In 1540 Francisco de Orellana led an expedition to the Amazon river and was the first European to do an extensive exploration of it. He reported finding along the riverbank large cities, towns and villages. He also somehow managed to communicate with the natives who told him women ruled them and they even showed him statues of these female rulers.
Then the Spanish managed to upset the natives and the first peaceful exchanges soon turned to open hostility. Where they were being to be attacked by the natives whenever they came to a village or town. He reported that female warriors led these attacks. When he got back to Spain the river he sailed on was named the Amazon after the stories Orellana told about these female warriors.
Yet 20 years later when the next European expedition explored the river they found no trace of the fabulous cities reported by Orellana or the Amazon warriors. As a result Orellana was to be labelled by historians a liar, and his stories of marvellous cities, female rulers and Amazon warriors exaggerated fantasies. This was to be confirmed in more modern time when it was realised that the soil in the rail-forests is very poor for growing crops. At present farmers are destroying the Amazon forest by the slash and burn method. They cut down a large area, then burn it and plant crops. Yet after a few years the soil is so depleted that crops no longer can be grown. So they have to go on to cut down another area and do the same thing.
For this reason modern experts claimed that an ancient civilisation to exist in the Amazon basin was impossible because all civilisations in the past have relied on intensive farming for food. So it seems to be that Orellana was clearly a liar because there was no evidence of any kind to support his stories.
Then very recently archaeologists began to find large earth mounds in the Amazon forests. It occurred to some of them that these mounds might be artificial and they began to dig in them and quickly found large amounts of pottery and other man made artefacts. Not only this, some of these fragments suggested they come from very large pots, far too large to be carried around by anyone. This then means that these mounds were the remains of ancient settlements. As the archaeologists explored further they found ancient roads, linking these mounds demonstrating a complex infrastructure of an ancient civilisation. If this was so, how did they feed themselves? Because, as previously mentioned, without intensive farming they could not feed a large population.
The archaeologists then noticed the soil in the mounds was very different to the normal soil of the rain forest. It was reasoned, that this ancient civilisation must have found a way to fertilise this normally barren soil. Tests were done on it and it was discovered the soil was full of charcoal. What become clear was this ancient civilisation used the slash and burn method, but instead of burning the vegetation they cooked the wood instead. (This is the method of making charcoal all over the world). The charcoal was then able to retain the nutrients in the wood. Not only that, this charcoal rich soil was full of bacteria, which fed the plants growing in it. So impressive are the trials that have been done on this soil. (In experimental plots, adding a combination of charcoal and fertiliser into the rain-forest soil boosted yields by 880% compared with fertiliser alone.) This has now been hailed as a solution to the world’s hunger problem. It seems that this ancient civilisation found solutions to the problems of poor soil that modern science with all its sophisticated chemical fertilisers was unable to find.
This soil has been found in many other areas along the Amazon River. With ancient artificial artefacts within it wherever found. Showing a large civilisation and in all in the places where Orellana claimed he saw these cities and towns. So what happened to this ancient civilisation?
Scientists can only speculate, but it is known that the Europeans brought with them diseases that were unknown to the native population, like small pox and influenza. Not having any immunity to these diseases the native population was decimated. It means that the Orellana expedition brought to the native population these diseases, which would have wiped out most of them out very quickly. The civilisation collapsed and the jungle soon overgrew the cities and town. So by the time the next Europeans came to the same area all they would have seen was virgin jungle. The few survivors were then forcefully converted into Christianity and all knowledge of their ancient ways and stories ruthlessly destroyed. Though I have to say that it is not usual for civilizations to be wiped out by disease, civilization generally collapse through nature disasters like years of famine or conquest and genocide. Orellana questioned a native who told him that these female rulers had gold. We all know how gold mad the conquistadors were and with this knowledge reaching Spain they would want to come back to plunder this gold. Orellana did come back but was killed and his leaderless expedition returned to Spain, but it is likely that another expedition did go to the Amazon. If they had destroyed the Amazon civilization, plundered their gold and committed genocide they may not of wanted the world to know about this, so this expedition may have been written out of history.
This then means that Orellana has been vindicated. Though archaeologists as far as I know haven’t been able to confirm that women ruled this ancient civilisation. Yet as everything else he reported has now been confirmed as correct, we can probably accept that was true as well.
The concept that women once ruled the world in ancient times is nothing new. A scholar called J.J Bachofen in the 19th century started it. He brought together all the evidence of matriarchy in ancient times then available, and very mildly suggested a matriarchal age in the past. He was strongly criticised for this by other scholars who dismissed and discredited his work. Yet in spite of this, his work was to inspire scholars like James Frazer who wrote his famous book, The Golden Bough, and more recently Joseph Campbell. It also influenced Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who publicly praised Bachofen's work. As well as the psychologist Carl Jung who developed from it the theory that the ancient Great Mother, is a very important archetype in the collective unconscious. Other scholars in the early 20th century also wrote about matriarchy like Robert Briffault, who had pointed out that anthropologists then were very biased in their field studies. As they assumed that in all the Stone-Age cultures they studied they were all male dominated, and ignored any evidence when this wasn’t the case. This didn’t go down well with the academic community and again he was very heavily criticised. Yet his work was to inspire the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski who also found Stone Age communities they didn’t fit the “normal patriarchal model. As did Margaret Mead who again was greatly criticised for making observations about societies that didn’t fit into the patriarchal norm. Another anthropologist Eva Meyerowitz was to find evidence of matriarchal rule up to recent times in African tribes. While Evelyn Reed, in articles, lectures and her book, Sexism and Science was to savagery attack anthropologists for their sexual bias against women.
Jane Harrison another scholar also suggest matriarchy in ancient Greece, but managed to escape criticism by not being too explicit. Unlike Dr Margaret Murray a respected Egyptologist also received heavy criticism for writing that Witchcraft was an ancient Goddess religion that has survived up to the middle ages. These arguments were kept mostly within academic circles. Then in the 1940s the poet Robert Graves wrote his book, The White Goddess, which was the first attempt to bring this argument to the general public. Even though it was a very complex book. At about the same time Erich Fromm was bringing together the works of Freud, Marx and Bachofen. Where he pointed out that communism and socialism could only work in a matriarchy. Then on the wave of the Feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s Feminist scholars like Merlin Stone and Barbara G. Walker also continued to dig deep into ancient history to find more evidence of matriarchy in ancient times.
After the Second World War archaeologists started to make finds supporting the idea that there was a matriarchal age in the past. This evidence was again dismissed by academics but Feminist writers began to write about it. Like Elizabeth Gould Davis who was brave enough to directly claim that women did once rule the world, and Riane Eisler who kept strictly to Feminist dogma of equality.
Yet we don’t have to go to pre-history to find matriarchal societies, the shocking fact is that they exist in today’s world. The biggest is the The Minangkabau people in Western Sumatra which numbers about 4 million people and is the largest and most stable Matriarchal community in the world today. There are also matriarchal communities in China, Tibet and Malaya, which is kept quiet as government officials find this an embarrassment. In Southern India there is a region called Keralal, which again is matriarchal and has a reputation of being a well run, stable and prosperous area. There is evidence of matriarchal communities that survived in Africa up until colonial times and even American Indian tribes that are still Matriarchal. The Basque people of France and Spain were matriarchal in historic times, but the Inquisition and the medieval witch-hunts finally destroyed this way of life.
There are legends that the Czech people were matriarchal up until the sixth or seventh century. Where it seems that after Libuse, the last matriarchal ruler, had died there was a patriarchal take over. In this legend the women fought back led by two women warriors called Vlasta and Sarka. After a very long and vicious war the men finally won and imposed patriarchy on the women. I have been informed that there are over 150 matriarchal communities all over the world, but we never hear about this in either the mainstream or alternative media.
Yet many Feminists are uncomfortable about this concept for three reasons.
1 Feminism is about equality; so many Feminists just see matriarchy as being the flip side of patriarchy. That is to say instead of men ruling the world, it is women doing it instead. Feminism has achieved a lot through just pointing out the unfairness and injustice of sexual bias in laws and customs. Which has resulted in men standing aside and allowing women to achieve equal opportunities in Western society. Start talking about matriarchy and this totally undermines the foundation of Feminism. As men can then claim that Feminism is not about equality but just “the thin end of the wedge” of female dominance. (Many men see it this way already, and don’t really believe Feminists when they say, “we only want equality.”)
2 Read any Feminist books, they are mostly about the horrors of patriarchy, and why it is wrong for men to dominate women. If there was an age in the past where women dominated men, then women will be as just a bad as men. (According to the women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s men and women are exactly the same. So if we accept this theory there shouldn’t be a problem. Men have dominated women over the last five thousand years, so if women are like men, they will naturally want, “their turn”).
3 There is also a fear of male violence among Feminists. Men in the past, and in Islamic countries today have dominated women through violence. In the 19th century in the West men were legally entitled to beat their wife with sticks if she misbehaves, and social custom encouraged this. (You weren’t a “real” man if you couldn’t dominate and beat up your wife). Yet over the last hundred years men in the West men seem to have seen the error of their ways through an appeal to fairness and equality. Start talking about matriarchy and women dominating society and men might get angry with women and perhaps use violence to take back everything women have gained over the last 100 years.
I can’t say I would personally agree with this last reason, though I can understand women being frightened of male violence. Because just 4 hundred years ago the Church was still carrying on a murderous campaign of slaughtering millions of Witches, (mostly women). Also even today women are publicly executed and flogged in places like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan for minor infringements of Islamic law. Yet society in industrial countries has changed. After the Second World War the American military decided to interview all the returning troops to see if they could learn anything from their experiences. Most of these soldiers claimed that in the war they didn’t kill anyone and only fired over the heads of the enemy. It seems only a small minority admitted to killing anyone. Which is not exactly the sort of image we have of GI soldiers in Hollywood films.
The Japanese military had similar problems. Japan ranks with Southern Ireland and Switzerland as being one off the most non-violent and crime free, countries in the world. Yet in the Second World War Japanese soldiers were even worse than German and Russian troops for brutality. So how did this happen?
It seems in the 1930s and 40s the Japanese military completely brutalised their troops. Older recruits at the beginning of their training beat up the new recruits. Then in the second year of training they were forced to do the same to the new intake. Later on many were made to kill prisoners of war, either as live dummies in bayonet practise or cutting off their heads. This total brutalisation made it possible for Japanese soldiers to kill without pity. Yet it is of interest that the Japanese military had to go this far into brutalisation to turn their troops into killers.
In very brutal societies as many third world countries, it seems men are so brutalised that they are far more likely to use violence against women to retain male dominance. Where men are less brutalised as in most industrial countries, then they are far less likely to resort to violence. Though I have to say the brutalisation of men in the West seems mostly to come from very violent films and video games. In that it helps to make violence acceptable to many young men. (Perhaps the makers of these films hope it will turn our young men into, “real “macho” men” who will put women back in their place).
Scientific studies have shown that boy and men who have been subjected to violence or fierce competition do have greatly increased testosterone levels. This can be increased to a level where sportsmen will commit horrific violence on the sporting field. A case in point is Australian Rugby. In the 1990s Australian rugby players developed what was called the pile-driver tackle. Where a group of players would lift a player of the opposing side off his feet and then drop him on his head. Neck injuries are the most horrendous injury you can get in rugby, where injured players have been left paralysed from the neck down. Also a pile-driver tackle has the potential to kill a player. So rugby laws had to be made to quickly stop this practice. Yet the question that was never asked is why were players willing to do it in the first place? They must also be aware of the physical damage that can happen by doing a pile-driver tackle. They also must be aware of the fact if they do it to the opposing side it will in turn be done to them. Yet reason and common sense didn’t come into it and a law had to be made to outlaw his practise. This begs the question that if a loophole was found in the law that players could legally take a gun on the field of play and shoot opposing players to win the game. Would they do this?
So it means that when the testosterone levels are high in sportsmen they are willing to commit terrible injuries on the players of the opposing side. Surprisingly even watching competitive sport can increase the testosterone levels of men. So it seems that violent and competitions do make men even more violent. The less brutal and competitive a society is the less violent men become. This might be the answer to a very puzzling archaeological mystery and controversy.