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Matrilineality is a system in which one belongs to one's mother's lineage.

A matriline is a line of descent from a female ancestor to a descendant (of either sex) in which the individuals in all intervening generations are female. In a matrilineal descent system (uterine descent), an individual is considered to belong to the same descent group as his or her mother. This is in contrast to the more currently common pattern of patrilineal descent. Patrilineal descent systems have not always been so common. Logically, it is easier to identify who the mother of a child is than the father.

The uterine ancestry of an individual is a person's pure female ancestry, i.e. a matriline leading from a female ancestor to that individual.


Matrilineality may also involve the inheritance of property or titles through the female line. However, the latter does not always hold; in some societies, titles or property went to the male heir(s) of the nearest female relative. (Basically, two such forms are: 1. from uncle to nephew, and 2. from grandfather to grandson.)

On inheritance by matrilineal kinship (uterine kinship), see matrilineal succession.

In some cultures, membership of a group is inherited matrilineally. For example, Jewish law holds that one is a Jew if one's mother (rather than one's father) is a Jew.

Other examples of matrilineal cultures are the Minangkabau culture of West Sumatra, the Nairs, Bunts and Kurichiyas of Kerala, India, the Khasi and Garo of Meghalaya, India, the Naxi of China, and the Gitksan of British Columbia.

In the ancient kingdom of Elam, the succession to the throne was matrilineal, and a nephew would succeed his maternal uncle to the throne.

Genetic genealogyEdit

Main article: Genealogical DNA test

The fact that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is maternally inherited enables matrilineal lines of individuals to be traced through genetic analysis.

Mitochondrial Eve (mt-mrca) is the name given by researchers to the woman who is the matrilineal most recent common ancestor for all living humans, from whom all mtDNA in living humans is derived. She is believed by some to have lived about 150,000 years ago in what is now Ethiopia, Kenya or Tanzania. The time she lived is calculated based on the molecular clock technique of correlating elapsed time with observed genetic drift.


Orthodox Judaism states that, to be a Jew, one must be either a proselyte or the child of a Jewish mother. This ruling is not mentioned directly in the Bible, but derives from the Oral law (Mishnah tractate Kiddushin 3:12). The Talmudic commentary finds scriptural proof from various verses in the Torah and the rest of Tanakh (the Jewish Bible).

Historians have cast doubt on the claim that Judaism has always been matrilineal. Indeed, there are several instances in the Bible where Jewish men marry gentile women without direct mention of the women converting. (The standard view among historians seems to be that the very notion of conversion with a mikvah is postbiblical.) Apparently the offspring of such unions was considered to be Jewish; the Book of Ruth seems to claim such ancestry for King David himself; however, the Talmud (Yevamoth 47b) asserts that Ruth was a convert to Judaism, and derives the laws of proselytes from the exchange between Naomi and Ruth. Even if Ruth was not Jewish, it would not affect the Jewishness of King David, as that would only depend upon whether his mother was Jewish, whereas Ruth was King David's paternal great-grandmother. Flavius Josephus refers to marriages between Jewish men and Gentile women without much commentary, and seems to assume that the offspring is Jewish (or, according to one of his statements, "half-Jewish") (Antiquities of the Jews 16.225, 18.109, 18.139, 18.141, 14.8-10, 14.121, 14.403); as is usual in prerabbinic texts, there is no mention of conversion on the part of the Gentile spouse. On the other hand, Philo of Alexandria calls the child of a Jew and a non-Jew a nothos (bastard), regardless of whether the non-Jewish parent is the father or the mother (On the Life of Moses 2.36.193, On the Virtues 40.224, On the Life of Moses 1.27.147).

The view of matrilineal descent as originating at the time of Yavneh is openly held by scholars affiliated with the Conservative movement. At the same time, matrilineal descent is the norm in Conservative halakha; if a Conservative synagogue accepts patrilineal descent ritually, it is generally expelled from the movement. On the other hand, polls conducted by the Conservative movement show that 68% of all regular attendants to Conservative synagogues support patrilineal descent.

Some groups of Jews have historically recognized only patrilineal descent, e.g. the Juhurim of the Northern Caucasus, and other Jewish groups of Central Asia.

Reform Judaism in the U.S. officially adopted a bilineal policy in 1983: one is a Jew if either of one's parents is Jewish, provided that either (a) one is raised as a Jew, by Reform standards, or (b) one engages in an appropriate act of public identification. This declaration formalized what had been Reform policy in practice for at least a generation. Clause (b) has been generally interpreted as making any form of public self-identification sufficient, though some congregations may make more formal requirements - especially if the individual in question has been raised as a Christian.

Other movements within the World Union for Progressive Judaism have adopted essentially the same position as U.S. Reform Judaism. These include: Liberal Judaism in England; Reconstructionist Judaism in the US, Canada and elsewhere; Progressive Judaism in Australia; one congregation in Austria; some congregations in Eastern Europe. Note that Reform Judaism in Canada and England adopts a different position, closer to the Orthodox one, at least in some congregations.

Many secular and non-religious Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere adopt a bilineal view similar to that detailed above. In Israel, the status quo is that the Orthodox definition is followed: the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother may immigrate to Israel (and may claim rights under the Law of Return), but will be registered in official documents as a non-Jew. The consequences are various: he/she may not be wedded inside the state to anybody considered to be officially a Jew, and he/she may not be buried in a military cemetery if he/she dies in battle.

Priesthood in Judaism (Kohen status) is inherited patrilineally; the same applies to membership of the tribes (e.g. Levi) and royalty (Davidic line).

South Indian matrilinyEdit

Main article: Aliya Kattu

South Indian society was matrilineal for greater part of the history. In fact, the regions of Kerala and coastal Karnataka(also known as, Tulu Nadu) were matrilineal until the 20th century. However, almost all of Andhra Pradesh and with few exceptions, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were patriarchal since known history. Except for few religious observances, the system is dead even in its traditional regions.

In Indo-European mythsEdit

While Indo-European peoples are mainly patriarchal and patrilinear, certain ancient myths have been shown to expose ancient traces of matrilineal customs. Namely, the fact that while the royal function was a male privilege, power devolution came through women, and the future king inherited power through marrying the Queen heiress.[1]

This is illustrated in the Homeric myths where all the noblest men in Greece vie for the hand of Helen (and the throne of Sparta ), as well as the Oedipian cycle where Oedipus weds the widow of the late king at the same time he assumes the Theban kingship. This trend is also evident in many Celtic myths, such as the (Welsh) mabinogi of Culhwch and Olwen, or the (Irish) Ulster Cycle, most notably the key facts to the Cúchulainn cycle that Cúchulainn gets his final secret training with a warrior woman, Scáthach, and becomes lover to both her and her daughter; and the root of the Táin Bó Cuailnge, that while Ailill may wear the crown of Connacht, it is his wife Medb who is the real power, and she needs to affirm her equality to her husband by owning chattels as great as he does. A number of other Breton stories also illustrate the motif, and even the Arthurian legends have been interpreted in this light by some.


  1. Graves, R., The Greek Myths

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

es:Matrilinaje fr:Famille matrilinéaire id:Matrilinealnl:Matrilineariteitru:Матрилинейность fi:Matrilineaarinen zh:母系社会

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