The Mosuo: “The Kingdom of Women”


The Mosuo community is dubbed the “The Kingdom of Women” where women are treated as superior or equal to men. The community is commonly referred to as Na[1]. In the Mosuo culture, heterosexual activity is only based on mutual consent from partners. In society, both men and women have the freedom to have multiple partners and they can also start or end a relationship at their own will. Furthermore, in the Mosuo culture, people identify themselves with their mother’s lineage. In the Mosuo culture, women run the cultures and hold power and predominate in leadership. The women are the heads of households and property adoption is done through female lineage. This research paper seeks to understand the Mosuo culture through classifying their subsistence, economic, political, social, sex, and religious aspects of how the culture operates.

Subsistence

The Mosuo culture is agrarian whereby people depend mainly on farming activities like livestock keeping and crop production. The livestock kept in the culture is mainly sheep, poultry, goats, yak, and water buffalo. The main crops produced are potatoes and grains. Their subsistence activities mostly produce enough to meet their daily needs. The Mosuo people are meat lovers and preserve the meat through smoking or salting. Pork, for instance, maybe preserved for up to ten years. The Mosuo also produces Sulima, a local beverage brewed using grains and its properties are similar to wine. The drink is mostly offered at ceremonies and festivals and also especially served for guests. Mosuo traders traditionally used the barter trade system but due to increased interaction with outsiders, they now use cash to do trade. The increased interaction of Mosuo people with outsiders has also led to the replacement of subsistence farming with commercial farming of high-value crops.

Women also practice craftsmanship which is mainly flax weaving and spinning[2]. Most of the households plant flax and therefore women spent time spinning and weaving especially during winter. Once they weave and spin enough commodities for household use, they are also able to produce extra which can be used to trade for grains, sugar, and other household consumption goods. The households that weave extra are therefore able to buy food for their households which supplements the homegrown crops and livestock.

Furthermore, most Mosuo households brew beer using grains which are traded for extra household income[i]. Additionally, Mosuo people know how to extract oil from wild fruits such as qingciguo. The qingciguo oil is served only during funerals and for new year celebrations. Some men know how to weave baskets, sieves, and fences out of the bamboo tree. Some men also have building skills and thus carry out some carpentry tasks at the community level to earn some income. For instance, the demand to build houses and benches are some tasks carried out by men.

Economy

The Mosuo women are mostly household heads and are therefore the main decision-makers and major household finance controllers. Besides, women are known to own and inherit property which they pass to the lineage[3]. Women are also responsible for sowing crops and livestock production of which the proceeds are used in child-bearing. The culture is described as matrilineal in which family lineage is traced through the female, women take the sole responsibility of bringing up children. In most cases, the matriarch receives remittances from family members working far from home to make decisions on how to allocate these resources to meet the family needs. In Mosuo culture, husbands have a lesser involvement in family matters than their wives.

The Mosuo people practice ‘walking marriages. Since women are more responsible in domestic duties, the larger society also gives the woman much bigger importance than a man. The husbands in these walking marriages are in general terms responsible for family religious and political decisions. However, the massive arrival of tourists in the area has largely changed the way things happen. For instance, since the 1990s, people’s jobs and source of income have changed from once a farming community to people getting jobs in urban centers[4].  Education has made a difference in the area. Men and women are getting educated and getting out of the cultural chains of the Mosuo culture. Though there are no many schools around the area, the Mosuo can now access education like in a junior high school around Lugu lake which some few children can attend. Education plus tourism have brought a new class of people with money and can meet people of other cultures outside the Mosuo community.

Political organization/social stratification/class systems and social organizations

The Mosuo (Na) culture has three classifications namely the sipi, we, and dzeka[5]. The sipi are entitled to wear silk and wool fabric which are yellow, black, red, and blue with golden thread embroidered at the edges. The dzeka and we white and linen clothing. The chief of the Mosuo is known as zhifu. The zhifu is responsible for ensuring that people follow their rules and that order was seen in society.  The sipi is the highest social spectrum after zhifu. The sipi descended from the zhifu family over several eras. Unlike other classes of people, the social status transmission of the Mosuo people was male-lineal. That is, it followed the male lineage. the dzeka comprised most of the Na people. The term dzeka was used to refer to the commoners. Households in the sipi stratum that had conflicts could be demoted by zhifu to become commoners. The we class, on the other hand, belonged to a master and referred to as servants of that master. When the zhifu children grew and wanted to move out of their father’s residence, several we were given to them so that they could work for them. The masters could also trade their we if they wished. Mostly, we comprised of people who had lost their means of living as well as offenders. Most of the we were perpetrators of crimes that the zhifu demoted to be servants after completing their sentence, those that disrespected the community’s customs, people sent to zhifu by their family for disobedience, and debtors who were brought to the zhifu for inability to pay debts.

Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

The Mosuo culture is commonly known to practice walking culture. In this case, men walk to their partners at night and are seen walking back to their homes in the morning. If a Mosuo woman likes a particular man, it is the woman who invites the man to spend the night with them. Such agreements are done secretly done and so the men walk to the woman’s house after dark and return to their home early morning. In this case, therefore, sex is used for pleasure when one feels like and no one I forced to do it without consent. Women can have as many sex partners as they want and a single partner case is very rare in the culture. A man would never go to live with a woman’s family and vice versa as witnessed in the most common cultures in the world. Children belong to women and women tend to have more powers over men in terms of child custody.

Religion

Na religion is based on existing beliefs of the community of Tibetan Buddhism and another led by priests called daba[6]. The daba conduct their rituals individually and are mostly men. They practice their religious rituals using orals accounts when they lack scriptures. The accounts are mostly in the local language and had their scriptures written on pigskin traditionally. It is believed that this practice of scripture on pigskin ended when some daba were traveling and cooked and ate the books when they became hungry. In several rituals, the daba recites prayers. The rituals include bu si nin, which is a ritual to sacrifice to the ancestor. Another ritual is the dZI do, which is practiced when sending souls of the dead to the ancestors. Other rituals include na tie bu, dza bu, and ge shu bu among others. On the other hand, Na also belief in Tibetan Buddhism. Each household in Na sets a room for religious activities. the Lamaist monks are the leaders in Tibetan Buddhist who were given that position after completing training in Lhasa. A son of zhifu was once given the position of Lamaist monk. The Lamaist monk lives at home, reading holy texts, and visits the monastery after a while.

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