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Walking Marriages 走婚 in the Land of Mosuo; a Woman’s Kingdom

May 22, 2009

9. DSCN2614.JPGThere are so many skillful people, but none can compare with my mother.

There are so many knowledgeable people, but none can equal with my mother.

There are so many people skilled in song and dance, but none can compete with my mother.

This beautiful folk song is intrinsic to the Nari culture; an ethnic group based in southwestern China more formally known as the Mosuo, which is quite often referred to as a ‘Girl’s Kingdom’.

American writer, Joseph Rock has described the land as:

The last peaceful place on the planet, the last place where war has never existed, where people live in harmony, is Lugu Lake. The lake is home to the Mosuo minority, one of China’s 56 ethnic groups, hidden in the shadows of the Xiaoliang Mountains.


MosuoDanceIn the Mosou tradition; a man and a woman never leave their mother’s home. When a woman reaches puberty, she is given a coming-of-age ceremony at which time she can begin engaging in ‘Axia’; a walking marriage. It starts of with both men and women interacting with each other through group songs and other activities and if there happens to be a love connection between a pair, the woman invites the man through some form of gesture, i.e. gift. The man returns to this woman after dusk, when night falls and leaves before dawn to return to his mother’s home. If the woman desires, he returns; otherwise they end the relationship and move onto someone new. A relationship goes public to the families once a man and a woman decide to have children, until then the lovers will pretend not to know each other in public.

Since Mosuo men live with their mother and sisters, their child rearing responsibilities are centered solely on that household. They are not responsible for rearing their own children who reside with their mother in her home. Children refer to any one woman in the household, as Ama and are looked after by their mother, grandmother, aunts and uncles. Therefore, walking marriages do not translate into any form of living/property/money ties.

It is surprising to see how such a marriage arrangement is working without any chaos. There are no formal contracts, no marriage certificates; yet both men and women are content and peaceful.

Here’s another analysis on the Matriarchal Marriage Patterns of the Mosuo People of China:

As a result of such attitudes and ideas love and marriage are truly free for Mosuo-women, and they are regarded as a happy people who know how to love. In fact, Mosuo women are gentle, kind, uncomplicated, capable and hardworking, but they are not without politeness. It is said in a poetic way that her deepest emotion is: 59eb8bc6b4534ea21b57baed77b067b5

“like good tea made with fresh water which slowly sends forth a delicate fragrance,

like a spring which brings forth streams of water,

like the taste of  the most mysterious fruit of all,

like a flying bird in the field,

not a peacock in a cage.”

xinsrc_3302041509401022592811Anthropologists have noted Lugu Lake as an oddity in the study of human society. According to many scholars, the Mosuo have done away with the problem of sexual harassment, burglary, murder, rape, domestic disputes between mother in-laws and daughter in-laws, and individual desire for economic gain. Hence their language has no words for war, rape, or murder (Department of International Cooperation of the Ministry of Agriculture, the People’s Republic of China).

Whether you look at it as a men’s heaven or a women’s kingdom; all relationships in Mosuo are based on love, peace and joy. From the start of life at birth to the final years, families remain united; love and harmony rises above all.

3 Comments
  1. Emily permalink*
    May 22, 2009 9:47 am

    What a beautiful marriage arrangement. I do wonder, however, if the children feel abandoned by their fathers or because they aren’t familiar with a nuclear household, that not having a father does not bother them. Interesting and informative—thanks for sharing this with us.

  2. JessSnark permalink
    May 27, 2009 6:23 pm

    I think it’s funny that in the Chinese officials’ assessment, “domestic disputes between mother in-laws and daughter in-laws” are classified up there with sexual harassment, burglary, murder and rape. Like my coworker griping about her fiance’s mom wanting to serve pigs-in-a-blanket at her wedding shower is on the same level of evil as killing or raping someone?

    back on the main topic, it’s very interesting to learn about this. I’m guessing the description is somewhat simplified because logistically, eventually somebody has to move out, right? If a family has several daughters and they each have kids, it seems like it’ll eventually get too crowded.

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