Founded in the 1990s, Umoja, Kenya is home to one of the few matriarchies in the world. Women fleeing the patriarchal village of Samburu built Umoja as a sanctuary. In nearby villages, women faced rape by both men in the village and British soldiers. Accordingly, they sought out liberation. After fleeing their previous homes, they decided to name the new community Umoja, meaning: unity.
Patriarchy’s, like in the United States, have historically oppressed women and other genders. They function by catering to the needs of men, with little regard for other genders. Different from patriarchy’s, matriarchies can provide women a safe space to explore their personal contribution to the world beyond traditional women roles. The abundance of women in dominant spaces give them the utmost freedom to address both their own needs as well as their communities needs.
Umoja’s population continues to grow. Currently, 47 women and 200 children reside in Umoja. Motherhood is held with high esteem in the village. In Umoja, women have a choice with how they navigate motherhood or lack thereof, and men play no role in the lives of the children.
Umoja mothers have raised their children to learn how to love and respect women. Notably, the motherly figures of the village serve as crucial role models in both their daughters’ and sons’ lives. When their sons turn 18 though, the women ask them to leave the village. Since the sons grow up loving their mothers they occasionally go back to the village and visit.
It’s worth noting that Umoja women have also been free to educate young girls and boys about the dangers fellow women face in the surrounding communities. They learn about forced FGM (female genital mutation) and the rape culture occurring in surrounding villages. The kids grow up understanding the oppressions women face outside of their community, and they ponder solutions. The villagers hope women everywhere can escape the current oppressive state.
Lessons from Umoja
Frankly, the women of Umoja have established a matriarchy centered around unity. These women have all bonded and cared for one another. The villagers earn income by creating bead jewelry and selling it to passersby. Once the women accumulate income they equally divide the earnings amongst the village members for food, education, and clothing for all. For their daily communal meals, women take turns cooking for each other.
My love for Umoja is grounded in their culture of community where women help other women. They have fun together, partake in dance, and gather around the “tree of speech.” The tree of speech is a place of intellect, where decisions are made for the better good.
The matriarchy of Umoja resembles a beacon for hope. It’s a place for women to separate themselves from the traumas of the patriarchy and create a new world for themselves.
In juxtaposition with Umoja, western feminists hold individualism with high regard. However, individualism can wreak harm and stunt feminism. Western feminists have a lot to learn and incorporate from the communal ideals of the Umoja matriarchy.
For women around the world, the matriarchy shows us that we too can advocate for the equality of our fellow sisters. We must seek out our own “tree of speech.”