Author:Frederique Martine Darragon (Sichuan University)
Paper short abstract:
Since the 1950's many anthropologists have labelled matrilineality and polyandry as "historical accidents" and matriarchy as impossible. To have a clear picture we must listen to new voices and study how humans actually live through a transdisciplinary analysis of the ethnographic data.
Paper long abstract:
"Anthropology: the study of what it means to be human; to answer this, we cannot rely on philosophical arguments but must study how humans actually live" (C. Knight). Although about 50% of humans are female and only about 18% of the world population is "white", many of the views currently held about worldwide gender relations are those of white androcentric anthropologists: since the 1950's all the "unconventional" cases deviating from the Nuclear Family Theory were discarded as "historical accidents". This attitude does not resist a careful examination of the ethnographic data: as demonstrated by Gough, Mathieu, Starkweather & Hames, Amadiume, and Hrdy among others, matrilineality and polyandry (and/or partible paternity) are still found in every continent and occur within a variety of cultural, religious, economic and political frames and an assortment of ecological settings.
Many societies do have a rather strict gender division of labor, however this division is not always related to biological differences, there are many cases of fluidity between the biological and social, and the Amazonian Zoe tribe and some societies of the Sino-Tibetan Marches do not even have marriage.
After briefly recalling the theoretical debate, this paper will, in a cross-cultural awareness and transdisciplinary approach, analyze new -or overlooked- evidences from historical and ethnographic records -including my own fieldwork-, as well as new data from linguistics, archeology, genetics, neuroscience, biology and zoology.
Listening to new voices will allow us to deepen our understanding of humankind and eventually enable every human to reach his or her potential.
Nicole Mathieu's legacy for the theory of matrilineal societies