Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences
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Spread of cattle led to the loss of matrilineal descent in Africa: a coevolutionary analysis


    Matrilineal descent is rare in human societies that keep large livestock. However, this negative correlation does not provide reliable evidence that livestock and descent rules are functionally related, because human cultures are not statistically independent owing to their historical relationships (Galton's problem). We tested the hypothesis that when matrilineal cultures acquire cattle they become patrilineal using a sample of 68 Bantu– and Bantoid–speaking populations from sub–Saharan Africa. We used a phylogenetic comparative method to control for Galton's problem, and a maximum–parsimony Bantu language tree as a model of population history. We tested for coevolution between cattle and descent. We also tested the direction of cultural evolution––were cattle acquired before matriliny was lost? The results support the hypothesis that acquiring cattle led formerly matrilineal Bantu–speaking cultures to change to patrilineal or mixed descent. We discuss possible reasons for matriliny's association with horticulture and its rarity in pastoralist societies. We outline the daughter–biased parental investment hypothesis for matriliny, which is supported by data on sex, wealth and reproductive success from two African societies, the matrilineal Chewa in Malawi and the patrilineal Gabbra in Kenya.