DURING the month of March, we celebrate International Women’s Day and femininity because women are the centre of all things.
Nature has given women the ability to create; therefore it is only natural that women be in positions of power to protect this function.
Clans among the BaTonga are traced through women; a child born into the world assumes the clan membership of its mother.
The young women are expected to be physically and emotionally strong since they are the givers of life.
Women naturally regulate the feeding of their people.
In all countries, real wealth stems from the hands of women.
In this article I pay tribute to a system that most people who live in patriarchal societies have neglected the matriarchal system.
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.
It is common today for tourists or any visitors to Binga to take photographs of elderly women smoking the ndombonda gourd.
Yes it is smoked by women, and it is not marijuana as most people would want to believe.
It’s simply sorghum and is smoked as a way to celebrate femininity.
The men are content with their lubange of course.
The BaTonga elders know this as well as other communities know natural law.
For them it made sense to respect women since they are far more sensitive to the rhythms of mother earth.
Women decide on any and all issues involving territory, including where a community is to be built and how land is to be used; hence the matriarchal system among the BaTonga.
Unlike in other communities, women are mandated full control of affairs.
Leaders are selected by a caucus of women (matriarchs) before the appointments are subject to popular review.
Their traditional ‘Government’ is composed of an equal number of men and women. The men are chiefs while the women are clan-mothers.
As leaders, women closely monitor the actions of the 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 among the BaTonga is also a form of social organisation in which the mother or oldest female is the head of the family.
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’.
The BaTonga ‘matriarchy’ are a non-alienated society in which women who 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 has often been presented as negative and hopeless, in contrast to patriarchy which is said to be natural and inevitable for society.
Some researchers say 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; that matriarchy is a hopeless fantasy of female domination, of mothers dominating children, of women being cruel to men.
Conditioning us negatively to matriarchy is, of course, in the interest of patriarchs. We are made to feel that patriarchy is natural; we are less likely to question it, and less likely to direct our energies to ending it.
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.
According to researchers, there is plenty of evidence of ancient societies where women held greater power.
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.
Researchers who sought evidence for the existence of a matriarchy often mixed matriarchy with anthropological terms and concepts describing specific arrangements in the field of family relationships and the organisation of family life, such as matrilineality and matrilocality.
These terms refer to inter-generational relationships (as matriarchy may), but do not distinguish between males and females in so far as they apply to specific arrangements for sons as well as daughters from the perspective of their relatives on their mothers’ side.
Accordingly, these concepts do not represent matriarchy as ‘power of women over men’.
The BaTonga matriarchal system has also evolved from the elephants which are also matriarchal.
Coincidentally, the Zambezi Valley where the BaTonga inhabit, is full of these gentle giants.
As for elephants, females tend to stay with their birth groups, which may then split into sub-groups as they mature and breed.
Males, however, move off when they reach puberty between 12 and 14 years of age.
Among the BaTonga family unit, usually girls remain with their parents until they give birth to their first child and are later married off to go and take care of other members of the extended family.
Giving birth at one’s parents enabled the young mother to be taught child rearing skills before she could assume the duty on her own.
Male children are also assisted to start their homesteads but often lean on their mothers and grandmothers for support, just like in the matriarch elephant’s role in strengthening and guiding the herd.
Once they have left the breeding herd, bull elephants spend their days by themselves or moving between small bachelor herds.
This pattern changes when they come into must, which happens for the first time when they are 29 years old.
Child rearing among the BaTonga is a collective responsibility of all the women in the family or particular society.
Children are aggressively protected from any harm and women would do anything in their power to ensure the protection of children.
While in the elephant family setup, calves are also considered the joint responsibility of the breeding herd – young females or ‘all mothers’ help to ensure the infants’ survival, while gaining experience for when they too give birth.
Is it not just amazing?

This story was published in The Patriot of  March 23, 2017


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