Have there ever been any true matriarchal societies?

I am talking about societies where women actually ruled, and not just allowed by men to hold certain high positions.

It really depends on how you define it. A society where only women held power? Then probably not. But, matrilineal societies (where wealth and power is passed down through the mother’s family) and ones where women held most of the power (or, at least, equal with men) abound.
There are even clans today where women wield most, if not all of the power.

The “(or, at least, equal with men)” qualifier pretty much eliminates those societies in my opinion.

Well, then your answer is a definite “no”.

Let’s look at those six societies that are “totally governed by women”.

  1. Mosuo. Property is handed down through the women, but who are the political leaders?
  2. The BriBri tribe-again, the property is by matriarchal linage, but who are the leaders?
  3. The Umoja tribe is matriarchal, but only because all men are banned. This tribe was founded in 1990 and, according to Wiki, “In 2005, there were 30 women and 50 children living in Umoja. As of 2015, there were 47 women and 200 children living in the village.” This is barely a tiny village, let alone a society.
  4. The Minangkabau people certainly qualifies in size but, once again, “Women rule the domestic realm of life.” (italics mine).
  5. The Akan people. The actual leadership positions are held by men, according to your link.
  6. The Khasi tribe. Nothing in that link that hints at political leadership.

Yes, the headline of that article is sensational. And clearly they are defining “matriarchal” as power and wealth being passed down through the mother’s lineage (matrilineal). But, men are clearly not excluded from holding power (Umoja excepted).
But you are also defining power in a restricted sense: the government. It can be said that, no matter who actually sits in the government, those who control the wealth and the means of acquiring it are the ones in actual power.
It all goes back to how you define a matriarchal society. By a strict definition of power as wielded through govt and solely through women; then there has never been one.

My OP tells you what I am looking for specifically in this case.

Does this count?

There are plenty of societies where women held positions of power not just because they were allowed to by men. But, that does not make them matriarchal.
And what do you mean by positions of power? Is it just govt? Does the domestic side of society have no power in your estimation?
You may think your op lays out a clear path but it’s a question that has been debated by sociologists and archeologists for decades now.
As I said in the second post. Following a strict definition of a matriarchal society, your answer is “no”. But there’s plenty of room for nuance in a discussion such as this

By “ruled” I mean politically.

Fair enough. And I think you’ll find that you’re in the majority with that definition.
But, you should be aware that there is a large and increasing body of women’s studies that defines matriarchy (and power, for that matter) differently.

For example:


Yeah, I got the point already…but it still isn’t what I am looking for.


It can get complicated.

Among the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), men are the chiefs. But women select the chiefs, and can remove them. So who’s in charge?

Politically, that would put the women more in charge, if even only indirectly. Closer than the other examples so far.


From that link:

AIUI, there would still be lots of aspects of society that men were in charge of, such as hunting and warfare. But effective power in terms of practical influence and authority does seem to have belonged primarily to women.

I think part of the problem is that you are looking for a definition of power that is rooted in a patriarchal definition of what constitutes power.

Power emanating from a masculine view of strength where a leader is one who has vanquished others. You are not going to find a society where women dominate the power hierarchy through muscle power or military prowess. Expecting women to run a society as a mirror image of how men do, is pretty much setting the question up to fail. In the limit a testosterone fuelled ego trip based on a genetically programmed desire for the largest harem and offspring is not going to be how I might expect a female run power structure to be driven.

Then there is the question as to what constitutes political power. Again this contains a whole slew of assumptions. In the end power belongs to whoever’s word rules. There are plenty of societies where the notional political leaders are beholden to other powers. In the wider sense of power, all power hierarchies are political, and it makes no sense to use the word political as a modifier on power. No matter who holds sway, their power is political.

I think you’re reading more into what Czarcasm asked then what he stated. He isn’t requiring anyone to have been vanquished and was pretty clearly in the OP that he’s asking for any society that was truly matriarchal. So far, for the most part, we’ve gotten examples where women have held important decision making positions but not one where they outright ruled.

Well he keeps rejecting examples of where women hold significant power. The requirement seems to be for absolute power with no male power at all. My point is that this is a very patriarchal view of power. It requires a mirror image of absolute male power. The answer is always going to be more nuanced otherwise the question sets itself up for failure.
A society where women are the ultimate powers behind the throne seems to fail because there is a notion that if there is even a puppet male political hierarchy it can’t be matriarchal. That projects a masculine view of power on the reality.
Power resides in those whose word holds sway. Nobody else.