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12
Nov
The Mosuo Culture: The Last Matriarchy



In the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of China, close to the Tibetan border, there is a remote and interesting minority group called the Mosuo with their own culture and language, independent of the Han ethnic majority. Primarily an agriculture based society of approximately 20,000 people living in small villages, this remote population has received attention from the outside world due to academic interest in their social structure. In this culture people live in large communal family units with several generations living in the same household. Unlike the Han majority, Mosuo households are headed by women. The eldest female member of the family decides the jobs and tasks for each family member and manages the finances. Lineage is traced through the female side of the family.


One of the most interesting aspects of the Mosuo culture is that there is no traditional marriage. The Mosuo practice something called ‘walking marriage’. When a person expresses interest in a sexual partner the woman gives the man permission to visit her at night. These visits are kept private, with the man visiting the woman’s room after dark and then leaving in the morning. Both men and women are permitted to have as many sexual partners as they wish. Romantic pairings may last a long time but separation is not considered unusual or difficult to accomplish. Partners traditionally do not live together and financial assets are never shared. Fathers, although still regarded as important partners, have no daily responsibilities to their offspring. Children are raised by their mother’s families, with men being expected to care for their nephews and nieces rather than for their biological children. Having a child with an unknown father, although somewhat embarrassing for a woman, does not carry the stigma that it does in other cultures. This results in a society where there are no unwanted children and everyone having someone to care for them in their old age.


Although the influence of outside modernity has begun to change the region, such as the increased tourism bringing pollution to the lake, the Mosuo culture remains an interesting example of alternative social arrangements that are so rare in this world.


By Shannon Marie



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