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Debunking Received Wisdom Theories

Selvy Thiruchandran

By Kanchana Ruwanpura
Zubaan, an imprint of Kali for Women, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 300, Rs. 495.00


The author begins the text by attempting to dispel a few myths. Matrilineal Communities, Patriarchal Realities deals with the past, the present and concludes with suggestions for a better future. The myths are those held by development economists that Sri Lanka is a worthy country to be imitated and by feminist economists who think that women in Sri Lanka are relatively liberated owing to the matrilineal and bilateral inheritance patterns. The author progresses into divulging the paradoxes of the so called conventional wisdom theories that have given a prominent place for Sri Lanka. Primarily the female headed household becomes the focus of the delineation to tell us that Sri Lanka is not a Feminist Nirvana. The households selected are in the eastern province of Sri Lanka where an ethnic war is continuing for the last ten years. However, the study is not related exclusively to war widows. The research makes extensive claims as deviating from other researches on households and theories employed by others and exposes the inadequacies of a few other research methodologies and research theories claiming a critical standpoint. Arguments are built up carefully and strategically. Initially Eastern Sri Lanka is placed with its geographical and historical map within Sri Lanka. Its women are then placed within gradations of patriarchy. This exercise begins to show us that patriarchy persists extensively amidst matrilineal practices. Matrilineal practices here, Ruwanpura says, have distracted feminists from other aspects of women’s status and positions. It is somehow taken for granted that matrilineal practices necessarily foreclose patriarchy. ‘Matrilineal’ simply means tracing ancestral descent through the maternal line rather than through the paternal and inheritance of property through the maternal line. The author rightly claims that patriarchal institutions and structures and ideologies are far more powerful and pervasive and deconstructs various socially, nationally and religiously constructed idioms and formations of a rhetoric nature that have prevailed in Sri Lanka. The study draws on the previous studies done on households and female households and then moves to the specifications of the Sri Lankan Female Household in the eastern province across various ethnicities with their economic and cultural profiles ranging from matrilineal inheritance patterns, kin groups, community based relationship and children. The thrust of the debate progresses into identifying the patriarchal structures within the matrilineal ethnic communities. Within this spectrum of arguments the reader is made alive to the complexities of social relations, economic necessities and ...

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