four million people, the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia, (pictured above, during a harvest season celebratino) are the largest known matrilineal society today. In addition to tribal law requiring all clan property to be held and bequeathed from mother to daughter, the Minangkabau firmly believe the mother to be the most important person in society.

In Minangkabau society, women usually rule the domestic realm while the men take the political and spiritual leadership roles. However, both genders feel the separation of powers keeps them on an equal footing. Upon marriage, every woman acquires her own sleeping quarters. The husband may sleep with her, but must leave early in the morning to have breakfast at his mother’s home. At age 10, boys leave their mother’s home to stay in men’s quarters and learn practical skills and religious teachings. While the clan chief is always male, women select the chief and can remove him from office should they feel he failed to fulfill his duties. 

  1. AKAN
    The Akan people are a majority in Ghana, where they predominantly reside. The Akan social organization is fundamentally built around the matriclan, wherein one’s identity, inheritance, wealth, and politics are all determined. All matriclan founders are female, but men traditionally hold leadership positions within the society. These inherited roles, however, are passed down matrilineally—meaning through a man’s mothers and sisters (and their children). Often, the man is expected to not only support his own family, but those of his female relatives.
    The Bribri are a small indigenous group of just over 13,000 people living on a reserve in the Talamanca canton in the Limón province of Costa Rica. Like many other matrilineal societies, the Bribri are organized into clans. Each clan is made up of extended family, and the clan is determined through the mother/females. Women are the only ones who traditionally can inherit land. Women are also endowed with the right to prep the cacao used in sacred Bribri rituals.
  3. GARO
    Much like their Khasi neighbors in the North-East Indian state of Meghalaya, the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Garos pass property and political succession from mother to daughter—typically, he youngest daughter inherits her mother’s property. Much like the Akan, however, the societiy is matrilineal but not matriarchal: the men govern the society and manage property.

Oftentimes, the youngest daughter’s marriage is arranged for her. But for non-inheriting daughters, the process can be much more complex. In Garo tradition, the groom-to-be is expected to run away from a proposal of marriage, requiring the bride-to-be’s family to “capture” him and return him to his potential bride’s villiage. This back-and-forth is repeated until the bride either gives up, or the groom accepts her proposal (often after she has made many promises to serve and obey him). Once married, the husband lives in his wife’s house. Should it not work out, the union is dissolved without social stigma, as marriage is not a binding contract.

    The Nagovisi live in South Bougainville, an island west of New Guinea. Anthropologist Jill Nash reported Nagovisi society was divided into two matrilineal moieties, which are then divided into matriclans. Nagovisi women are involved in leadership and ceremonies, but take the most pride in working the land entitled to them. Nash observed that when it comes to marriage, the Nagovisi woman held gardening and shared sexuality at equal importance. Marriage is not institutionalized. If a couple is seen together, sleeps together, and the man assists the woman in her garden, for all intents and purposes they are considered married.

7) The Umoja tribe is a true-blue No Mans Land, because men are banned. This village is a home to women who have experienced sexual or gender-based violence. The Umoja village, which means “unity” in Swahili, was founded in 1990. As occupations, the women and children show tourists their village and work to educate others about their rights.

As of 2011, this matriarchal society was comprised of about 1 million. Mothers and mothers-in-law are the only people allowed to look after children and, according to The Guardian, men aren’t even entitled to attend family gatherings. What’s more, when women marry in the Khasi tribe, their surname is passed down instead that of their husband
A Look at all of the Queen’s Homes reveals women fight battle.

Khasi, India
Another matriarchal society captured by de Vallombreuse is the Khasi society, “a matrilineal and matrilocal culture in the northeastern part of India, in which children primarily bear the name of their mother, and inheritance is bestowed upon the daughters in a family.” This practice of matrilocality—the practice of children living with the mother’s family—ensures that there will be no economic free fall or difficult change should the parents divorce. “No matter how many times the woman marries, her children will always remain with her,” Patricia Mukhim, a Khasi and editor of The Shillong Times explains in Dame Magazine.
“And even if a man abandons a woman he has impregnated, the children are never [considered] ‘illegitimate.'”

Nubia (Kush), Sudan
“The Nubians [have] an unusually high number of ruling queens, especially during the golden age of the Meroitic Kingdom [or modern-day Sudan],” writes Tara L. Kneller in Neither Goddesses nor Doormats: The Role of Women in Nubia. “Although ruling queens, in themselves, may not be unusual, the portrayal of Nubian queen is exceptional.” Kneller describes a panel on display at the 1993 exhibit Nubia: Egypt’s Rival in Africa depicting a queen smiting her enemies and notes that women in Nubia exercised significant control over society.
Nubian warrior queens fought for the interest of the Nubian/Kushite Empire, and many Nubians worshipped the queen of all goddesses, Isis.

Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea
Annette Weiner’s 1976 re-examination of the Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea studied the people described in Bronislaw Malinowski’s ethnographic work of the early 20th century through a more balanced lens that gave more weight to women’s work and wealth. She argues that because Malinowski was preoccupied with exclusively male-dominated politics and classic structures of power, he failed to pay attention to critical ways the Trobriand women played important roles in their society. Weiner describes that while Trobriand men traveled from island to island to seek political positions of power, Trobriand women were given value and autonomy through matrilineal institutions. “The discovery that Trobriand women have power and that women enact roles which are symbolically, structurally, and functionally significant to the ordering of Trobriand society and to the roles that men play, should give us, as anthropologists, cause for concern,” warns Weiner. “We have allowed ‘politics by men’ to structure our thinking about other societies; we have let ourselves believe that, if women are not dominant in the political sphere of interaction, their power remains at best peripheral.”

Palawan, Philippines
In 2015, photographer Pierre de Vallombreuse documented images of Southeast Asian tribes of today where gender equality surpasses the West, and women share the power. One of the societies he captured on film was the Palawan society, “a non-hierarchical community in the Philippines where men and women have been historically equal.”


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