BARON EHRENFELS has undertaken an ambitious scheme in his analysis of mother-right in India, and that is no less than to investigate “the entire complex of problems grouped round the questions of the matriarchal system in India”. The results at which he arrives are far-reaching. He concludes that in the south-west, if not in the main peninsula, of India there have been four strata of matrilineal peoples, while a fifth is to be found in the north-east. A map indicates the distribution all over India of more or less isolated features of these matrilineal cultures, which survive as complete and functioning matrilineal societies only on the Malabar coast in the south-west, and in the Khasia and Garo Hills in the north-east. To the influence of these matrilineal cultures of the past, of which traces only now survive in the greater part of India, Baron Ehrenfels attributes a very large number of past and present features of Indian society. Thus the efflorescence of Buddhist culture in the fifth, fourth and third centuries B.C., the practice of vegetarianism, the widespread, if socially despised institution of the matrilocal marriage in which the son-in-law goes to live as a ghar-jamai in the house of his sonless father-in-law, and many familiar features of Rajput society past and present, such as the practice of johar, that is, the immolation of themselves by the women en masse when their men were defeated in warfare, and the continuing use of cattle in marriage processions, are all put down to the influence of the fourth matrilineal culture, which is held to have flourished at Mohenjodaro, while megalithic cultures, headhunting, and the practice of sacrifice by decapitation, for example, are ascribed to an earlier and more primitive stratum of matriliny. Other institutions again, child-marriage, hypergamy, bride-prices, are directly ascribed to the clash of immigrant patrilineal with pre-established matrilineal cultures, while totemism is regarded as the pure product of a patrilineal age.
Mother-right in India
By Baron Omar Rolf Ehrenfels. (Osmania University Series.) Pp. xi + 229. (London: Oxford University Press, 1941.) 12s. 6d. net.
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HUTTON, J. Mother-right in India. Nature 150, 644 (1942). https://doi.org/10.1038/150644a0