Implications of matriliny: gender and Islam in northern Mozambique

Signe Arnfred*

*Corresponding author

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review


This article investigates the ways in which the gender relations of matrilineal culture in inland northern Mozambique have influenced the culture of the coast, an area profoundly marked by Sufi Islam. The findings demonstrate that Islam has adapted to matrilineal culture in significant ways, in terms of male/female leadership of Sufi tariqas and norms associated with sexuality and marriage. Islamic tradition is respected in so far as the bride’s virginity at first marriage is considered important. However, in line with the matrilineal culture of the hinterland, marriage is often a transitory arrangement, and divorce is easy. Extra-marital sex is accepted, or at least condoned–provided that norms of discretion are properly maintained. Drawing on data from cities farther north on the Swahili coast, the findings suggest that norms regarding female sexual autonomy, which have roots in the matrilineal culture brought to the coast by female slaves from the interior, have also had an impact on women’s lives in Mafia Island, Zanzibar, and Mombasa. Women seem to have been first movers in the post-abolition erosion of class hierarchies and general change of culture.

TidsskriftInternational Feminist Journal of Politics
Udgave nummer2
Sider (fra-til)221-242
Antal sider22
StatusUdgivet - 2021


  • Matriliny
  • Sufi Islam
  • Male/female leadership
  • Rituals of initiation
  • Female sexual autonomy

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