Matrilineality is a system in which lineage is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors. In this article matrilineality also is a societal system in which one belongs to one's matriline or mother's lineage, which can involve the matrilineal inheritance of property and/or titles.
A matriline is literally a mother line; one's matriline is one's mother and her mother and her mother and... ad infinitum, one's nearly infinite line of mothers; clearly one's matriline is also a line of descent for one. One's mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has automatically descended down this same line from mother to child, whether or not a surname came down with it. One's matriline is thus one's pure female ancestry, and is also sometimes called one's uterine ancestry.
Matrilineal is simply the adjective form of the noun matriline. The corresponding adjective form, mother-line, is easier to use, with only three syllables. Mother-line and matrilineal will be used interchangeably, and similarly father-line and patrilineal.
A matriline, defined above, also may be given a restricted definition closer to Webster's as follows: A matriline is a line of descent from a female ancestor to a descendant (of either sex) in which the individuals in all intervening generations are mothers. In a matrilineal descent system an individual is considered to belong to the same descent group as her or his mother. This matrilineal descent is in contrast to the more common modern pattern of patrilineal descent which underlies the whole Family name article, for example.
In some cultures, membership in their groups is inherited matrilineally; examples of this cultural practice include many ancient cultures and continues in the contemporary cultures of those ancient origins such as Huron, Cherokee, Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee), Hopi, Navajo, and Gitksan of North America. In the Old World cultures it is found in Ancient Egypt, the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra, (Indonesia); some Ezhavas, Nairs incuding Royal clans, and Kurichiyas of Kerala, India; Bunts, Billavas and Mogaveeras of Karnataka, Pillai caste in Nagercoil District of Tamil Nadu; the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo of Meghalaya, India; the Nakhi of China, the Basque people, the Akan, and the Tuaregs.
Matrilineal surnames or mother-line surnames are inherited or handed down from mother to daughter (to daughter) in matrilineal cultures, similar to the more familiar patrilineal surnames which are inherited or handed down from father to son (to son) in patrilineal cultures (or societies). See Family name for an in-depth treatment of patrilineal or father-line family names or surnames. Family name or surname are used interchangeably in this article -- and similarly father-line or patrilineal, and mother-line or matrilineal, as already stated in the introduction.
For clarity and for brevity, the words matriname and patriname will usually be used hereafter in place of the scientific terms matrilineal surname and patrilineal surname.
Note that the term "maternal surname" might be confused with "matriname" but maternal surname actually means mother's surname, which is a patriname (instead of matriname) for most cultures today –– see the whole Family name article. Note also that one's mother's patriname(s) may be inherited from either or both of one's mother's parents, in some patrilineal cultures in the Family name article. Such patrilineal cultures would permit matrinames to co-exist with patrinames there, as follows:
In all cultures, mtDNA is handed down (or inherited, or passed) from mother to child, and Y-DNA from father to son, whether or not any surname even exists in that society. In patrilineal cultures, the patriname is handed down from father to son with their (built-in) Y-DNA, while in matrilineal cultures such as one in China in this article, similarly the matriname is handed down from mother to daughter with their built-in mtDNA. Thus, even within a patrilineal culture, if the women of any matriline, see the introduction above, are able to choose a surname and then hand it down to successive generations (with their built-in mtDNA), by definition that surname would become a matriname within a patrilineal culture.
The usual lack of matrinames to hand down in patrilineal cultures, see the whole Family name article, makes traditional genealogy more difficult in the mother-line case than in the normal (father-line) case. After all, father-line surnames originated partly "to identify individuals clearly" and/or were adopted partly "for administrative reasons," see Family name (History); these surnames help now in searching for facts and documentation from centuries ago.
Relatively recently, in its 1979 "Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women," or CEDAW, the UN officially adopted the following provision: "States ... shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women: The same personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation."  (Italics added.) These three rights are just part of the document's long list of rights which women need to have, the same as men need them. The United States has not yet ratified this UN Convention, or multilateral treaty, see CEDAW.
Thus, in non-discriminating States, women may eventually gain the same right to their own matriname as men have traditionally had (within father-line cultures) to their own patriname. And similarly, within mother-line or matrilineal cultures, men may gain the right to their own patriname. In other words, the handing down of both matrinames and patrinames would co-exist within each culture in order to avoid discriminating against either women or men. (Note that with regard to surnames such a culture would be an ambilineal or both-lines [mother-line and father-line] culture.)
Actual use of a matriname would involve, first, the women of one's matriline choosing it (perhaps like men choosing their surnames, originally) and then, one's using it in each new daughter's birth record (or birth certificate). This use of the mother's matriname would be parallel to and symmetric with the normal use of the father's patriname in each new son's birth record. N.B., this is the above-mentioned "handing down of both" the matriname from mother to daughter and the patriname from father to son.
It should be mentioned that the patriname is always a single surname, like Smith or Jones, never a double surname like Smith-Jones or Smith Jones, see Family name – and similarly the matriname would always be a single surname, never a double surname. In contrast, the birth surname, in the birth record, may be either the matriname or the patriname, or else a double surname – containing one or even both of these, the matriname and/or patriname.
Note that one's birth surname is one's legal surname – unless one changes the latter, such as at marriage (see Name change).
Actual use of the two parents' coexisting surnames within a nuclear family is handled in the article French name in its subsection Changes of names — of course with this matriname replacing that French mother's patriname. In particular, that (French name) subsection presents the concept of a "usage" surname used by family members in their daily social lives – whereas the coexisting legal surnames (from the two parents) must be used in legal documents and may also be used in the members' professional/vocational lives.
This "Matrilineal surname" section has focused on the single surname, for simplicity and clarity, but then covers the double surname in its own subsection, which follows.
Double surnames may combine the above matriname with a normal patriname – thus providing the desired gender symmetry. The following double surname system does combine them, as proposed and discussed in a book and in a "feature" article which is available online. To illustrate this double surname system, let's say the chosen Matriname is "Mamaname" and let's use the patrinames Smith and Jones. The mother (with birth surname Mamaname-Jones, say) and the father (with birth surname Momline-Smith, say) keep their legal or birth surnames unchanged throughout their lives, with their daughters and sons receiving the gender-symmetric birth surname, Mamaname-Smith: The mother hands down the matriname part of her birth surname while, symmetrically, the father hands down the patriname part of his birth surname. In this example the order is matriname-patriname, but the reverse order patriname-matriname could equally well be used. The family in this example could choose to handle its three coexisting double surnames by using a single "usage" name in daily life, just as for single surnames. (Note, in patrilineal cultures today the mother would normally hand down a patriname instead, giving the children the birth surname Jones-Smith in this example.)
Rather than keeping their birth surnames, other parents might prefer, at marriage, to change their legal surnames to Mamaname-Smith the same as their children-to-be, so that their nuclear family would all share this one legal surname. These latter parents might continue using their birth surnames as usage names, however. And one's single surname (such as Mamaname or Smith) is permanently available (within one's birth record), if one wishes a simpler usage name such as in a profession.
Note that while single surnames have the advantage of being simpler and briefer, these double surnames do display (and record on legal documents) both matriname and patriname, and are shared by all of one's children as in this example.  
The fact that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is inherited maternally enables the matrilineal lines (or lineages) of individuals to be traced scientifically through genetic analysis, see main article, above.
Mitochondrial Eve (mt-mrca) is the name given by researchers to the woman who, by matrilineal reckoning, is the most recent common ancestor (mrca) for all living humans. She is the person from whom all mtDNA in living humans is derived.
She is believed by some to have lived about 150,000 years ago in East Africa, in or near present-day Tanzania. The time she lived is calculated scientifically, based on the molecular clock technique of correlating elapsed time with observed genetic drift, see Mitochondrial Eve.
Genetic genealogy builds upon (and helps) traditional genealogy, and the latter was handled already in the above section Matrilineal surname. For further information on genetic genealogy, or tracing of matrilineal lines via mtDNA testing, see the article Genealogical DNA test.
While Indo-European peoples mainly were patriarchal and patrilinear, certain ancient myths have been argued to expose ancient traces of matrilineal customs that existed before historical records.
Two ancient historians, Herodotus  and Strabo  are cited by Robert Graves in his translations of Greek myths as attesting that the Lycians of their times "still reckoned by matrilinear descent" as did the Carians. Namely, the fact that while the royal function was a male privilege, power devolution came through women, and the future king inherited power through marrying the queen heiress.
This is illustrated in the Homeric myths where all the noblest men in Greece vie for the hand of Helen (and the throne of Sparta), as well as the Oedipian cycle where Oedipus weds the widow of the late king at the same time he assumes the Theban kingship.
This trend also is evident in many Celtic myths, such as the (Welsh) mabinogi of Culhwch and Olwen, or the (Irish) Ulster Cycle, most notably the key facts to the Cúchulainn cycle that Cúchulainn gets his final secret training with a warrior woman, Scáthach, and becomes lover both to her and her daughter; and the root of the Táin Bó Cuailnge, that while Ailill may wear the crown of Connacht, it is his wife Medb who is the real power, and she needs to affirm her equality to her husband by owning chattels as great as he does.
A number of other Breton stories also illustrate the motif. Even the King Arthur legends have been interpreted in this light by some. For example the Round Table, both as a piece of furniture and as concerns the majority of knights belonging to it, was a gift to Arthur from Guinevere's father Leodegrance.
Arguments also have been made that matrilineality lay behind various fairy tale plots which may contain the vestiges of folk traditions not recorded.
For instance, the widespread motif of a father who wishes to marry his own daughter -- appearing in such tales as Allerleirauh, Donkeyskin, The King who Wished to Marry His Daughter, and The She-Bear -- has been explained as his wish to prolong his reign, which he would lose after his wife's death to his son-in-law. More mildly, the hostility of kings to their daughter's suitors is explained by hostility to their successors. In such tales as The Three May Peaches, Jesper Who Herded the Hares, or The Griffin, kings set dangerous tasks in an attempt to prevent the marriage.
Fairy tales with hostility between the mother-in-law and the heroine -- such as Mary's Child, The Six Swans, and Perrault's Sleeping Beauty -- have been held to reflect a transition between a matrilineal society, where a man's loyalty was to his mother, and a patrilineal one, where his wife could claim it, although this is predicated on such a transition being a normal development in societies.
In the ancient kingdom of Elam, the succession to the throne was matrilineal, and a nephew would succeed his maternal uncle to the throne. The royalty of Ancient Egyptian dynasties was carried by its women as well. There appears to be some evidence for the presence of matrilineality in pre-Islamic Arabia, but it turns out to have been present in a very limited number of the Arabian peoples (first of all among the Amirites of Yemen, and among some strata of Nabateans in Northern Arabia) ; on the other hand, there does not seem to be any reliable evidence for the presence of matrilineality in Islamic Arabia, although the Fatimid Caliphate claimed succession from the Islamic Prophet Mohammad via his daughter Fatima.
A modern example from Africa is the order of succession to the position of the Rain Queen in a culture of matrilineal primogeniture: Not only is dynastic descent reckoned through the female line, but only females are eligible to inherit.
Occupied for 10,000 years by Native Americans, the land that would become New Jersey was overseen by clans of the Lenni-Lenape, who farmed, fished, and hunted upon it. The pattern of their culture was that of a matrilineal agricultural and mobile hunting society that was sustained with fixed, but not permanent, settlements in their clan territories.
Villages were established and relocated as the clans farmed new sections of the land when soil fertility lessened and when they moved among their fishing and hunting grounds by seasons. The area was claimed as a part of the Dutch New Netherland province dating from 1614, where active trading in furs took advantage of the natural pass west, but the Lenape prevented permanent settlement beyond what is now Jersey City. Although the women were the leaders of the clans, the Dutch were oblivious of that and preferred to deal with "the chiefs" who had to act as liaisons between the Dutch and the clans.
Several communities in South India, especially in the state of Kerala and the region of Tulu Nadu practice matrilineality. The system of inheritance is known as Marumakkathayam. It is exceptional in the sense that it was one of the few traditional systems in western historical records of India that gave women liberty and right to property. Under this system, women enjoyed respect, prestige, and power similar to that recorded for the women of Ancient Egypt.
In the matrilineal system, the family lives together in a tharavadu which is composed of a mother, her brothers and younger sisters, and her children. The oldest male member is known as the karanavar and is the head of the household, managing the family estate. Lineage is traced through the mother, and the children belong to the mother's family. All family property is jointly owned. In the event of a partition, the shares of the children are clubbed with that of the mother. The karanavar's property is inherited by his nephews and not his sons.
The Kerala rulers also followed the 'Marumakkathayam' system, where the throne is succeeded by the King's sister's children, rather than his own.
The Marumakkathayam system is not very common in Kerala these days for many reasons. Kerala society has become much more cosmopolitan and modern. Men seek jobs away from their hometown and take their wives and children along with them. In this scenario, a joint-family system is not viable. However, there still are a few tharavads that pay homage to this system. In some families(Nair/Nayar), the children carry the last name or surname of their mother instead of the father and are considered part of the mother's family, and not the father's. Tharavadu names are quite an important element of social standing.
Among most Akan of Ghana, the family line is matrilineal - in that it passes through the mother to her children. A man is strongly related to his mother's brother (wɔfa) but only weakly related to his father's brother. This must be viewed in the context of a polygamous society in which the mother/child bond is likely to be much stronger than the father/child bond. As a result, in inheritance, a man's nephew (sister's son) (wɔfase) will have priority over his own son. Uncle-nephew relationships therefore assume a dominant position.
The successor also inherits the deceased’s social and political status. Although men inherit from fellow men and women from fellow women, a woman may inherit from a man if she is the only suitable candidate. Inheritance by women is not as complex as that of men, for rarely do men inherit from women. Is there any reason behind this? An elderly woman informant asked back: “How would the man take the woman’s place among other women in the community, or how would he wear or use her clothes and other possessions?”
Lineage property has to be inherited only by a member of the matrikin; in contrast, self-acquired property can be given as a gift to anyone the deceased so wishes. The Akan inheritance and succession system stipulates that property and status are transferred from the mother’s brother to sister’s son. It is, however, a more complex principle than the usual examples given in anthropological explanations. When a man’s brothers are available, a consideration of generational seniority stipulates that the line of brothers must be exhausted before the right to succeed passes down to the next senior genealogical generation of sister’s sons.
Originally, Chinese surnames were derived matrilineally, although by the time of the Shang Dynasty they had become patrilineal.  The Chinese character for "surname" (姓) still contains a female radical, suggesting its matrilineal etymology.
Archaeological data supports the theory that during the Neolithic period, Chinese matrilineal clans evolved into a patrilineal property-owning families by passing through a transitional patrilineal clan phase. Evidence includes elaborate and highly adorned burials for young women in early Neolithic Yangshao culture cemeteries, but increasing elaboration of male burials toward the late Neolithic period. 
Relatively isolated ethnic minorities such as the Mosuo (Na) in southern China are highly matrilineal, and use matrilineal surnames or family names (see the Matrilineality section of the Mosuo article).
The Tuareg (Arabic:طوارق, sometimes spelled Touareg in French, or Twareg in English) are a Berber ethnic group or nation in Africa. The Tuareg are matrilineal, though not matriarchal. Tuareg is a name that was applied to them by early explorers and historians (since Leo Africanus), but they call themselves variously Kel Tamasheq, Kel Tamajaq "Speakers of Tamasheq", and Imouhar, Imuhagh, Imazaghan, or Imashaghen "the Free people".
The meaning of the word Twareg long has been discussed, since it does not seem Berber. Probably it is Twārəg, the "broken plural" of Tārgi, a Ḥassānīya Arabic word whose former meaning was "inhabitant of Targa" (the Tuareg name of the Libyan region commonly known as Fezzan; targa in Berber means "[drainage] channel"). The Tuareg people also identify themselves with the concept Tamust, "The Nation".
The Tuareg today are found mostly in West Africa, but, as were many in Northern Africa, they once were nomads throughout the Sahara. They have a little-used, but ancient script known as Tifinagh. Some evidence indicates that a climatic change in northern Africa disrupted prehistoric Berber cultures that predated the Ancient Egyptians and they relocated, becoming nomads.
Matrilineality in Judaism is the view that people born of a Jewish mother are themselves Jewish. . The conferring of Jewish status through matrilineality is not stated explicitly in the Torah, though Jewish oral tradition maintains this was always the rule, and adduces indirect textual evidence. In biblical times, many Israelites married foreign women, and their children appear to have been accepted as Israelite without question; the Talmud understands that the women in question converted to Judaism.
In the Hellenistic period, some evidence indicates that the offspring of intermarriages between Jewish men and non-Jewish women were considered Jewish; as is usual in prerabbinic texts, there is no mention of conversion on the part of the Gentile spouse. On the other hand, Philo of Alexandria calls the child of a Jew and a non-Jew a nothos (bastard), regardless of whether the non-Jewish parent is the father or the mother .
The Mishnah (Kiddushin 3:12) states that, to be a Jew, one must be either the child of a Jewish mother or a convert to Judaism. The Talmud (Kiddushin 68b) derives this law from the Torah. The relevant Torah passage (Deut. 7:3-4) reads: "Thy daughter thou shalt not give to his son, nor shalt thou take his daughter to thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods."
With the emergence of Jewish denominations and the modern rise in Jewish intermarriage in the 20th century, questions about the law of matrilineal descent have assumed greater importance to the Jewish community at large. The heterogeneous Jewish community is divided on the issue of "Who is a Jew?" via descent; matrilineal descent still is the rule within Orthodox Judaism, which also holds that anyone with a Jewish mother has an irrevocable Jewish status, and matrilineal descent is the norm in the Conservative movement. Since 1983, Reform Judaism in the United States of America officially adopted a bilineal policy: one is a Jew if either of one's parents is Jewish, provided that either (a) one is raised as a Jew, by Reform standards, or (b) one engages in an appropriate act of public identification, formalizing a practice that had been common in Reform synagogues for at least a generation. Karaite Judaism, which includes only the Tanakh in its canon, interprets the Torah to indicate that Jewishness passes exclusively through the father's line, maintaining the system of patrilineality that many scholars believe was the practice of ancient Israel.
Matrilineality is a system in which one belongs to one's mother's lineage.
A matriline is a line of descent from a female ancestor to a descendant (of either sex) in which the individuals in all intervening generations are female. In a matrilineal descent system (uterine descent), an individual is considered to belong to the same descent group as his or her mother. This is in contrast to the more currently common pattern of patrilineal descent.
The uterine ancestry of an individual is a person's pure female ancestry, i.e. a matriline leading from a female ancestor to that individual.
Mitochondrial DNA (mt-DNA) is normally inherited exclusively from one's mother - both daughters and sons inherit it all the same. As mt-DNA are sort of "cellular power plants," one's metabolism and energy conversion are much influenced by the matrilineal descent.
In some cultures, membership of a group is inherited matrilineally; examples of this include many ancient cultures such as the Egyptians and contemporary ones such as the Minangkabau culture of West Sumatra, the Ezhava, Nairs, and Kurichiyas of Kerala, India, Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka, Pillai caste in Nagercoil District of Tamil Nadu, the Khasi and Garo of Meghalaya, India, the Naxi of China, the Gitksan of British Columbia the Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee), the Hopi, the Picts and the Berbers.
In the ancient kingdom of Elam, the succession to the throne was matrilineal, and a nephew would succeed his maternal uncle to the throne.
The order of succession to the position of the Rain Queen is a modern example in an African culture of matrilineal primogeniture: not only is dynastic descent reckoned through the female line, but only females, not males are eligible to inherit.
The fact that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is maternally inherited enables matrilineal lines of individuals to be traced through genetic analysis. Mitochondrial Eve (mt-mrca) is the name given by researchers to the woman who is the matrilineal most recent common ancestor for all living humans, from whom all mtDNA in living humans is derived. She is believed by some to have lived about 150,000 years ago in what is now Ethiopia, Kenya or Tanzania. The time she lived is calculated based on the molecular clock technique of correlating elapsed time with observed genetic drift.
All of a woman's children (both boys and girls) normally inherit their mt-DNA heritage from the mother, and it consequently comes from their mother's mother, and so on, up along the family tree in exclusive matriline. As mt-DNA are sort of "cellular power plants," one's metabolism and energy conversion are much influenced by the matrilineal descent.
Already ancient physicians had an inkling about such matrilineal heredity: Galen taught that a child's physical frame will (mostly) be provided by maternal heredity.
Attempts have been made to trace fatness and slimness along matrilines in genealogies of persons whose physical details are well-archived, such as the royally stout queen Victoria I of the United Kingdom.
There has been a hypothesis that better and worse suitability to give birth would be a (maternally) hereditary physical characteristic. If so, unsuitable matrilines are highly prone to extinction, whereas suitable matrilines would prosper.
Jewish status descending through the mother is not stated explicitly in the Torah, though Jewish oral tradition maintains this was always the rule, and adduces indirect textual evidence (see below). In biblical times, many Israelites (including kings) married foreign women, without any question of the children being anything other than Israelite. The Talmud understands that the women in question converted to Judaism.
Some modern scholars have parted with the traditional position. For example, states Professor Shaye J.D. Cohen of Brown University:
Numerous Israelites heroes and kings married foreign women: for example, Judah married a Canaanite, Joseph an Egyptian, Moses a Midianite and an Ethiopian, David a Philistine, and Solomon women of every description. By her marriage with an Israelite man a foreign women joined the clan, people, and religion of her husband. It never occurred to anyone in pre-exilic times to argue that such marriages were null and void, that foreign women must "convert" to Judaism, or that the off-spring of the marriage were not Israelite if the women did not convert.
Ezra commanded his followers to divorce their foreign wives, and this has sometimes been regarded as the foundation of the present rule.
Flavius Josephus refers to marriages between Jewish men and Gentile women without much commentary, and seems to assume that the offspring is Jewish (or, according to one of his statements, "half-Jewish") ; as is usual in prerabbinic texts, there is no mention of conversion on the part of the Gentile spouse. On the other hand, Philo of Alexandria calls the child of a Jew and a non-Jew a nothos (bastard), regardless of whether the non-Jewish parent is the father or the mother . In the same vein, the Mishnah raises the possibility that the child of a Gentile father and a Jewish mother is a mamzer, though this is dismissed in the later stratum of the Talmud.
The Talmud (Kiddushin 68b) derives this law from the Torah. The relevant Torah passage (Deut. 7:3-4) reads: "Thy daughter thou shalt not give to his son, nor shalt thou take his daughter to thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods."
Chazal point out that only the child born to your daughter, though fathered by a non-Jew, is called your son (i.e., the child is Jewish). A child born to your son by a non-Jewish mother would not be called your son, but rather her son (i.e., the child is not Jewish).
Furthermore, the Torah is only concerned with the non-Jewish father turning away the Jewish child from Judaism, whereas there is no concern for the non-Jewish mother turning away the child from Judaism for the simple reason that the child is not Jewish.
This rule was clearly accepted by the 2nd century CE. While Orthodox opinion regards the rule as going back to Sinai, most non-Orthodox scholars regard it as originating either at the time of Ezra or during the period of Roman rule in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE: see the historical debate, below.
In the Middle Ages, there was a minority stream of rabbinic opinion arguing in theoretical terms for a rule that, to be Jewish by descent, both one's parents must be Jewish. In practical terms, however, the matrilineal rule remained unchallenged from Talmudic times till the twentieth century.
With the birth of alternative branches of Judaism and the rise in intermarriage in the 20th century, questions about the law of matrilineal descent arose. Children born to Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, in particular, were asking why they were not accepted as Jews. As of today, Judaism is divided on the issue of "Who is a Jew?" via descent.
Matrilineal descent is still the rule within Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Judaism also holds that anyone with a Jewish mother has irrevocable Jewish status; in other words, even if someone with a Jewish mother converts to another religion, that person is still considered Jewish.
At the same time, matrilineal descent remains the norm in Conservative halakha. In 1986, the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly reiterated the commitment of the Conservative movement to the law of matrilineal descent. Furthermore, the movement stated that any rabbi who accepts the principle of patrilineal descent will be subject to expulsion from the Rabbinical Assembly. At the same time, it affirmed that "sincere Jews by choice" should be warmly welcomed into the community and that "sensitivity should be shown to Jews who have intermarried and their families." The Conservative movement actively reaches out to intermarried families by offering them opportunities for Jewish growth and enrichment.
Polls conducted by the Conservative movement show that 68% of all regular attenders at Conservative synagogues would support changing the law to allow Jewish identity by patrilineal descent.  However, there is little rabbinic support for such a change (and, if Cohen's argument is correct, such a change could not be made without also recognising the legality of mixed marriages.)
Reform Judaism in the U.S. officially adopted a bilineal policy in 1983: one is a Jew if either of one's parents is Jewish, provided that either (a) one is raised as a Jew, by Reform standards, or (b) one engages in an appropriate act of public identification. This declaration formalized what had been Reform policy in practice for at least a generation. Clause (b) has been generally interpreted as making any form of public self-identification sufficient, though some congregations may make more formal requirements - especially if the individual in question has been raised as a Christian. In addition, the movement decided to accept people who were raised as Jews, such as adopted children, even if it was not certain that either of their parents were Jewish.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both parent and child, to Jewish life.
Other movements within the World Union for Progressive Judaism have adopted essentially the same position as U.S. Reform Judaism. These include: Liberal Judaism in England; Reconstructionist Judaism in the US, Canada and elsewhere; Progressive Judaism in Australia; one congregation in Austria; some congregations in Eastern Europe. Note that Reform Judaism in Canada and England adopts a different position, similar to that of Conservative Judaism (though there may be an accelerated conversion process for the children of Jewish fathers).
Reconstructionist Judaism, which values equity and inclusivity, also adopted the idea of patrilineal descent. According to Reconstructionist Judaism, children of one Jewish parent, of either gender, are considered Jewish if raised as Jews.
Many secular and non-religious Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere adopt a bilineal view similar to that detailed above. In Israel, the status quo is that the Orthodox definition is followed: the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother may immigrate to Israel (and may claim rights under the Law of Return), but will be registered in official documents as a non-Jew. The consequences are various: he/she may not be wedded inside the state to anybody considered to be officially a Jew, and he/she may not be buried in a military cemetery if he/she dies in battle.
Some groups of Jews have historically recognized only patrilineal descent, e.g. the Juhurim of the Northern Caucasus, and other Jewish groups of Central Asia. This is also the majority view in Karaite Judaism, though some require both parents to be Jewish.
The law of descent as currently accepted by Orthodox Judaism appears to be an exception to a generally patriarchal system of family law. For example, laws of inheritance and the descent of the monarchy follow the father. A Jew also belongs to the tribe of his or her father, so a Kohen or Levi must be the son of a Kohen or Levi. The child of a mixed Sephardi-Ashkenazi marriage generally adopts the communal identity of the father.
For this reason, many scholars suggest that the original rule of Jewish descent must have been patrilineal, and that it was changed around the time of Ezra, or even later, at the time of Yavneh, possibly under the influence of Roman law. There are several instances in the Bible where Israelite men marry Gentile women without direct mention of the women converting. For example, many of the Israelite kings married foreign princesses, and this does not seem to have prevented the children of these marriages succeeding to the throne. An example is Rehoboam, who was the son of Solomon by the Ammonite princess Naamah. Another example is the Book of Ruth, which seems to claim such ancestry for King David himself.
Historians, however, believe that the very notion of conversion with a mikvah is postbiblical. It must also be pointed out that, even if Ruth never became Jewish, this would not affect the Jewishness of King David on either a pure patrilineal or a pure matrilineal rule, as Ruth was King David's paternal great-grandmother.
A reconciliation of the evidence has been offered by Professor Shaye J.D. Cohen. However, since the time of Ezra, Jewish law has held that mixed marriages are not only forbidden but void. Accordingly, the child of such a union has no legal father, and takes the status of the mother by default; just as in English custom a legitimate child takes its father’s surname but an illegitimate child takes its mother’s. In the result, it is only in the case of a mixed marriage that the child inherits its Jewish status from the mother; in the normal case of two Jewish parents it inherits its status from the father, but the Jewishness of the mother is a necessary condition for this to happen. The practical result of this is the same as that of a purely matrilineal rule.
South west Indian society was matrilineal for greater part of the history. In fact, the regions of Kerala and coastal Karnataka (also known as, Tulu Nadu) were matrilineal until the 20th century. However, almost all of Andhra Pradesh and with few exceptions, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were patriarchal since known history. Except for few religious observances, the system is dead even in its traditional regions.
While Indo-European peoples are mainly patriarchal and patrilinear, certain ancient myths have been shown to expose ancient traces of matrilineal customs. Namely, the fact that while the royal function was a male privilege, power devolution came through women, and the future king inherited power through marrying the Queen heiress.
This is illustrated in the Homeric myths where all the noblest men in Greece vie for the hand of Helen (and the throne of Sparta ), as well as the Oedipian cycle where Oedipus weds the widow of the late king at the same time he assumes the Theban kingship. This trend is also evident in many Celtic myths, such as the (Welsh) mabinogi of Culhwch and Olwen, or the (Irish) Ulster Cycle, most notably the key facts to the Cúchulainn cycle that Cúchulainn gets his final secret training with a warrior woman, Scáthach, and becomes lover to both her and her daughter; and the root of the Táin Bó Cuailnge, that while Ailill may wear the crown of Connacht, it is his wife Medb who is the real power, and she needs to affirm her equality to her husband by owning chattels as great as he does. A number of other Breton stories also illustrate the motif, and even the Arthurian legends have been interpreted in this light by some. For example the Round Table, both as a piece of furniture and as concerns the majority of knights belonging to it, was a gift to Arthur from Guinevere's father Leodegrance, and in the French the knights regularly describe themselves as "knights of Queen Guinevere".
Chinese surnames were originally matrilineally passed, although by the time of the Shang Dynasty they had become patrilineal.  The Chinese character for "surname" (姓) still contains a female radical, suggesting its matrilineal etymology. Archaeological data supports the theory that during the Neolithic period, Chinese matrilineal clans evolved into a patrilineal property-owning families by passing through a patrilineal clan transitional phase. Evidence include elaborate and highly adorned burials for young women in early Neolithic Yangshao culture cemeteries, and increasing elaboration of male burials toward the late Neolithic period.  Relatively isolated ethnic minorities such as the Mosuo clan of the Naxi tribe in southern China are still highly matriarchal today.
The Tuareg (Arabic:طوارق, sometimes spelled Touareg in French, or Twareg in English) are a Berber ethnic group or nation. Tuareg is a name that was applied to them by early explorers and historians (since Leo Africanus), but they call themselves variously Kel Tamasheq, Kel Tamajaq "Speakers of Tamasheq" and Imouhar, Imuhagh, Imazaghan or Imashaghen "the Free people". The meaning of the word Twareg has been long discussed, since it does not seem Berber. Probably it is Twārəg, the "broken plural" of Tārgi, a Ḥassānīya Arabic word whose former meaning was "inhabitant of Targa" (the Tuareg name of the Libyan region commonly known as Fezzan; targa in Berber means "(drainage) channel"). The Tuareg people also identify themselves with the concept Tamust, "The Nation".
The Tuareg today are found mostly in West Africa, but, like many in Northern Africa, were once nomads throughout the Sahara. They have a little-used but ancient script known as Tifinagh.
The Tuareg are matrilineal, though not matriarchal.
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