chapter on “Matriarchate and Patriarchate”
When I “discovered” that, among the final
chapters of the Dolomitensagen there was one titled “Matriarchate
and Patriarchate”, I hoped that eventually Wolff
had narrated in some more detail how had he introduced and developped
this topic in the Fanes’ saga. Unfortunately, this is only
a short presentation of the main anthropological concepts, devoted
to people who know nothing of the matter and therefore rather
simplistic, candid – and outdated. There is no reference
to the religious aspects of the story, nor to the interrelations
between matriarchate and totemism. Here I’m just providing
a short summary of Wolff’s
discussion, asking all those who wish to get deeper into a modern
vision of matriarchate to consult one out of the several books
starts by mentioning J.J. Bachofen, the Swiss
jurist who published a treaty on this subject in 1861: The
Matriarchal Right. An Essay on the Religious and Legal Features
of the Matriarchate in the Ancient World.
Later on, he examines the life conditions in the Paleolithic and
states that men were hunters and women gatherers, and that the
latter ones started cultivation, “maybe for the sake of
pretty flowers” (!). He developpes this concept stating
that a long-time practice with plants allowed women to learn the
basic concepts about vegetal life and thence to exploit it by
planting small gardens aside the village huts. This of course
required that at least a partial sedentariness had been reached.
The availability of a rather dependable supply of agricultural
products allowed to overcome the periods when game was scarce,
and so gave an important contribution to overall welfare. This
rudimentary form of horticulture had a great impulse when the
hoe was invented and the importance of some irrigation was understood.
Slowly, the gardens became more important than hunting and fishing,
so that they became the core of village economy – and they
were managed by women. What followed was that dwellings also were
owned by women, and therefore a husband-to-be was compelled to
move to his wife-to-be’s home. This structure was repeated
at the top of society: the undisputed chief was a queen, whose
husband was just a prince consort.
Probably at this moment, men started luring few wild animals into
fenced enclosures near their houses and, as they had a surplus
of vegetals available, feeding them when required. This way, breeding
was born: sheep and goats first, pigs later, cattle last.
According to Wolff, what brought
to the collapse of this scheme was the invention of the plough.
Domesticated cattle could be yoked to draw a plough in order to
cultivate much larger extensions of land, even though this type
of cultivation yelded much less per surface area than intensive
horticulture. But this type of agriculture was in the hands of
men. Ploughmen expanded their fields over and over, to the point
that quarrels arose for the ownership of the land, both within
any single village, and with neighbouring communities. Wars broke
out. As far as the social structure was concerned, this brought
to an upset: men had now become the pillars of economy and of
the sheer survival of the group, therefore power shifted into
their hands, often rather abruptly.
From this time onwards, the bridegroom no longer moved to live
in the bride’s home, on the contrary he often abducted her
(more or less consensually) to have her living in his own, to
the point that wives were considered a property of their husbands;
at the top of society, the king quickly became more important
than the queen and was considered as the highest and undisputable
Traces of the old matriarchal structure of society can be found,
however, even in several social groups of today, as well as in
many Dolomitic legends, one of which is the "Kingdom of Fanes".