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In Olympos, one of the last matriarchal societies in Europe



In the rustic setting of Avlona, ​​a village nestled in the northern part of the Greek island of Karpathos in the Aegean Sea, Anna Lentaki, 70, works on her small plot of land with a mixture of traditional know-how and practicality. Her two long braids swing as she adjusts her black kerchief after picking the last fruits of the season from the fig tree. Anna has inherited both the property and the land from her parents. It must be said that she is the sole heir to the family fortune, in accordance with local traditions, Avlona being the last vestige of a matriarchal society. As the eldest of the family, it is Anna who, throughout her life, has the responsibility of looking after the family heritage.

At her side is Michalis, her husband. Together, they illustrate a bygone era. Watching them carefully prune the vines and prepare for the growth cycle of the coming year, you would think they had stepped out of a 19th century painting.e century. Anna and Michalis embody the placid beauty of country life. They work in tandem, and their presence is a vibrant tribute to the simplicity and resilience that characterize life in Avlona. But this way of life is disappearing before our eyes, due to underdevelopment, scarcity of resources and rural exodus.

Thanks to successions

In this corner of Karpathos, you won’t find any high-end resorts, microbakeries, beach huts or gourmet restaurants. Life seems frozen in time. There are only a few old-fashioned taverns here, and cell phone coverage is spotty. All of Avlona’s residents actually come from a nearby mountain village, Olympos. They moved here in the 1960s to grow wheat, fruit and olives, and to graze their livestock. But what really sets the village community from Olympos apart is the fact that it is one of the last matriarchal societies in Europe.

The inhabitants of Olympos are not very good at explaining the reasons for the place given to women over the centuries, a phenomenon that contrasts with the patriarchy in force in mainland Greece. Researchers and anthropologists confirm this influence and autonomy of women, not only in Karpathos, but in all the islands of the Aegean Sea. Emeritus Fellow of St. Peter’s College, Oxford University and author of Women and Property, Women as Property (“Women and Property, Women as Property”, not translated into French), Renee Hirschon highlights the lack of comprehensive research on the subject, but explains that the place of women in these islands is closely linked to the traditional inheritance system, advantageous for women, which led them to hold the purse strings and assume the functions of head of the family.

In the traditional Greek family, especially on the Greek mainland, it has long been a custom for women to move into their husband’s home after marriage, leaving the family home behind. As a result, women often feel trapped in a patriarchal structure that keeps their families at a distance. Renee Hirschon notes that in traditional Greek societies, property is passed down to children, with men generally being better off. But “This is not at all the case in the Aegean islands”she observes.

The exodus of men

In many Aegean islands, the land is not very fertile, preventing families from living exclusively from agriculture. As a result, trade and maritime transport became essential sources of income for the islanders. Trade between Greece and abroad, combined with a mass exodus of men from these islands to work on the ships, disrupted the customs regarding the transmission of land. As a general rule, land ownership now reverted to women, whose permanent presence on the spot was considered a way of guaranteeing the integrity of the land, especially since the land also served as a dowry.

Renee Hirschon adds that, in Kar

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