Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary


Matriliny is a way of reckoning kinship descent and belonging through the female line. This entry discusses some of the forms matrilineal kinship may take in practice before considering how anthropologists have understood matriliny since the mid-twentieth century. It looks in turn at three dominant (mis)understandings of matriliny, namely: (1) that matriliny is simply another way of structuring male authority and thus of no meaningful consequence for women; (2) that matriliny is inherently ‘puzzling’; and (3) that matriliny is doomed by its inevitable fragility in the face of economic change. In the light of more recent anthropological approaches to kinship, and increasingly nuanced attention to gender relations, all three of these approaches can be understood as very much ‘of their time’. The entry concludes by briefly introducing two more recent ethnographic accounts that signal the ongoing relevance of matriliny to the lives of men and women in parts of post-colonial Africa. While matriliny is found in many different areas of the world, this entry focuses on what has been called south-central Africa’s ‘matrilineal belt’, which extends from western Congo, through northern Zambia, central and southern Malawi, and northern Mozambique.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Sept 2016


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