Sociology Index

Matrilineal Descent

In matrilineal descent, descent is traced through mothers rather than through fathers, and in Matrilineal societies, property is often passed from mothers to daughters and the custom of matrilocal residence may be practiced. Patrilineal Descent is a system in which family descent is reckoned through the blood links of males. In matrilineal societies, the descendants of men are their sister's children and not their own, who belong to their mother's matrilineage.

Matrilineal descent is a form of unilineal descent that follows a female line. Individuals are relatives if they can trace descent through females to the same female ancestor. While both male and female children are members of their mother's matrilineal descent group, only daughters pass on family line to their offspring.

Ancient societies are known to have recognised matrilineal descent. Matriliny is not the mirror image of patriliny. The woman in a matrilineal descent society represents the clan and her children carry on the name of her clan. In societies with matrilineal descent, social relationship between children and their biological father is different because the father is not member of matrilineal group.

Inheritance patterns for men in matrilineal societies often reflect importance of mother's brother. Matrilineage is sometimes associated with polyandry or group marriage. Bilineal Descent is system is tracing kinship structure through both parents. Unilineal Descent or one-line descent is that form of descent in which a relationship is emphasised through one sex or line.

Matrilineal societies differ from both patrilineal and bilateral societies in that the institution of marriage tends to be, relatively weak (Schneider and Gough 1961, Goode 1963).

In a gerontocratic matrilineal society, women's influence and prestige tended to increase with age and were usually expressed in informal settings, although there were offices of formalised informality such as mothers of matrilineages.

In a matrilineal descent society, women generally have a greater autonomy in terms of sexuality and reproduction than their counterparts in male dominated societies.

Meghalaya, one of the northeastern states of India, has historically followed a matrilineal system where both the lineage and inheritance are traced through women; the youngest daughter inherits all wealth and she also takes care of her parents. West African Kingdom of Ashanti in central Ghana, represents a matrilineal society. Heir to the throne is not the Asantehene's own child but his sister's son. king traditionally passes title and status on to his sister's son. King's biological son does not inherit kingship because he is not a member of ruling matrilineal family group. Women usually inherit status and property directly from their mothers in matrilineal societies.

Matriliny required the subordination of marriage and conjugal duties to loyalty and participation in the descent group. This, combined with economic activities, farming, artisan work, and trading, gave women considerable independence. Women had prestige in the matrilineal home town, where black stools symbolised the seat of power (Bartle).

Land Inheritance and Schooling in Matrilineal Societies: Evidence from Sumatra - Agnes R. Quisumbing, and Keijiro Otsuka. Abstract: This paper explores statistically the implications of the shift from communal to individualized tenure on the distribution of land and schooling between sons and daughters in matrilineal societies. The inheritance system is evolving from a strictly matrilineal system to a more egalitarian system in which sons and daughters inherit the type of land that is more intensive in their own work effort. In a matrilineal society while gender bias is either non-existent or small in land inheritance, daughters tend to be disadvantaged with respect to schooling.

Gough, K. (1961) The modern disintegration of matrilineal descent groups, in D. M. Schneider and K. Gough (eds.) Matrilineal Kinship, Berkeley.

Oppong, C. (1974) Marriage Among a Matrilineal Elite.