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Marumakkathayam was a system of matrilineal inheritance prevalent in what is now Kerala, India. Descent and the inheritance of property was traced through females. It was followed by all Nair castes including of Royal Families, some of the Ambalavasis, Mappilas, and some tribal groups.This was one of the few traditional systems which gave women liberty and right to property.
The word literally means inheritance by sisters' children, as opposed to sons and daughters. 'Marumakkal', in the Malayalam language, means nephews and nieces. The joint family under the matrilineal system is known as Tharavad and formed the nucleus of the society in Malabar. The 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 in British India. In the Madras Marumakkathayam Act 1932, 'Marumakkathayam' is defined as the system of inheritance in which descent is traced by females, and 'Marumakkathayee' means a person governed by the Marumakkathayam law of inheritance. 'Tarawa' means the group of people forming a joint family with the community of property governed by the Marumakkathayam law of inheritance. The system of inheritance is now abolished by The Joint Family System (Abolition) Act, 1975, by the Kerala State Legislature.
Modern changes and adaptations
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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. The reforms were pushed through in spite of opposition from conservative factions led by Kesava Pillai of Kandamath in the Travancore Court, Sree Mulam State Council and by leading members of society such as C. V. Raman Pillai.  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.
- "CiNii - Transformation of the Marumakkathayam System in Malabar: The Malabar Marriage Act, 1896 and the Nayar Tarawads". ci.nii.ac.jp. Retrieved 2008-03-09.
- Page 35-39 "Kandamathu Kudumba Sangamam Published by K. K. N., Neyyattinkara, S. India 1995
- Jeffrey in the Decline of Nayar Dominance in Travancore, See notes under C V Raman Pillai
- den Uyl, Marion (2000). "Kinship and Gender Identity: Some Notes on Marumakkathayam in Kerala". In Böck, Monika; Rao, Aparna. Culture, creation, and procreation: concepts of kinship in South Asian practice. Berghahn Books. pp. 177–190. ISBN 978-1-57181-911-6. Retrieved 19 October 2012.