Four Conference on Matriarchy

Against the Current, No. 157, March / April 2012

Linda Thompson

THE GROWTH OF a diverse and broad international wave of feminism has led to the development of what has been called Modern Matriarchal Studies, which includes research both on ancient societies and on existing communal cultures. These studies represent work from a new layer of worldwide scholars and researchers, including indigenous women from present-day forms of matriarchal society.

The First World Congress of Matriarchal Studies, sponsored by Luxembourg’s Minister of Family and Women’s Affairs, took place in September 2003. Titled “Societies in Balance. Gender Equality, Consensus, Culture in Matrilineal, Matrifocal, Matriarchal Societies,” the conference was organized by Heide Goettner-Abendroth of the International Akademie HAGIA, Germany, and took place in Luxembourg.

At this first conference the speakers and attendees were mainly from Europe (Germany, France, Switzerland, Great Britain and Italy) as well as the United States. U.S. participants included writers Peggy R. Sanday and Riane Eisler, and Genevieve Vaughan, founding director of the Center for the Study of the Gift Economy in Austin, Texas. But speakers from China and North Africa presented on matriarchal cultures as well.

The Second World Congress on Matriarchal Studies, “Societies of Peace,” was held in 2005 at the University of San Marcos, Texas. This was not just an academic conference. The majority of women attending were from indigenous societies that are battling extinction by neoliberal patriarchies today. The final report on this Congress concluded:

“It went even beyond what had been achieved by the first congress. It included indigenous researchers, mostly women and some men, from several of the world’s still existing matriarchal societies. They came from North, Central and South America; from North, West and South Africa; from Asia, including China, Sumatra and India. This made the Second World Congress an unparalleled precedent with respect to the meeting of indigenous matriarchal speakers from all over the world. They spoke not only about the matriarchal patterns their societies have preserved, but also about the social and political problems that colonization and missionization have caused to their communities. In this way, they corrected distorted perspectives often held by non-indigenous peoples, and taught the audience about the non-violent social order of their communities.”

The third conference, “A (M)otherworld is Possible: Three Feminist Visions,” held October 23-25, 2009 at York University in Toronto, Canada,  focused on The Motherhood Movement, Matriarchal Studies, and The Gift Economy.

The final conference, “The Time is Ripe,” was held in Switzerland in May 2011. The highlight was the opening of the MatriArchive in the library town of St. Gallen. The MatriArchiv, intended for an international audience of interested persons, is a specialized academic library on contemporary and ancient matriarchal societies.

The significance of these four conferences is that they challenge bourgeois academics who still maintain that there was never a period of matriarchy. Those same academics also maintain that no matriarchal cultures exist today, just as many would have us believe that there are no significant communities of indigenous people left in the United States.

This author attended both the second and the fourth of these international conferences, and was excited to discover indigenous women and men, still living in matrilineal or matriarchal societies explaining in person their way of life and their political struggles with surrounding patriarchal societies.

To give a feel for the breadth and dynamism, for example, of the San Marcos conference, which this author attended, women came from the Ohio Seneca Iroquois, the Syilx of Okanagan Canada, and the Tygh of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, USA. There were Juchiteca from Toledo, Mexico and women from Oaxaca, among those in the forefront of recent struggles there.

There were Kuna women from the San Blas Islands of Panama; women from Samoa, New Zealand; the Akan in Ghana; the Khoe Khoe in South Africa; the Tuareg in the Central Sahar; the Berbers of Algeria; the Musuo in China; the Khasi and Garos of Northeast India; the Nayar and Kerala of Southwest India and Canada; and the Minangkabau of West Sumatra.

All spoke to how their land and their cultures are threatened by the globalization plans of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

The purposes of these world conferences was expressed in their call:

“…to initiate and encourage multicultural scientific exchange, networking, and collaboration between scholars occupied with non-ideological research on what can be described as matrilineal, matrifocal, and matriarchal societies…. the World Congresses provided the first major forum for exploring the existence of such balanced societies. A major intention of the Congress is to foster worldwide awareness and appreciation for the many marginalized and threatened ethnic groups that have preserved matriarchal patterns to the present day.”

March/April 2012, ATC 157

1 comment

  1. I unfortunately missed this conference, and since I live in Switzerland I was trying to find the MatriArchive library website in St. Gallen, but it seems it doesn’t exist anymore. Will try to contact the town directly in case there’s any other information.
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