Humanity did not always live under this pernicious system that is oppressive to women.Although there are no written records before 3100 BCE(1) when the Sumerians invented writing,archaeologists have been able to piece together a comprehensive knowledge of the pre-historical recordby unearthing human bones and burial artifacts. Synthesizing these records with travellers’ accounts of the nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples and the 20th century anthropological and ethnological research on aboriginal peoples, we now know that hunter-gatherer societies of the Palaeolithic period (about 50,000-18,000 BCE), were egalitarian and peaceful matri-centric bands or clans. So were the societies of the Mesolithic period (about 18,000 – 10,0000 BCE) when early agriculture with hand-held digging sticks or hoes was introduced by women. These peoples were economically transitional between hunting-gathering and feminine agricultural practices. They were semi-nomadic foragers, with a primary home-base used for part of the year that was sedentary and agricultural.
In hunter-gatherer societies, where many wrongly assume male muscle strength should have had a role in the domination of women by men, there was equality between the genders and women had a central position in socio-economic life. The centrality of women’s role resided in the fact that not only did they bring children into the world, but also their main occupation, food gathering, was vital and central to the survival of the community. While men went out hunting for months and sometimes came back empty-handed, women made sure that children and older people ate on a daily basis. Hunting is low yield / high risk activity, while gathering is high yield / low risk occupation. Sexual relationships of the members of these clans or bands happened with the outsiders (exogamy) and with several of them (polygyny and polyandry.) The role of men in procreation was unknown to humanity throughout the Stone Age.
In Neolithic period (about 10,000 to 4000 BCE), women used polished stone axes, invented pottery and plaster, domesticated animals (2) and plants, and practiced agriculture with hoe. The feminine agriculture and the keeping of the domesticated animals by women (different from animal husbandry) led to sedentism, the transformation of life-style from nomadic to permanent, year-round settlements. These inventions and cultural transformations, which were carried out exclusively by women, constitute the Neolithic Revolution. While exogamic marriages did exist during the Stone Age, they never led to the formation of the institution of family. The horticultural villages of the Neolithic period were based on matri-centric, egalitarian and peaceful clans. These clans were matrilineal: the mother and her brother were seen as the parents and children took their mother’s name; the inheritance passed on to the daughter or the mother’s brother. They were also matrilocal: mother, daughters, and children all lived together in one residential unit. They venerated, not a male God, but mostly Goddesses (e.g., Çatal Hüyük, a peaceful Neolithic city in Turkey (7500-5500 BCE) with developed agriculture and domesticated animals, where women played a prominent role in the spiritual practices, as well as the production of goods and commerce activities.)
It is important to note two important historical facts about the Stone Age:
1. No archaeological, ethnographic or anthropological records demonstrate, in human history, the existence of a matriarchal society, a correspondent copy of patriarchal system, where women dominated men and children. Indeed, with the uncovering of the origin of patriarchy, it will become clear why women, as a social category, were never motivated to dominate men and children.
2. One of the most important historical facts that determined the equality between the sexes all along the Stone Age was that Humanity did not know about the biological role of male animal and that of man in the procreation. It was thought that pregnancy happened because women had magical powers, because a mysterious power acted, or under the influence of a food, etc. Numerous ethnographic documents show that various aboriginal tribe of Australia such as the Kariera, Namal, Injibandi and Aruntas, the Trobriand-Islanders, indigenous peoples of New Zealand and Borneo, the Bagandas of Central Africa, and the Kais of New Guinea ignored the connection between sexuality and birth. Bronislaw Malinowski, the British anthropologist who spent a couple of decades living and researching among the matrilineal inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands, writes:
‘’Their attitude to their own children also bears witness to their ignorance of any causal relation between congress and the ensuing pregnancy. A man whose wife has conceived during his absence will cheerfully accept the fact and the child, and he will see no reason at all for suspecting her of adultery. One of my informants told me that after over a year’s absence he returned to find a newly-born child at home. He volunteers this statement as an illustration and final proof of the truth that sexual intercourse has nothing to do with conception.’’(Malinowski, 1929:193).
And Gordon Childe, the Australian archaeologist and prehistorian, concludes:
‘’As neither male personages nor phallic were thus represented in Palaeolithic and early Neolithic cultures, it may be assumed that, as among some contemporary tribes, the part of the father in reproduction has not yet been appreciated.’’ (Childe,1963, PP.64-65)
I will be writing in details about the matri-centric societies of the Stone Age, later on.
(1) Before Common Era.
(2) Dog was domesticated before the Neolithic period, between 30,000 to 14,000 BCE.
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