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Framing custom, directing practices: Authority, property and matriliny under colonial law in nineteenth century Malabar


  • Praveena Kodoth

    (Centre for Development Studies)


Colonial judges and jurists interpreted matrilineal customs in terms of a theory of matrilineal law, which they shaped in the process of interpretation, rather than on the basis of existing practices. This paper analyses critically the process of interpretation of customs or what is referred to as the legal discourse on matriliny, from the standpoint of its own assumptions, i.e., the ideas and theory that shaped and governed it. It is argued that a theory of matrilineal law, informed by mid nineteenth century anthropological and comparative legal perspectives, gendered the detail of matrilineal law, emphasising rigidly older male control over property and excluding women, virtually, from all functions of authority. The legal discourse on matriliny then despite or precisely because of the implicit connection between women and matriliny, was not so much about matriliny or women but about what comprised `authentic' custom.

Suggested Citation

  • Praveena Kodoth, 2002. "Framing custom, directing practices: Authority, property and matriliny under colonial law in nineteenth century Malabar," Centre for Development Studies, Trivendrum Working Papers 338, Centre for Development Studies, Trivendrum, India.
  • Handle: RePEc:ind:cdswpp:338

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    colonial law; customary practice; matriliny; gender; property rights;

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