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Marumakkathayam was a system of matrilineal inheritance prevalent in what is now Kerala State in India. Under the Marumakkathayam system of inheritance, descent and the inheritance of property was traced through females.

Marumakkathayam literally meant inheritance by sisters' children as opposed to sons and daughters. The word 'marumakkal' in Malayalam means nephews and nieces. The joint family under the matrilineal system is known as Tharavad and it formed the nucleus of the society in Malabar. This customary law of inheritance was codified by the Madras Marumakkathayam Act 1932, Madras Act No. 22 of 1933 published in the Fort St. George Gazette on 1 August 1933. Malabar was part of the Madras Presidency during British rule. In the Madras Marumakkathayam Act 1932, 'Marumakkathayam' is defined as the system of inheritance in which descent is traced in the female and 'Marumakkathayee' means a person governed by the Marumakkathayam law of inheritance. ‘Tarawad’ means the group of people forming a joint family with community of property governed by the Marumakkathayam law of inheritance. This system of inheritance is now abolished by The Joint Family System (Abolition) Act, 1975 by the Kerala State Legislature.[1]

Modern changes and adaptations[edit]

By the beginning of the 20th century, marumakkattayam was increasingly seen as an undesirable remnant of a feudal past, and discontented groups including Nair men sought to bring reform. In the states of Kochi and Tiruvitankoor, and the British Indian province of Malabar, which later joined together to form Kerala in 1957, laws came into force in 1920, 1925 and 1933 respectively that prohibited polygamy, installed formal marriage and recognised land as formal property that could be inherited. The notion of the husband as the wife's guardian, which became prevalent after these changes, undid the very concept of marumakkattayam. However, the system continues to hold sway over Keralite culture and social personalities, and the tharavadu remains the focus of the emotional make-up of many Nairs. Even today, in most families, children carry their mother’s last name, and not that of their father.


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