Marumakkathayam System

Marumakkathayam was a system of matrilineal inheritance prevalent in Malabar which is the northern part of the present Kerala State in India. Under the Marumakkathayam system of inheritance, descent and succession to the property was traced through females. The mother formed the stock of descent and kinship as well as the rights to the property was traced through females and not through males. Marumakkathayam literarily meant inheritance by sisters children as opposed to sons and daughters. Word ‘Marumakkal’ in Malayalam means nephews and nieces. The joint family under matrilineal system is known as Tarawad and it formed the nucleus of the society in Malabar. This customary law of inheritance was codified by the Madras Marumakkathayam Act 1932, Madras Act No. 22 of 1933 published in the Fort St. George Gazette on 1 August 1933. Malabar was part of the Madras Presidency during British Rule. The definition of Marumakkathayam in Madras Marumakkathayam Act 1932 is ‘Marumakkathayam’ means the system of inheritance in which descent is traced in the female and ‘Marumakkathayee’ means a person governed by Marumakkathayam Law of Inheritance. ‘Tarawad’ means the group of person forming a joint family with community of property governed by Marumakkathayam Law of Inheritance. This system of inheritance is now abolished by The Joint Family System (Abolition) Act, 1975 by the Kerala State Legislature. But still some Muslim families in Malabar and people of Lakshadweep are governed by this customary law system of inheritance as the Abolition Act applies only to Hindus. Muslims in Malabar happened to follow this system as they were originally Hindu converts and Lakshadweep people are believed to be persons migrated from Malabar only

Marumakkathayam is a matrilinear system of inheritance follwed by castes of Kerala like some Brahmin families , Ambalavasis, Royal families, Nair, Ezhavas, upper class Mappilas in Kerala state, south India. It is exceptional in the sense that it was one of the few traditional systems that gave women liberty, and right to property. Under this system, women enjoyed respect, prestige and power. In the matrilinear system, the family lived together in a tharavadu which comprised of a mother, her brothers and younger sisters, and her children. The oldest male member was known as the karanavar and was the head of the household and managed the family estate. Lineage was traced through the mother, and the children “belonged” to the mother’s family. All family property was jointly owned. In the event of a partition, the shares of the children were clubbed with that of the mother. The karanavar’s property was inherited by his nephews and not his sons.

Marumakkattayam among Nairs & North Malabar Mappilas
The chief representatives, by lieu of their social standing and past research interest, of the castes practicing Marumakkattayam were the Nairs and Mappilas (Muslims) of North Malabar. Their line of descent was traced from the common female ancestress, and it was not a man’s own children, but his sister’s sons who were his heirs. The family or tharavadu consisted of women living with their brothers and their children in one house. All family property, other than that acquired through individual exertions, belonged to the family jointly, and except through common consent, was indivisible. Each member was entitled to be maintained out of the profits of it, but not to sell or otherwise dispose of it. The management and control of all family property was vested in the eldest male, who is called the Karanavan. Even property individually acquired, although their own to deal with during their lifetime, could not be disposed of by will. On their death, such property merged into the family property. This state of affairs indicates the possibility that in an earlier “classical” form of marumakkattayam, the institution of marriage was absent and that the union of the sexes might simply have been a state of concubinage into which the woman entered out of her own choice, being at liberty to change her consort when and as often as she pleased.

Women in Marumakkattayam
The word Marumakkathayam itself is gender-neutral. It is not Matriarchy. To an extent, it is matrilineal, albeit male-centric. In social anthropology, matrilocal residence would best describe the practice. However, Marumakkathayam extends certain concessions to women, who were the carriers of the man’s family name and legacy. Unlike in many other Indian traditions, they were not considered unwanted births, to be married away and never to return. They were conferred a higher social status, they inherited family property and the family home. The sister of the man came first in affection and responsibility before his own “wife”. They did not live in the otherwise common fear of the mother-in-law. At their husband’s homes, where they visited occasionally, they were treated as special guests. But, it still meant that their happiness was determined by the men folk, like many other social systems. Families without an elder male member felt a certain sense of insecurity.

Further descriptions
In Kerala, Marumakkattayam is often contrasted with Makkattayam (descent through sons), connected with patrilineal, patrilocal castes such as nambutiri brahmins, kollan, Aasaari and the Syrian Christians. Constructed as ideal types based on the treatment of women, they can be conceived of as the two ends of a continuum, between which, there was much variation in each individual case.

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 are still a few tharavads that pay homage to this system. In some families, the children carry the last name 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 reckoning – though decreasing in importance these days. The Kerala rulers also followed the ‘Marumakkathayam’ system.

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