BaTonga matriarchy: Where mothers are in control


MOTHERS are the centre of all things in the BaTonga society.
Nature, they believe, has given women the ability to create; therefore it is only natural that women be in positions of power to protect this function.
They trace their clans through women; a child born into the world assumes the clan membership of its mother.
The young women are expected to be physically strong.
The young women receive formal instruction in the traditional planting of crops.
Since the BaTonga people depend upon the crops they grow, whoever controls this vital activity wields greater power within their communities.
It is their belief that since women are the givers of life, they naturally regulate the feeding of their people.
The BaTonga elders respect this natural law.
For them it makes sense for women to control the land since they are far more sensitive to the rhythms of Mother Earth.
They do not own the land, but are the custodians.
The women decide all issues involving territory, including where a community is to be settled and how land is to be used.
Unlike in other communities, the women are mandated full control of communal affairs.
Leaders are selected by a caucus of women (matriarchs) before the appointments are subjected to popular review.
Their traditional ‘government’ is composed of an equal number of men and women.
The men are chiefs and the women clan-mothers.
As leaders, women closely monitor the actions of men and retain the right to veto any law they deem inappropriate.
The women not only hold the reigns of leadership and economic power, they also have the right to determine all issues involving the trying of community offenders.
Matriarchy is a social system in which females hold primary power, predominate in roles of leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property at the specific exclusion of men, at least to a large extent.
For the BaTonga, matriarchy may also refer to non-human animal species in which females hold higher status and hierarchical positions, such as among lions where the female does most of the hunting and elephants which are purely matriarchal.
Most anthropologists hold that there are no known societies that are unambiguously matriarchal, but some authors believe exceptions may exist or may have.
Matriarchies may also be confused with matrilineal and other societies.
A few people consider any non-patriarchal system to be matriarchal, thus including generally equalitarian systems, but most academics exclude them from matriarchies strictly defined.
Matriarchy among the BaTonga is also a form of social organisation in which the mother or oldest female is the head of the family and descent and relationships are reckoned through the female line; leadership by a woman or women.
Within the academic discipline of cultural anthropology, matriarchy is ‘a culture or community in which such a system prevails’ or a ‘family, society, organisation, dominated by a woman or women’.
For the BaTonga, especially mothers who also control property, it is often interpreted to mean the general opposite of patriarchy, but it is not an opposite as matriarchies are not a mirror form of patriarchies. They are rather a matriarchy where maternal symbols are linked to social practices influencing the lives of both sexes and where women play a central role in these practices.
The BaTonga ‘matriarchy’ is a non-alienated society in which women produce the next generation, define motherhood, determine the conditions of motherhood and determine the environment in which the next generation is reared.
Matriarchy can be thought of as a shorthand description for any society in which women’s power is equal or superior to men’s and in which the culture centres around values and life events described as ‘feminine’.
Matriarchy among the BaTonga has often been presented as negative, in contrast to patriarchy as natural and inevitable for society, thus that matriarchy is hopeless.
Some researchers wrote that when we hear the word ‘matriarchy’, we are conditioned to a number of responses; that matriarchy refers to the past and that matriarchies have never existed or that matriarchy is a hopeless fantasy of female domination, of mothers dominating children, of women being cruel to men.
They argue that communities are conditioned negatively to matriarchy in the interests of patriarchs.
They are made to feel that patriarchy is natural and are less likely to question it, and to direct their energies to ending it.
Spokespersons for various indigenous peoples at the United Nations and elsewhere have highlighted the central role of women in their societies, referring to them as matriarchies, or as matriarchal in character.
According to researchers, there is plenty of evidence of ancient societies where women hold greater power than in many societies today.
It shows that the power of women is reflected not only in myth and legend, but in legal codes pertaining to marriage, divorce, property ownership and the right to rule.
Friedrich Engels, in 1884, claimed that in the earliest stages of human social development, there was group marriage and that therefore paternity was disputable, whereas maternity was not, so that a family could be traced only through the female line and claimed that this was connected to the dominance of women over men, which notion Engels took from other researchers who claimed that myths reflected a memory of a time when women dominated over men.
Engels speculated that the domestication of animals increased wealth claimed by men, as they wanted control over women for use as labourers and because they wanted to pass on their wealth to their children requiring monogamy.
Engels did not explain how this could happen in a matriarchal society, but said that women’s status declined until they became mere objects in the exchange trade between men and patriarchy was established, causing the global defeat of the female sex and the rise of individualism, competition and dedication to achievement.
This nostalgia has helped the BaTonga women to continue with their lives without challenging the serious problems they face now.
However, in our modern situation, if you are a female you are not considered for leadership at community level by society.
The women do not possess the same rights as men; they are disadvantaged, they do not have access to opportunities men have and they are sometimes violently abused because of their gender.
The appeal is that if we once upon a time lived in matriarchies, then maybe we will return to them automatically, as a law of nature.
Meanwhile, the BaTonga matriarchs continue to care for their societies.


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