Modern paleontology and archeology see all humanity as coming out of Africa, with the oldest forms of human culture therefore arising on that continent. Because of European colonialism and racism, however, it was not until the mid-1950s that Africans, themselves, began to gain a voice in discussions of African culture, with Diop 1959 (discussed above) entering importantly into the conversation.

Central Africa

Richards produced two foundational works on the Bantu-speaking, matriarchal peoples, particularly the Bemba 1950, 1956, while Lebeuf 1963 analyzed the socio-political equilibrium of African queendoms, which for her time constituted revolutionary insights about the political power of African women. Mair followed on African marriage 1969, while Poewe 1981 looked at matrilineage as social structure. Sweetman's study 1984 presented a considerable number of African queendoms.


Richards, Audrey I. “Some Types of Family Structure among the Central Bantu.” In Alfred Reginald Radcliff-Brown and Daryll Forde, eds. African Systems of Kinship and Marriage. London: Oxford University Press, 1950, 207–251.

Richards analyzed familial patterns among the Bemba people, which together with the neighbouring Luapula people, shared a common pride in a glorious history of the once-powerful queendoms of the area. But, given the prejudices of her day, she did not directly identify their historical queendoms as matriarchal. Although many Indigenous structures were damaged by colonialism, the matriarchal patterns remained.


Richards, Audrey I. Chisungu: A Girl's Initiation Ceremony among the Bemba of Northern Rhodesia. London: Routledge, 1956.

Chisungu laid out what Richards identified as the most important festival in Bemban extended families and villages, a girl's initiation into adulthood. The ceremony stood in the context of the cult of female and male ancestors, as it had in each society of this type. Again, she did not directly identify the structures as matriarchal.


Lebeuf, Annie. “ The Role of Women in the Political Organization of African Societies.” In Denise Paulme, ed. Women of Tropical Africa. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963, 93–119.

Annie Lebeuf analyzed the different types of female-male double regency in the African queendoms 1963, forcefully showing that both heads of the realm exercised power in a complementary way, maintaining equilibrium in all spheres of their actions.


Mair, Lucy Ph. African Marriage and Social Change. London: Frank Cass and Co., 1969.

The problematic study of African marriage by Lucy Mair 1969 was unfortunately influenced by Claude Levi-Strauss's theory, in which women lacked any sphere of action of their own, being nothing more than objects of economic exchange between men. Because of her generalization using Levi-Strauss's unsubstantiated theories, Mair's non-cooperating material presented confusing and contradictory assertions about women's roles.


Poewe, Karla O. Matrilineal Ideology: Male-Female Dynamics in Luapula, Zambia. London-New York: Academic Press, 1981.

Poewe jettisoned the anthropological fiction of universal male dominance that had so disturbed Mair's work. Using the example of the Luapula people, she showed that matrilinearity was not only a line of inheritance but also the structure of an entire social system. Nevertheless still commodating Western anthropology's discomfort with the word “matriarchy,” Poewe termed this social form “sexual parallelism.”


Sweetman, David. Women Leaders in African History. London-Ibadan-Nairobi: Heinemann, 1984.

In this well documented book, Sweetman gave an overview of the various queendoms of Africa, presenting them as permanent institutions and demonstrating that they were found all over sub-Saharan Africa, from West to East Africa, down to Central Africa, and even reaching all the way to South Africa. He showed that, in many cases, African queen-mothers had resisted colonial conquest.

North Africa

A pioneering study by Laoust-Chantréaux 1937-1939 examined the lives of Berber women, followed by Marcy 1941 on remnants of matrilinearity among the Berber. The Tuareg Berber formed the topic for two studies from Claudot-Hawad 1984 focusing on mythology in the first and politics in the second, as sources of women's power. Referring to the Berber symbology, Servier 1985 wrote a classic about the traditional religion, ceremonies and customs of the Berber people, with much attention on women. An excellent source on Kabyle Berber women are the two works by Makilam both 2007, herself Kabyle Berber.


Laoust-Chantréaux, Germaine. Kabylie coté femmes: la vie féminine à Aït Hichem, 1937–1939. Aix-en-Provence, France: Edisud, 1990.

This pioneering study performed in the late 1930s examined the lives of Berber women in the Kabyle. Laoust-Chantréaux researched at a time before great cultural disturbance, enabling her to discover much about women's traditional lives. Unfortunately, her study was not well known until published as Kabylie coté femme (meaning “the female side of Kabylie life at Aït Hichem ”).


Marcy, Georges. “ Les vestiges de la parenté maternelle en droit coutumier Berbère.” Revue Africaine 85 (1941): 187–211.

Marcy's study “ Les vestiges de la parenté maternelle ” (meaning, “traces of the matrilineage”) identified many remnants of an early matrilinearity among the Berber. It thereby contradicted the many early studies, which had typically presented the Berber as purely patrilineal.


Claudot-Hawad, Hélène. “ Femme Idéale et Femme Sociale chez les Touaregs de l'Ahaggar.” In Production pastorale et société 14 (1984), 93–105.

Anthropologist Claudot-Hawad produced “ Femme ” (meaning “Woman, Ideal and Social, among the Tuaregs of the Ahaggar”) on the high status of women among the Saharan Tuareg of southern Morocco and Algeria, demonstrating the mythological, sexual and social roles of Tuareg women in stabilizing the nomadic culture.


Servier, Jean. Tradition et Civilisation Berbères: Les Portes de l'Année. Monaco: Du Rocher, 1985.

Ethnologist Jean Servier's work (whose title means “Berber Tradition and Civilization”) is a classic on the traditional religion, ceremonies, and customs of the Berber peoples, touching on many aspects of women's lives as peasants. This richly documented study references the symbology of the Berber, including an attentive and careful look at the women's elaborate decorations of their homes.


Makilam. The Magical Life of Berber Women in Kabylia. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007.

Here, indigenous Kabyle author Makilam presented traditions of crafts of the Kabyle women, such as pottery-making and weaving, both regarded as magical, lending women a significant role in traditional religion. She emphasized the pre-eminent roles of women, as defined by the Kabyle. The study confirmed that a special kind of matrilinearity existed and still exists among the Berber peoples, and Makilam explicitly placed her culture in a matriarchal context.


Makilam. Symbols and Magic in the Arts of Kabyle Women. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007.

Published simultaneously with Magical Life, Kabyle Makilam focused here on the the stages of life of women and again showed their intrinsic connexion with magic and religion and the unity of the ritualized lives of Kabyle women in the traditional society.

West Africa

A tremendous amount of attention has been focused on West African matriarchal cultures.


Early West African Matriarchal Studies

The medieval Muslim historian, al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi 1550, remains a vital historical benchmark on western African cultures. Not until the early twentieth century was serious work undertaken on matriarchy in West Africa. Rattray 1923 and 1932 described the matrilineal Akan/Ashanti, around the same time that Bernatzik 1933 offered a traveller's report on the “mother right” of Bissagos Islanders. Meyerowitz 1951, 1952 began her series of six crucial studies of the Akan of the “Ivory” and “Gold Coasts,” albeit without uttering the word “matriarchy” specifically to describe the Akan society.


Africanus, Leo [al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi]. The History and Description of Africa. 3 vols. 1550. London: Hakluyt Society, 1896.

The glories of the sixteenth-century cultural centers of Timbuktu and Jenné in West Africa still go largely ignored by Western scholars. Nevertheless, al-Hasan al-Wazzan records remain a vital primary resource, including accounts of important Ashanti states since seriously impacted by colonial invasion.


Rattray, Robert S. Ashanti. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923.

Scholarly work on the matrilineal Ashanti, a subgroup of the Akan peoples of west Africa, was begun by Rattray. Although an old work from a one-sided, Western male perspective, Ashanti richly documented the matrilineal Ashanti culture of the Ghanese coast.


Rattray, Robert S. The Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932.

Continuing his focus on the Ashanti, Rattray considered the fragmented groups of the tribes of Ghana's interior. Examining their matrilinearity, sacred kingship, and Akan languages, Rattray identified the remaining structural elements of the once-rich Bono-Mansu realm. Using dated terminology, such as “primitive,” he seemed unaware of the area's illustrious history or that the culture had been seriously eroded by internecine warfare and following colonialism.


Bernatzik, Hugo Aldoph. Geheimnisvolle Inseln der Tropen Afrikas: Frauenstaat und Mutterrecht der Bidyogo. Berlin-Wien: Deutsche Buch-Gemeinschaft, 1933.

Bernatzik offered a traveller's report (whose title translates as, “Mysterious Islands in the Tropics of Africa: Women's State and Mother Right of the Bidyogo”), describing the people of the Bissagos Islands on the coats of Guinea-Bissau. He recalled witnessing social patterns, which he described on the basis of the Bachofenian concept of “mother right.”


Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. The Sacred State of the Akan. London: Faber and Faber, 1951.

Meyerowitz incorporated Indigenous oral tradition in her study of the gold craft, the mythology, and queenly statescraft of the Akan people of the so-called “Gold Coast” of Africa, revealing the matriarchal patterns and glorious history of the Akan queendoms. The queen-mother was held to have been the founder and owner of the state.


Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. The Akan Traditions of Origin. London: Faber and Faber, 1952.

Publishing at a time when Indigenous peoples' oral histories of themselves were slighted or scorned by Western scholars, Meyerowitz made bold in this volume to take the people seriously on the subject of themselves. She reviewed their praise-chants, family genealogies, sagas and traditions of war, as well as their stories of descent from heroes in mythical times and of the original ascent from underground to aboveground.


Modern West African Matriarchal Studies

Meyerowitz 1958, 1960, 1962, and 1974 finished the last four of her six important anthropological volumes on the matriarchal Akan of the “Ivory” and “Gold Coasts,” although—p erhaps because she was writing in the mid-twentieth century— never directly identifying the culture as “matriarchal”. Nigerian scholar Amadiume 1987 emphasised matriarchal patterns of western Africa. Responding to Diop, Amadiume 1989 reprised yet softened his classic theory, making room for Islam. She was followed by Ghanese scholar Donkoh 2009, demonstrating traditional female state's leadership among the Ashanti/Asante.


Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. The Akan of Ghana: Their Ancient Beliefs. London: Faber and Faber, 1958.

In this volume, Meyerowitz concentrated on the early realms of the Akan world, much of her information deriving from valuable oral sources dating back to the 1940s. This time working from the Brong country of the northwestern Akan, she further explored the structure of the queendom in the four “cult phases” of it that she claimed to have found.


Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. The Divine Kingship in Ghana and Ancient Egypt. London: Faber and Faber, 1960.

In this volume, Meyerowitz considered the connections between the Akan concept of kingship and that of ancient Egypt, spying vestiges of ancient Central African concepts in ancient Egyptian practices and suggesting that the Akan had originated in Ethiopia, among other eastern realms.


Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. At the Court of an African King. London: Faber and Faber, 1962.

Again leaning on oral traditions, Meyerowitz depended upon high-ranking officials to act as her “informants,” including the then-sacred king of Bono-Tekyiman and publishing invaluable and rare pictures of the people in the 1940s. She documented thirty-six office-holders.


Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. The Early History of the Akan States of Ghana. London: Red Candle Press, 1974.

Citing al-Wazzan al-Fasi among her sources, Meyerowitz returned for the last time to the Akan queen states. At the time, hers was the only history specifically focusing on the Akan. Sustaining backlash in the mid-twentieth century for her use of oral tradition and for, generally, upsetting the applecart of Western lore, her later works were mostly ignored until recently.


Amadiume, Ifi. “Cheikh Anta Diop's Theory of Matriarchal Values as the Basis for African Cultural Unity.” Introduction. The Cultural Unity of Black Africa: The Domains of Matriarchy  and Patriarchy in Classical Antiquity. London: Karnak House, 1989.

Nigerian scholar Amadiume appreciated Diop's theory, but looked to temper his critique of the invasions of Africa by hinting that the prehistoric cultures of Africa were not exclusively matriarchal, but that patriarchal patterns had also developed as an African impulse.


Amadiume, Ifi. African Matriarchal Foundations: The Case of the Igbo Societies, 1987. London: Karnak House, 1995.

Here, Amadiume emphasised the matriarchal patterns of West Africa by presenting her own people. As exemplified by the Yoruba, Igbo, and other West Africans, she showed that, in spite of patriarchalization and Islamification, the women still control the markets and rule the female sphere. E xpressed in various ways, the matriarchal roots of these societies can still be felt.


Donkoh, Wilhelmina J. “Female Leadership among the Asante.” In H. Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present and Future. Toronto, Inannna Press, 2009, 117-128.

Demonstrating that female leadership among the Ashanti was not exceptional, but typical, due to the double female-male reign of the Akan/Ashanti states, Ghanese scholar Donkoh, showed the tradition of age-old and continuous female leadership among the Akan/Ashanti (Asante). In their queendoms, each Ashanti state in the past had had a female-male reign by the queen-mother and the sacred king.