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Mysterious World of Mosuo People

Grandma heads the family

Mosuo is the only place in China that still abides by a matriarchal society, in that women are the top leaders of its community's extensive families. The people elieve family members are descendants of the same woman.

Mosuo families usually consist of around 10 people. Most families are led by a female. The head is the most capable woman in the family and is highly respected by other members. She holds both an honorary status and has important responsibilities since everyone counts on her to make decisions in handling family affairs. That includes ceremonies for honoring ancestors, building new houses and so on.

There are no husbands and fathers here -- lovers meet at night but live separately with their own mother's families by day.

An house is the basic social unite for Mosuo people. In every courtyard -- big or small -- there is generally one room that stands out among the others: the grandmother's quarters. It is also used for offering sacrifices to ancestors, discussing family matters, dining and receptions. However, its low ceiling and dark atmosphere also brings a sense of intimacy.

The only light in the room comes from a flame that burns in a coal-stove chamber, where an important stone is located. The stone represents the entire family ancestry. It is believed that souls of past generations live in it and that the fire must stay lit year round to keep them warm. An extinguished flame means that the family is declining. It is only when the flame is burning that the family can prosper.

Axia marriage and the matriarchal family

There are three kinds of marriage patterns among the Mosuo people: the traditional Axia system (visiting marriage), Axia cohabitation and monogamy.

The traditional Axia system is marriage-free. Mosuo men call their beloved women Axia ("intimate companion") and women call their lovers, Azhu. They are not bound by marriage and will live in their mothers' homes all their lives. Every adult Mosuo girl has a special Azhu house of her own where her lover can visit during the night but must leave early the next morning. If the girl wishes to stop the love affair she simply closes the door and then the man will not return. The lovers have no economic or legal ties: Their relationship is based only on mutual love and affection, where the will of the female is highly respected. If children are born into the family, they belong exclusively to the mother's side and inherit her surname. They are raised with their mother and uncles and are not introduced to their father until their adult ceremony. 
The matriarchal family has advantages:

First of all, there are no complex relationships; the relations among family members are simple. As a result, there are fewer conflicts.

Second, since women serve as the heads of the families, they are in charge of most of the work and handle property matters, while uncles look after the boys. Such a blood-based connection may prove to be more stable than the love-based marriage of duty. Thus, every family is harmonious and united.

Adult Ceremony

For Mosuo people, the most important things of their all life are the adult ceremony and cremation. They believe that minors do not have souls. When Mosuo children reach 13, they go through a special adult ceremony.

The ceremony is always held on New Year's Day. On this special morning, the mother helps her girls put on beautiful new dresses and jewels while the uncle helps the boys put on their new clothes and waist knives. During the ceremony, girls stand on the right side of the campfire while the boys stand on the left. They put one foot on a piece of pig's fat and the other on a bag of rice (symbols for a rich life). Then they bow to the elders, each of whom gives them a gift. At last, the bada (shaman) will drink a toast to the children. Then the bada says: "Today is a good day. The sun is nice, the moon is nice, the stars are nice, and everything is nice. You put on the skirts/trousers, may you living a long life and having plenty of food and clothing..."

After the ceremony, the boys and girls are permitted to attend all adult activities. After 15 years the teens are allowed to take lovers.

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