<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Matrix Cultures

Excerpts from
Matrix Cultures:
In the Web of Life

by Max Dashú

Bibliographic references
will be appended upon
the book's publication

Daughters of Kasamba
(The Goba, Zambezi River)

A Matrilineal Country

The Wayúu

Little-Known Traditions
Around the Planet

The Zigula
("Somali Bantu")

Indigenous Survival
Under Empire, Expropriation
and Ethnocide

Lost Ground
The Intrusion of Male Supremacist Values


More Excerpts Coming...

The Nivak
(South American Chaco)

Las Tainas


(West Pacific Islands)

The Lenape
("Delaware Indians")

(Northwestern Spain)





















































Click arrow to view clip "Mother-Right: Equalitarian Cultures"
excerpted from Women's Power dvd by Max Dashú 

Matrix Cultures: In the Web of Life

On the island of Roti, in eastern Indonesia, they call it "the path of life."
On Vanatinai, northwest of Australia, "the way of the ancestors." The Kogi people of Colombia name themselves “Children of the Mother”; the Iroquois, “Longhouse People.”

Mother-right societies show worldwide patterns: Foundational women.
Matrilineages "of one womb," and sister-brother ties, "the milk bond."
Social motherhood. Matrilocal pairings. Sexual sanity.
Female spheres of power. A concept of the Divine in female form.
Egalitarian, communitarian values of peace and for life.

Matrix cultures are built on the natural fact that women give and sustain life, through their bodies, their love, attention, work, and their arts. Social, economic and cultural organization follows kinship through the mothers. All descendants of a female ancestor or a group of sisters, including sons, brothers, and uncles, belong to the maternal clan.

One outstanding trait of this extended family matrix is social motherhood, shared among the women of the central generation. All sisters’ children are regarded as sisters and brothers. Aunts may be called Mother by any of their sisters’ children, even if biologically “childless.” Maternal cousins are often nursed together and this milk bond is held sacred.

Sharing of food, shelter, and goods, and mutual support, assistance, and protection are fundamental values growing out of the matrix kindreds. They focus on sustaining the life-support network, under cardinal principles of cooperation, harmony, and living peaceably. The clans are founded on the blood tie, not the legal tie of marriage. They share the substances of life: blood, milk, food and fire. This can be described as both an economic relationship and a magical bonding.

These motherlines see themselves as part of larger circles of relationship. They reach out to other clans through giveaways and circles of redistribution. They relate to the natural world, and to each other, through linkages of each kindred to animals, plants, elements or social functions. The animal totems became a staple and then a contested turf in anthropological studies of indigenous cultures. Lost in all of this was the fact that “totem” originated in an Ojibwe term ototomen, meaning maternal relatives.

The concept of matrix societies encompasses much more than a single criterion of matriliny. A constellation of qualities define the pattern, among them maternal descent, matrilocal residence, egalitarian and communitarian values, and emphasis on harmonious and peaceful relations. These societies retain female choice, initiative, and female spheres of power, in the public as well as the domestic realm, including diplomatic and inter-group relations.

The “Western” distinction of public and private, religious and political, is not meaningful in this context. Technology is not divorced from spiritual meaning, manufacture from art, food production from power. Women act as major food providers, especially through farming and gathering, but not excluding fishing, hunting, and herding. They often control and distribute food stores, including food brought in by men.

The principle of a constellation of traits is important because some matrilineal societies are patrilocal, or practice various forms of male privilege and female deference, even subordination. Some bilateral descent communities, especially among the foragers, are more egalitarian than many surviving matrilineages, which show a global pattern of breaking down under globalization, the cash economy and enculturation into patriarchal religious systems. But even though these matrilineal societies are patriarchal in many respects, they still correlate with a more favorable standing for women than most patrilineal cultures allow.

The central veneration of goddesses, female powers, or ancestors does not exclude male deities, and is rooted in a framework of respect for the vital principle present in all beings and the natural world. The animistic religions must be appreciated as profound philosophies, which can not be forced into academic classifications, whether positivist or post-modernist. They offer an understanding of divinity as a continuum, a whole and yet also a range of relations, states and beings.


Women's Peace-making Powers

The Lisu of Yunnan tell a story of how two tribes fought a big war in Nujiang valley over a marriage. “At noon during a major battle, a prestigious middle-aged woman of one side climbed a cliff. She took off her long skirt and waved it. She shouted to stop the battle. The two sides stopped fighting immediately and went back to their villages.” An old man expanded on this legend to a Chinese researcher, “Women had the right to stop war by the custom of that time. The two sides had to stop fighting if a woman of either side waves her skirt and calls for an armistice.”

A similar custom exists in Vanatinai, in the far southwestern Pacific. A woman taking off her skirt gives a signal for war or for peace, and this can also be a sign that she is extending protection to a captive enemy. Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) women also had this power of deciding the fate of captives, and North American peoples widely practiced full adoption of chosen captives into their families.

Shawnee and Miami women chiefs “could demand an end to blood feuds or wars”. These North American peoples, and among the Illinois, had a complete system of female chiefs, parallel to the male chiefs, with authority over war and peace, as well as directing preparations for important feasts and communal planting of crops. The importance of the female chiefs is illustrated by Henry Hay’s puzzled observation in 1789 that the young Miami chief Richardville “is so very bashful that he never speaks in council, his mother who is very clever is obliged to do it for him.” [Callender, 256][Callender, 256]
The Haudenosaunee had a saying, “Before the men can go to war, the women must make their moccasins.” The Cherokee had a similar tradition. Men could not go off to war without the dried food, moccasins, and other supplies provided by women. (Both these traditions also formally designated offices, such as the Ghigau or Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, with authority in political, diplomatic and military affairs.)

Kahn-Tineta Horn led a group of Mohawk women in invoking this female power as the the U.S. was threatening to invade Iraq in 2003. Their email, Moccasin Makers and War Breakers: a call to action by the women of the world, streaked around the Internet. It began, “We have the power to stop the war! ‘Before the men can go to war, the women must make their moccasins.” This saying meant that the women’s approval was necessary for an undertaking that affected them so deeply. The Mohawk women recapped how the Haudenosaunee Confederacy began by overcoming violence and war with the Great Law of Peace, and how the United States Constution, and later the United Nations Charter, were based on principles originated by the Six Nations of the Iroquois. “Our law is the basis of modern international law.”

They went on to say, “Our ancestors recognized the sovereignty of all men and women by solving community conflicts through discussion in a People’s Council. In our tradition, three criteria must be kept in mind through all deliberations.” These are Peace, which must be kept at all costs; Righteousness, “taking into consideration the needs of seven generations to come,” and Power, “meaning the power of the people must be maintained including the equal sovereignty of all men and all women.”

Respect for different customs of other nations is a must, and war should only be a last resort. “We ask the women of the world to come forward and play their rightful role as the progenitors, the creators of all men, of all humanity, the caretakers of the earth and of all that lives upon it.”


Copyright 2005 Max Dashu


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