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HuffPost - October 2019

... What if Western perceptions of matriarchal societies are all wrong? What if they weren’t about pursuing dominance over men? And what if their structures inspired all societies to achieve true gender equality? 

German philosopher and researcher Heide Goettner-Abendroth has dedicated her life to answering these questions, and talked to HuffPost France last month about what she has learned.  

Her seminal book, “Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures Across the Globe” — which made its debut in Germany in 2010, in the English-speaking world in 2012 and this year in France — offers an unprecedented, comprehensive account of matriarchal societies. It draws on decades of research to blend theory with fieldwork and shed light on a topic widely ignored by ethnologists.

Matriarchal societies predate patriarchy, says Groettner-Abendroth, who founded the International Academy HAGIA for Modern Matriarchal Studies, an association that focuses on matriarchal societies, mythology, medicine and spirituality. She created the academy after she became fed up with the male-dominated power structures at conventional institutions, and she has no problem saying her approach centers women.

Goettner-Abendroth discusses the local communities she has studied — from China to Africa, from Indonesia to North America — that are all either complete or nearly complete forms of matriarchy. This means that they are either matrilineal, whereby lineage is traced through the mother, or matrilocal, in the sense that new couples go to live with the young woman’s community. Some of them have abandoned these fundamental pillars but still practice rituals and impart values that draw direct inspiration from their matriarchal origins.

HuffPost France talked to Goettner-Abendroth about her research, the philosophical roots that underpin these societies, and what it means to live somewhere where respecting women is not optional.

In your view, what is the founding principle of each of these matriarchal societies?

It is the power to give life. If women do not give life, the society dies out. In our societies, this power is not considered very valuable. Women are left to their own devices and have to tackle maternity alone. They are not respected. Matriarchal societies are anchored in maternity. An abandoned child or woman is unheard of within them. 

In the Minangkabau culture in Indonesia, everyone is a mother. Men distinguish themselves when they behave properly toward children; they are praised for being “good mothers.” 

What values do these societies represent?

They are egalitarian, considerate and nurturing, in the sense that taking care of others and their well-being is self-evident. In the Khasi culture in India, the clan mother ― the chief of the village ― is chosen according to her ability to help her people. 

Everyone is respected, regardless of their age or sex. They take care of the elderly until their death. There are no hierarchies among people. Decisions are made by consensus, unanimously. They conduct a sharing economy and condemn the concept of accumulation.

But isn’t it easier to create this kind of harmony in clans of so few members? In a nation of several million inhabitants, unanimity is difficult to achieve.

Certainly, some of the clans are small and consist of roughly 100 people, but others, like the Minangkabau in Indonesia, count 6 million members — almost as much as the population of Switzerland. They are not strictly matriarchal, because the current political authority has imposed patriarchy, but the matriarchy is still manifested through cultural practices.

The Mosuo of China have 250,000 members. When plans emerged to build an airport in their region, which threatened the community, they managed to push back against the project by consulting with each member of the various clans. And they only gave their response once they had achieved unanimity. It took them three months.

The Minangkabau in Indonesia had a similar struggle, but the government forced its will through and Sumatra now has an airport. ...
Read full interview at HuffPost