The word matriarchy is defined as 1) a family, society, or state governed by women 2) a form of social organization in which the mother is head of the family and descent is reckoned in the female line. (This latter definition actually combines matriarchy and matrilineality, however, the two are mutually exclusive.) The concept matriarchy is tried to the larger concept of Matriarchate, which was a hypothetical stage in the evolution of a society in which authority is held by women. In 19th century Western scholarship, this idea was popularized by Swiss legal historian and antiquarian Johann Jakob Bachofen. He theorized that all human societies passed through stages of barbarism and sexual promiscuity, matriarchy, and then patriarchy. Patriarchy was considered the most civilized state, while he viewed matriarchy, incorrectly identified with Afrikan society, as less civilized. American ethnologist and jurist Lewis Henry Morgan and German philosopher Frederick Engels later supported his theory. Senegalese Egyptologist, historian, scientist, and linguist Cheikh Anta Diop challenged these theorists and as a result introduced his Two Cradle Theory. However, Diop defined matriarchy as “. . . not an absolute and cynical triumph of woman over man; it is a harmonious dualism, an association accepted by both sexes, the better to build a sedentary society where each and everyone could fully develop by following the activity best suited to his physiological nature.” He provided this definition to distinguish matriarchy from Greek Amazonism. (The latter was a system imposed on men, and according to myth, the males were maimed at birth, thus making them unable to challenge the rulership of the female element.) What Diop is in fact defining is ta system that has a reciprocal sharing of power between the sexes.
Since Diop's embrace of matriarchy other Afrikan scholars have pointed out that what Diop is actually referring to is the concept of matrifocality. Afrikan societies are actually matrifocal, meaning the cultural theme has women or mothers at the center of its worldview/existence. In my book, I identify a society as either hunting, herding, or farming based on the central role these activities occupy in the respective cosmologies. In each culture discussed, these activities are associated with men. We can therefore assume the activity of men define the culture, and in this context, culture is a “masculine” phenomenon. You might assume this to be an example of patriarchy. But these “masculine” activities of men, whether hunting, herding or farming, only derive meaning from the reciprocal and “feminine” characterization of that they act upon, i.e., animals, cattle, and the earth; animals, cattle, and the earth are all considered feminine and are the pivotal and sustaining aspects of the culture. Hence, using a culture's organizational type, be it hunting, herding, or farming, along with the concept of reciprocity/harmony, and we can elicit matrifocality. That the activity of men revolves around what is defined as “feminine,” is the reason why Afrikan societies have been identified as “matrifocal” and not matriarchal.
What role do men and women play in matrifocal societies? Men and women are both macrocosms of the sperm and ovum! A woman’s role as the chief providers of sustenance in Afrikan societies is based on physiological factors that helped to define her sociological/cultural role. Her ovum’s yolk and her breast milk are indices of the feminine function, which led to her cultural role as provider of foods, most often controlling the marketplace. Having offered an explanation of how a woman’s role in Afrikan societies is determined, we turn our attention to men who in the vast majority of Afrikan cultures govern. Due to their greater physical strength, did men simply impose themselves upon women? It is possible, but not probable. It appears a man’s role is determined by the same factors as a woman’s: biology and physiology. The action of his sperm and his greater physical strength and intrepidity, led to his role as head of the society. In actuality, both male and female roles are macrocosms of human biology.
In the sperm-ovum dynamics, the sperm exerts a great effort swimming to a waiting ovum, then penetrating through its protective coating. The sperm’s action is analogous to the masculine function. Once conception occurs, though the physiological role of the male fades, his biological function continues, as it is the masculine force that initiates the course of fetal development. A sperm cell is composed of three parts: head, body or middle section, and tail. The tail primarily propels the sperm using energy generated by the body, while the head carrying its genetic material will direct fetal development. After conception, no longer sperm, but as the masculine energy inside the zygote, it continues to function. Thus, the sperm and ovum’s actions are expressed in culture in male and female roles. This is a manifestation of the law of reciprocity.
The masculine functions of initiating the reproductive process and initiating fetal development forms the basis of male governance. Reciprocally, the feminine function of housing and nourishing life is the basis of female influence in the production of food. In general, reciprocity further reveals itself in men’s influence in the social and political arenas, which is balanced by women’s power in the economic and spiritual arenas. Men “head” the village (political), and compound (social), while women are the “heart” of the marketplace (economic) and play a prominent role with the deities (spirituality). However, in all these roles balance governs the relationships and each gender still has a reciprocal voice in each arena.
Another example of the male-female relationship using microcosmicism would be the brain and heart relationship. The brain (male) directs the central nervous system administering, regulating, and coordinating bodily functions, while the heart (female) via the blood provides sustenance and sustainability. (Again we see that like in the case of the ovum, the feminine is responsible for sustenance. And in all Afrikan societies women provide the bulk of the food) Through the brain provides the heart with the impulses to beat, the brain would be unable to do so if not feed by the heart. In this way, the brain and heart reflect the relationship between man and woman in society. In essence, men are the heads of the family (and society), while women are its heart.
Is this patriarchy? What ever it is, it is what it is, LOL.