Kingdom of Women: The Matriarchal Mosuo of China

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Kingdom of Women: The Matriarchal Mosuo of China (55:00)
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In a remote corner of southwestern China are the Mosuo, arguably the best remaining example of a matrilineal society in the world today. In this program, anthropologist Chou Wah-Shan—one of few outside scholars who have lived and worked extensively with the Mosuo—and Mosuo villagers offer insights into what life is like in the 91 communities where women rule and husbands don’t exist. Commerce, belief systems, rituals and festivals, and the day-to-day responsibilities of women and men are described, with a special focus on the concept of “walking marriage.” But tourism and technology are swiftly eroding core Mosuo customs and values. How much longer will the Mosuo way of life survive? (54 minutes)

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Segments in this Video - (16)

1. Matrilineal Culture (04:27)
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After nearly 3000 years of isolation, the Mosuo society remains the most complete and intact matrilineal systems. A typical household consists of brothers, sisters, mothers, daughters, and sons. The head of the family is always female.

2. Absentee Husband in Mosuo Culture (03:18)

In the matrilineal society of the Mosuo, property rights can never pass through a male. Brothers of the ranking females are the male elders of Mosuo families. Uncles care for their nieces and nephews more than their own children.

3. Blood Relatives Under One Roof (04:50)

Because all members of the household are blood relatives (father do not live with their children), the culture has maintained itself for thousands of years. Couples have "walking marriages," meaning the male never lives with the female.

4. Male/Female Bonding by Serenade (02:17)

After a night with his lover, a man returns to his mother's home to begin his day's work. Men and women serenade each other and sing ritual songs to express their affection.

5. Unique Unions Between Mosuo Men and Women (02:08)

Almost all Mosuo unions are walking marriages, even those lasting for many years. This arrangement allows the woman a lifetime of independence. Uncles are bound to take care of their nieces and nephews.

6. Initiation Into Adulthood (03:03)

The coming-of-age ceremony is held on the first day of the lunar new year. At age 13, girls are considered adults. Dogs are considered valued members of each Mosuo household. They never kill or eat dogs.

7. Male and Female Tasks in Mosuo Culture (03:16)

In the Mosuo everyday life, women and men have distinct roles and prescribed tasks. Mosuo women do all the chores, produce their household goods, and make alcoholic beverages. The men fish and tend to the livestock in the hills.

8. Mosuo Men Slaughter and Cure Pigs (03:05)

Mosuo men are responsible for slaughtering pigs and curing the meat. A family's wealth can be measured by the amount of cured pork they hare stored away.

9. Mosuo Transportation: Boats and Horses (03:48)

Boats and horses provide transportation for the Mosuo. Their canoes are carved from a single tree trunk. They carve their canoes in the shape of pig troughs. For centuries, horse caravans provided the only means of contact with the outside world.

10. Religion Among the Mosuo (03:03)

Like most tribal cultures, the Mosuo regard religion as a major part of their life. Tibetan Buddhism was brought to the region in 1276, and is the primary religion of the Mosuo people.

11. Mosuo Festivals and Ceremonies (03:06)

Each year, the Mosuo hold a festival at one of the largest Buddhist monasteries. Mosuo Lamas practice "walking marriages," whereby they live at home with their mothers' families. Most Mosuo ceremonies are held in the home.

12. Mosuo Native Religion (03:20)

Many Mosuo continue to practice their native religion called Daba, a religion without written language and without temples. Ordinary men done priestly robes, drink themselves into a trance, and then commune with the spirits.

13. Sacred Mosuo Ceremony: Funeral (03:59)

In the evening, young Mosuo men and women dance and sing around a communal fire. The most sacred ceremony of the Mosuo is the funeral, tended to only by the men. Buddhist and Daba lamas pray for the deceased.

14. Outside Influences on the Mosuo (02:54)

Over time, outside influences have entered into the Mosuo society. The Han Chinese brought in a governing system 700 years ago. Today, better roads and transportation, television and tourism bring the modern world into Mosuo society.

15. Matrilineal System Threatened (03:23)

A big change in the matriarchal society has come about as more men work outside the villages, earning their own money. They are no longer dependent on women. Family structure among the Mosuo is threatened by outside influences.

16. End of a Traditional Society (03:12)

As the young women of Lugu Lake begin to leave, it is questionable whether the Mosuo matrilineal society can survive. Many elders believe their way of life is coming to an end.

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