Is it time to look again at matrilineal inheritance?

Tuesday, October 18, 2022.

Last week, on a professional platform, I brought up something I have talked about privately for almost two decades – I questioned the matrilineal inheritance of some of the Akans (including Asantes).

In matrilineal inheritance, a nephew (not son) is heir. Part of the reason is/was that a child is sure to belong to/be related to a woman but one cannot be sure that the man is father of the child. So your sister’s son is your relative, but your wife’s child may not be your relative. He may be someone else’s son…

In modern times, with assisted reproductive technology and DNA testing, shouldn’t this change? A man can tell with DNA testing if he is father of a child (who can then become his heir). Your sister’s child now may not be your relative as the pregnancy might have been from a donor egg (not from your family). The child is not related to you in any way, only spent some nine months in your sister’s womb.

Isn’t it time for our cultures to embrace science?


Response 1:

I am not quite sure it’s only validation of paternity that justifies matrilineal inheritance in Akans(Asantes). I was once told an Ashanti King’s wife refused to offer his child for sacrifice, for the victory of the Asante Nation at War, as ordered by a deity.
However, the King’s sister so loved his brother that she offered his son for the sacrifice to ensure victory. Soon after the victorious Ashanti King ordered that his inheritance must go to his sister’s children(nephews ). This then became the basis of the matrilineal inheritance.
You may want to check this story.

Response 2

Hmmmmm. My predicament! My dilemma!
If I had time, I could write a lengthy piece on this and how it affects my identity (and sometimes my confidence) at “family” meetings. I put the word “family” in quotes because strictly speaking, under customary law, I don’t have a family, an extended family I mean.
My late mum hailed from a patrilineal society; my dad from a matrilineal one.
I realised my question of identity/lack of identity at a very early age (around 9 or 10) when I had the opportunity to spend my vacations with my two grandmothers alternately with my other cousins on the respective sides. The reference to me as “a woman’s child” on my mum’s side and “a man’s child” on my dad’s side was so often that the import of the two descriptions or definitions given me by the two sides was not lost on me even at that tender age. When I did something that was commendable and I got praised, the refrain from an aunt or uncle depending on the side of the two families I happened to be with at that time was, “unfortunately, he is a man’s child” or “he’s a woman’s child.” Curiously, the same was not the case with my other cousins: No tagging. No labeling, no description. No woman’s child. No man’s child.
At a point, I told my dad that I didn’t want to spend my holidays at his mum’s or my mum’s mum’s place in their respective hometowns. I didn’t have the courage and the appropriate language to express my sentiments then. Thankfully, he didn’t press me for reasons so that ended my periodic pilgrimage to my two “hometowns.” Technically, I belong to neither because neither accepts me fully as theirs.
Even as recent as 2011 at meetings with my mum’s people for her funeral, the refrain “he’s a woman’s child,” was more than could be counted. The case isn’t any better at my dad’s people’s end since they are more steeped in customs and culture than my mum’s. I believe the only reason I get invited to some family gatherings (both sides) is because I’m not unemployed. And maybe, the fact that I might have a professional opinion to proffer which might ultimately help them.
Curiously, I have a cousin whose case is the exact opposite of mine (my mum’s brother’s son so he’s automatically a family member. His mum is from a matrilineal family so he’s automatically a member of his mum’s family as well. In essence, he’s spoilt for choice whereas I’m struggling for a chance)😭😭😭C’est la vie!

Perhaps I might save some of the details of such encounters for my memoirs; if I ever have the opportunity to write one.

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