Matrix Cultures: In the Web of Life

Suppressed Histories: by Max Dashu —

Matrix cultures are built on the natural fact that women bear and sustain life. So their social, economic and cultural organization follows kinship through mothers, logically enough, without having to be concerned about determining paternity, or enforcing patrilineage through a sexual double standard. All descendants of a female ancestor or a group of sisters belong to the maternal clan, including sons, brothers, and uncles. This is mother-right. 

One outstanding trait of this extended family matrix is social motherhood, shared among the women of the central generation. All sisters’ children are regarded as sisters and brothers. Aunts may be called Mother by any of their sisters’ children, even if biologically “childless.” Maternal cousins are often nursed together and this milk bond is held sacred and inviolable. Also, no child goes without if the father is out of the picture.

Sharing of food, shelter, and goods, and mutual support, assistance, and protection are fundamental values of the matrix kindreds. They focus on sustaining the life-support network, under cardinal principles of cooperation, harmony, and living peaceably. The clans are founded on the blood tie, not the legal tie of marriage. They share the substances of life: blood, milk, food and fire. This can be described as both an economic relationship and a magical bonding. 

These motherlines see themselves as part of larger circles of relationship. They reach out to other clans through giveaways and circles of redistribution. They relate to the natural world, and to each other, through linkages of each kindred to animals, plants, elements or social functions. The animal totems became an academic staple and a much-contested turf in anthropological studies of indigenous cultures. Lost in all of this was the fact that “totem” originated in an Ojibwe term ototomen, meaning maternal relatives.


Categories: Americas, Family values, Women

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