Everything that goes on in society is extremely influenced by gender roles and the norms formed by the dominating gender of that culture. Most of the world is ruled by patriarchy and the current questionable political, religious, economic, and social elements of today are shaped by men. But, is that all there is in the world and was the world the same way everywhere? The answer is a No. There are a bunch of social systems that exist around the world that aren’t well known or popular in mainstream societies. Here are eight social systems that aren’t as alien as they sound.
While patriarchy is the major influence in most parts of the world, there are several communities where women lead the societies. They are known as matriarchal communities. Women are head of families and hold pivotal positions in political and social structures. Important decisions are made by women, and social norms are also made as per the preferences of women. Minangkabau in Indonesia, Bribri in Costa Rica, Khasi in India, Mosuo in China, and Nagovisi in New Guinea are some of the existing matriarchal communities in the world.
Many of the matriarchal communities are matrilineal as well. In this social system, children continue the lineage of the mother. The man often moves to his wife’s home after marriage. And the child will be given the surname of the mother and be part of her clan. In some communities, men don’t live with his wife and children but pay frequent visits. The Nair community of Kerala formerly had a matrilineal system. Majority of the community however follows the pattern of the mainstream of society now.
Matrilocal residence is a social system that is common among several tribes. A clan including three or four generations will be formed around a woman’s ancestral home. A man will be moving to his wife’s parent’s home or near their home after marriage. The daughter will be carrying the lineage of her mother to the next generation. This will form a large clan in time. The children will be raised by the mother’s clan as per their traditions.
Incestuous relationships are frowned upon and illegal in most of the countries. Modern societies are strictly against incest as it comes with inbreeding. The chances of offsprings of incestuous relationships developing genetic disorders are high. But, there were several cultures that followed this custom and believed in it.
Egyptian royalties always married their close relatives to make sure that no outsider ever has a claim to their throne. Pharaoh Tutankhamun's father married his sister. And Tutankhamun also married his half-sister Ankhesenamun. Even Cleopatra VII married her younger brother Ptolemy XIII. Their parents Cleopatra V and Ptolemy XII were also brother and sister.
Marrying siblings or close relatives were not weird for ancient royalties of Asia and America either. Rulers of the Inca empire married their siblings. The 30th emperor of Japan, Emperor Bidatsu married his half-sister Empress Suiko. Similarly, the Korean Goryeo Dynasty monarch Gwangjong married his half-sister to keep the throne away from other families. In south Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, uncle-niece marriages are still not a taboo.
Henogamy is the social system in which only one child in the family is allowed to marry and have offsprings. The goal of this system is to preserve the family properties. The privilege often goes to the eldest son. The Nambudiri Brahmin community of Tamil Nadu practices henogamy. The eldest son will marry a woman of the same caste and produce the heir of the family.
The younger sons may have relationships with women of non-Brahmin castes. The Brahmin community considers these women as concubines, not as wives. The children born in these relationships will have no right in the family properties. The younger sons in the Naboothiri community of Kerala often chose Nair women for relationships. And the children from these relationshps were brought up by the mother’s clan as the Nair community is matrilineal.
In some social systems, it is ideal to have more than one husband or wife. The system is commonly referred to as group marriage as well. Toda people of Nilgiri hills in South India used to practice polygamy. Ancient Hawaiians also used to follow a similar social system. Some tribes in Australia including Kurnandaburi, Wakelbura, and urnai also practised polygamy.
Several societies practices men to have more than one wife. This is known as polygyny. Most parts of the world, do not recognise polygyny. But, several states in Africa and Asia recognise this social culture. Many of the Muslim-majority countries recognise this social system. Gabon, Kenya, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria are some of the countries where polygyny is commomplace.
The opposite of polygyny is known as polyandry as in this social system it is ideal for women to have more than one husband. In a community of Tibetans settled in Nepal, fraternal polyandry is common. In this social system, two or more brothers will be married to the same woman, and she will have equal access to all of them. It is also associated with ‘partible paternity’ which says that a child can have more than one father. Kanak people, the indigenous Melanesian inhabitants of New Caledonia also practice polyandry. Marquesans of French Polynesia are also polyandrous.