On May 3, 2017, my colleagues, Cymone Fourshey and Rhonda Gonzales, and I will leave for a seven week research trip to Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The National Endowment for the Humanities is funding our study of the Bantu Matrilineal Belt which stretches in the East from Tanzania to Mozambique centrally through Zambia, Malawi and the DRC to the west in Angola. This is the largest group of societies that still have matrilineal social institutions in the world. The fact that they are still matrilineal defies the odds. Christian missionaries, colonial officials and the modern African "nation state" have worked hard to replace these societies with Western social institutions--but have seriously failed. Matrilineal does not equal matriarchal. Most of matrilineal societies have a sort of gender parity or heterarchy--that is where there are several centers of authority within a community. In terms of gender, this means that men may be in charge on one part of the society and women are in control of another. Key to this is that neither men nor women are supposed to dominate. The ideal is gender parity.
We plan to spend our time in rural villages and African universities gathering linguistic and oral tradition research so that everyone can understand how deep into African history are these matrifocal traditions. Most of the world views African women as victims to "African tradition" and African men. The historical evidence shows us that it was the introduction of 19th century Christianity, Western colonialism, and the new African nation states that attempt to mimic the Western nation state, that are the major cause of any major inequality. So we hope to be able to help amplify the voices of African women and quietly learn from them.
While this is an academic research project, this particular blog will attempt to understand the humor which abounds on the continent and present our trip in a fun, interesting and irreverent manner.