What can matriarchal cultures teach us about property and power?
They’re few and far between, but the world’s women-centred societies make a resonating point on
how stereotypes about money and property are dictated by nurture, not nature.
Money might not buy happiness, but it certainly earns us the freedom to pursue it. Across matriarchal societies (where the culture is defined by women) and matrilineal communities (where lineage is traced through the female line), women, not men, inherit and successfully manage wealth and property. This tradition resoundingly quashes the idea that women aren’t biologically wired to deal with personal finance and family incomes.
Even though it goes without saying, we’ll say it because such opportunities are rare – these communities also have a more balanced power equation between men and women. The rest of the world has some catching up to do, and we’re here to help. Basis powers personal finance for women by helping them save and invest confidently and on their terms. Because, as these communities show, financial power gives women a greater say in the rules governing their communities, homes, and themselves.
In the valleys of the Himalayas lives a Tibetan Buddhist tribe that sets the benchmark not just for matriliny, but also matriarchy. The eldest woman (the ah mi) is the head of the extended family and there’s no concept of marriage. Children and the elderly and cared for by the family that’s presided over by the matriarch.
Men have more responsibilities towards their sisters’ children than their own, as the maternal uncle plays an important role in the community. Women own and inherit property, as well as run the household; men contribute in areas that demand greater physical strength and have more political power. Get a peek into their lives via this fascinating video.
The people of this Muslim tribe, the largest matrilineal community in the world, place the mother at the centre of their social structure. The mother’s house is where everyone meets for breakfast; even husbands leave their wives every morning to eat at their mother’s table. Property passes from mother to daughter, while whatever a man earns from his profession can be divided as he wishes. Women rule the household and having a daughter is considered a blessing.
The Minangkabau men have an equal amount of power; they hold all the religious and political positions, while women choose these leaders. Men and women respect each other and the roles both genders play to nurture the community.
The misty hills and green valleys of Meghalaya form the cradle of the Khasi tribe. Here, lineage is traced through the mother’s clan line (called the kur) and husbands settle in the homes of their wives till the birth of their first child. Property and wealth are inherited by the daughters, with a majority going to the youngest since it’s assumed that she’ll live the longest. She’s called the Khatduh, the custodian of ancestral property. Women also manage shops and businesses, while men form the local panchayats. This helps balance the power equation between the genders, though modernity and migration are beginning to nudge at the corners of this unique culture.
BRIBRI (COSTA RICA)
Living off the land in the Limón province, the Bribri tribe reveres Mother Earth. Land passes from one generation of women to the next; it’s a powerful inheritance because the tribe’s main source of income is farming. Banana and cocoa are important crops, and only the women are allowed to make the sacred cocoa drink used for rituals. This stems from the tribe’s belief that the cocoa tree was once a woman, whom the gods transformed. That explains why chocolate’s so great, don’t you think?
The Bribri believe that women channel Mother Nature’s energy; due to the increasing use of chemicals in farming, the women of the community are now leading the movement towards eco-friendly ways to generate an income and many are becoming entrepreneurs.
Unlike the ones mentioned above, this village didn’t grow through tradition but by choice. Umoja, which means ‘unity’ in Swahili, is a women-only village in the extremely patriarchal Samburu province of Kenya. It was founded by Rebecca Lolosoli as a refuge for women fleeing gender-based violence and is proudly self-sustained. Not only have the women built all the houses in the village, but they’ve also turned jewellery making into an income generating activity. The money is then channelled towards education and healthcare. Umoja has spawned similar villages across the area, and as this video shows, it’s nothing short of revolutionary.
Most of these tribes probably haven’t heard of one another, but through their traditions, they prove that women are as adept at managing money and property as men. And, that like most things in life, being good at something isn’t about biology but belief.