The Matriarchal Theory

Its Origin:

Historical researches of the second-half of the 19th century revealed that the Patriarchal Theory did not offer a universal solution of the problems of kinship and origin of the society. On the contrary, it was preceded by the matriarchal form of society in the prehistoric times. This view is advocated by the supporters of the Matriarchal Theory, the chief advocates of which are Mclennan (Primitive Society, 1865, Morgan (Ancient Society, 1871) Frederick Engel’s (The Origin of Family, Property and State, 1892) and Edward Jenks History of Politics, 1900).

They discovered proofs for this primeval society in the books of the ancients, such as the Epics of Homer, and in the existing primitive peoples of Australia, Madagascar, Malayan and Indonesian islands, the Red Indians of America and the tribes of South India. We may say, therefore, that the matriarchal society has existed down to the present day on the periphery of the civilised world of Asia, North America and Europe.


Matriarchal Theory stains with the idea that, instead of the family and permanent marriage union, the primeval society consisted of matriarchal groups or ‘packs’ Man was then in the hunting stage of primitive history. He depended on the bounty of nature, and subsisted on the fruits or berries of the forests, and on the animals killed by the ‘pack’ or totem-group of men, women and children living together. In this primitive society, marriage and family were unknown. Sexual relations were prohibited between men and women within the same ‘pack’. But these relations were temporarily permitted between men and women of two definite ‘packs’ or totem-groups which dwelt together during a particular season.

Children bom to the women of a ‘pack’ became its members. They did not know their ‘fathers’ in the other ‘pack’, for maternity was a fact, while paternity was unknown. AH relations of kinship and descent were traced “only through the mother. Property or private possessions were unknown. Women were the equals of men. As wealth was unknown, there was no question of inequality. Matriarchy society was peaceful and war too was unknown.

At last the matriarchal society changed. The factors of change were the invention of tools and implements, the domestication of animals and, above all, the discovery of agriculture. These inventions and discoveries transformed the wandering hunters of the matriarchal society into patriarchal tribes. Property relations in land domestic animals and household possessions began. Women were confined to household duties and men took to the hard labour of the outdoor work. Sexual relations between a man and woman or women became permanent union for procreation and property inheritance.

The equality of the matriarchal “pack” was replaced by the inequality of the Matriarchal tribe. Powerful tribes, either because of wealth or of numbers, began to fight the weak tribes. Thus war began. This increased the importance of men as opposed to women. The male became the ruler, as a father within family, and as a chief within his tribe. All relations of kinship and descent came to be traced through the father alone. In this way, the patriarchal society arose in primitive times.


There is much to commend in the Matriarchal Theory. It has thrown a flood of light on the prehistory of Man. It has filled the gaps left unexplained by the Patriarchal Theory. It docs not refute but rectifies the lacunae in the Patriarchal Theory. It has shown that the primitive society was far more complex in organisation than the Patriarchal Theory would have us believe. It gives more sound explanation of the origin and evolution of human society.

It has, however, the same demerits as the Patriarchal Theory; it does not so much explain the origin of the State as that of the society. Moreover, as Dr. Leacock has pointed out, there does not seem any adequate proof for regarding it as the universal and necessary beginning of society. Lastly, kinship and family alone are not sufficient to explain the origin and development of the State.