A C C O R D I N G T O G I M B U T A S
N o t " m a t r i a r c h a l" -
b u t " a m a t r i s t i c e g a l i t a r i a n G o d d e s s c i v i l i s a t i o n "
Quoting Charlene Spretnak in her article:
"Gimbutas wrote the following on the social structure of the civilization of Old Europe:
`The earliest civilizations of the world—in China, Tibet, Egypt, the Near East, and Europe—were, in all probability, matristic Goddess civilizations.
Since agriculture was developed by women [the former gatherers], the Neolithic period created optimum conditions for the survival of matrilineal, endogamous systems inherited from Paleolithic times. During the early agricultural period women reached the apex of their influence in farming, arts and crafts, and social functions. The matriclan with collectivist principles continued. ... We do not find in Old Europe, nor in all of the Old World, a system of autocratic rule by women with an equivalent suppression of men. Rather, we find a structure in which the sexes are more or less on equal footing. ... I use the term matristic simply to avoid the term matriarchy with the understanding that it incorporate matriliny. (1991. The Civilization of the Goddess. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. p. 344)
With regard to the continuity of matrilineal descent and matricentric cultures in Europe, Gimbutas further observed:
`A strong indication of the existence of matriliny in Old Europe is the historic continuity of matrilineal succession in the non-Indo-European societies of Europe and Asia Minor such as the Minoan, Etruscan, Pelasgian, Lydian, Lykian, Carian in western Turkey, Basque in northern Spain and south- west France, and the Picts in Britain before the Celts. This influence is also found in Indo- European-speaking societies—Celts, Teutons, Slavs, and Balts—who absorbed matricentric and matrilineal traditions from the rich substratum of Old European populations.”82
Meskell took Gimbutas to task for “reverse sexism” and for the supposedly far-fetched idea that Old Europe was a matrilineal, matrifocal, matristic civilization in which “there were no husbands”83—but how well-founded is such a criticism?
`The Na of China by Cai Hua, a book on the Na, a Burmo-Tibetan-speaking tribal people in the Yongning hills of Yunnan province of southern China, that the cornerstone of anthropology, the theory of kinship system (which he calls “a culture-bound notion if there ever was one”) can no longer be accepted as describing a universal social structure. Both variants of kinship theory (“descent theory” and the “alliance model”) have assumed universal patriarchal family structures and have acted as blinders on anthropology—as well as archaeology. In fact, many cultures have been observed to be matrilineal, matrilocal, and matrifocal, giving great honor and centrality to the clan mothers, who distribute material wealth and play a central role in the culture.´
Among the Minangkabau of West Sumatra in Indonesia, for example, the anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday noted that the adat ibu (women's customary law) refers to a system of symbols and a set of life-cycle ceremonial practices placing senior women at the social, emotional, aesthetic, political, and economic center of daily life along with their brothers.84
In many such cultures, children are raised in a stable household consisting of their mother and her sisters and brothers. There are lovers (and maternal aunts, uncles, grandmothers, and grand aunts and uncles) but no husbands and wives. A number of women who live or were raised in such cultures in Polynesia, Micronesia, Mexico, Panama, Saharan Africa, West and South Africa, Northeast India, Southwest India, Sumatra, Indonesia, and China traveled to Texas in 2005 to speak about the matrilineal, matrilocal, matrifocal societies in which they live, at the Second World Congress on Matriarchal Studies, held at Texas State University at San Marcos.85
Moreover, in addition to Sanday, several other anthropologists have also published particularist studies of such cultures since 1993, including Maria Lepowsky, Annette Weiner, Shanshan Du, Yang Erche (86) Namu, and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen. When one grasps how centrally important the clan mothers were, and are, to all aspects of their cultures (they are sometimes, when performing a ceremony, called a name that means “Original Mother”), one can better appreciate Gimbutas’ insight that the prehistoric personification of the powers and cycles of nature and cosmos as Goddess, often sculpted with her attendants, may well “reflect the role of an honored elder, the great clan mother, who was assisted by a council of women.”87
Indeed, a culture’s sense of the Original Mother, progenitor of all the clans, may well have been an inspiration for the metaphysical presence that also incorporated nature-based and cosmological dimensions, which Gimbutas called Goddess.
Sanday, unlike Gimbutas, has long argued that the label “matriarchy” should be used for such cultures on the grounds that there is sufficient anthropological data to require a redefining of the term. In writing the entry on “Matriarchy” for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History (2008), Sanday notes that matriarchy is part of a social ontology giving women control with their brothers over economic resources and political influence. This system of thought makes women the originators and performers of practices that authenticate and regenerate or, to use a term which is closer to the ethnographic details, that nurture the social order. 88
Power is “balanced in the sense that it is diffused among those who work in a partnership to uphold social rules and practices.” 89 Sanday’s redefinition reflects a “maternal social philosophy” that she and her colleagues have witnessed closely in action.
In short, Meskell’s criticism of Gimbutas for positing an indigenous European culture with “no husbands”—like Conkey’s and Tringham’s charge that Gimbutas was “out- dated” to propose that the indigenous cultures of Old Europe had different roles and types of work for the two sexes, and like Cynthia Eller’s sweeping dismissal in The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory—is stunningly ill founded.