The Cultural Unity of Black Africa_ The Domains of Patriarchy and of Matriarchy in Classical Antiquity


For this book review I have selected the 1953 work of Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop, entitled The Domains of Patriarchy and of Matriarchy in Classical Antiquity. It was originally published in France, but by 1990 it was translated into English and published in the United States under the title The Cultural Unity of Black Africa. Diop’s works are respected in many international circles for being part of the scientific and historical movement of re-examining human history and development and redefining our history. This has been deemed an important task to challenge theories of human development created during European colonialism and chattel slavery. In this book, what are examined are the family systems of matriarchy and patriarchy and the relationship they share with environmental conditions and the two general types of state formations that arise from the two.
Diop challenges the classical theory of a “Universal Matriarchy.” This theory states that there was a transition from matriarchy to patriarchy and that humanity socially evolved in that order. Diop points out that from the beginning that humanity was divided into two distinct geographical “cradles” that were more favorable for the development of either matriarchy or patriarchy. These groups came into contact with each other and either existed harmoniously or in conflict. Sometimes one system would be superimposed on one another.
Matriarchy & Patriarchy
Matriarchy can be defined as the family system that is determined by the female and her line of descent. Power in that society is primarily determined by female right. Patriarchy is different. The line of descent and ultimately the group’s political power is determined by the male. In the opening of the book he critiques the work of J.J. Bachofen, Lewis Morgan and Frederick Engels. When they looked at non-European societies they interpreted them to be mainly matrilineal. Diop’s work tries to extend that women in these societies had respected rights. As an example, in these societies the man brings the dowry to the woman. She does not leave her family group and she can expulse him from the relationship if he is not a good provider and etc. The children always stay with her group regardless of the contradictions that lead to a separation of the parents.
In Diop’s work he points out that the struggle between the matriarchy and the patriarchy was resolved differently in Africa than it was in Europe or in other societies. Using the Aborigines of Australia as an example, both systems merged. In Europe, a dying husband was able to sell his wife or select an eventual husband for her. By contrast, women of ancient Ethiopia had rights equal to men and political power. Ethiopia was the first recorded country in the world to have been ruled by a queen.
Matriarchy, according to Diop, is not an absolute domination of women over men. It is important to point that out because people conceive matriarchy to be the reverse of patriarchy where they confuse it to be a relationship based on domination. Instead it is a harmonious dualism accepted by both sexes. Where each person fully develops by following the activity best suited to his/her physiological nature. Matriarchy is to not be confused with amazonism.
Southern Cradle
The southern cradle of humanity, according to Diop, is the global area that favored agricultural development. From this a different social system developed that favored matriarchy, territorial state formations, the emancipation of women in domestic life. Its moral ethic was based on social collectivism.
It is in stable and stationary society that a tomb can be justified to remember ancestors. According to Diop, it is impossible to find any trace of the practice of cremation in an agricultural land such as Africa from antiquity to the present day. He adds that anywhere that the ritual of cremation is found



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