It is time to assess what is happening with matrilineal societies, and to critically review how they are treated in the literature. This panel revisits their present situation in a world in motion, through the sharing of data, the search for useful approaches, and the urgency of critical questions.
Scholars define a matrilineal society as a lineage society where one belongs to one's mother's kin group, with many variations on that theme. The study of matrilineal societies, all Indigenous peoples, used to be a mainstay of anthropological studies but the past forty years have seen a marked decline in interest, perhaps because states which exert authority over these societies consider matrilines a thing of the past, or perhaps because of the poor quality of available data. In rewriting Malinowski on the Tropbriand Islanders by including women in her ethnographic description (1976), Annette Weiner challenged anthropologists to critically re-examine the ethnographic material pertaining to matrilineages and their articulation in the rest of their socio-cultural context. At least fifteen percent of world societies, about eighty distinct societies (see Murdock's Human Research Area Files (1967) and Aberle (1961)), are or have been matrilineal. The field today is being re-opened on three fronts: by the matrilineal communities themselves and their awareness that matrilineality is central to their cultural survival, by ethnographers such as Peggy Reeves Sanday dissatisfied with old approaches, and by Indigenous policy makers. To answer Annette Weiner's challenge and the call to action from the field, this panel will share fresh data on matrilineal societies from around the world, their history and their contemporary situations.