MATRIARCHATE ("rule of the mother"), a term used to express a supposed earliest and lowest form of family life, typical of primitive societies, in which the promiscuous relations of the sexes result in the child's father being unknown (see FAMILY). In such communities the mother took precedence of the father in certain important respects, especially in line of descent and inheritance. Matriarchate is assumed on this theory to have been universal in prehistoric times. The prominent position then naturally assigned women did not, however, imply any personal power, since they were in the position of mere chattels: it simply constituted them the sole relatives of their children and the only centre of any such family life as existed. The custom of tracing descent through the female is still observed among certain savage tribes. In Fiji father and son are not regarded as relatives. Among the Bechuanas the chieftainship passes to a brother, not to a son. In Senegal, Loango, Congo and Guinea, relationship is traced through the female. Among the Tuareg Berbers a child takes rank, freeman's or slave's, from its mother.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. J. F. McLennan, Patriarchal Theory (London, 1885); T. T. Bachofen, Das Mutterrecht (Stuttgart, 1861); E. VVestermarck, History of Human Marriage (1894); A. GiraudTeulon, La Mkre chez certains peuples de I'antiquite (Paris, 1867); Les Origines du mariage et de la famille (Geneva and Paris, 1884); C. S. Wake, The Development of Marriage and Kinship (London, 1889); Ch. Letourneau, L'volution du mariage et de la famille (Paris, 1888); L. H. Morgan, Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of Human Family, " Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, vol. xvii. (Washington, 1871); C. N. Starcke, The Primitive Family (London, 1889).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)