Have you heard of the Mosuo tribe, also known as the “Kingdom of Women?” As one of the last remaining matrilineal and matriarchal societies, they provide a a fascinating glimpse into a different type of culture. The Mosuo are a small ethnic group that lives in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in China, near the border of Tibet. They have a population of between 40,000 and 50,000, the majority living near Lugu Lake.
One especially unique part of their culture is their view on marriage and children. For example, the Mosuo practice what’s called walking marriage. In this, if a woman or man shows interest in one another, the woman gives the man permission to visit her. These visits take place under cover of darkness; if a child is born, the man has no obligation to care for the child. He may bring gifts to the mother's family and potentially play a role in the upbringing, but this will not mean he is part of the family. Because of this, no divorce or custody disputes exist, as the child belongs to and is raised by the mother's extended family.
Mosuo women do all of the housework, cleaning, livestock raising, spinning, weaving, tending the fires, and gathering wood. At the same time, the men are in charge of slaughtering the livestock, fishing, building houses, and helping to raise the children of their sisters and other female relatives. The Mosuo are self-sufficient in their diet and grow enough crops and raise enough animals for their daily needs. Because they do not have refrigeration, they smoke or salt their meat in order to preserve it.
The matriarch or Ah Mi (which means “elder female” in Chinese) is the head of the household and has absolute power. As such, she makes all financial decisions and dictates the jobs of each family member. When she decides to pass her duties on, she will pick a female successor and hand over the keys to the household.
Matriarchal societies have existed throughout history. Women ruled the nation of the Sitones in Germany. In Hopi Society, women are at the center of all things. The Hopi women hold political and economic power and make many tribal decisions. Many more societies from the Neolithic Era through the Middle Ages have records of women who have held power. In Kenya, a village was established in 1995 by women to provide a haven for women fleeing gender-based violence. Men live in their own village nearby, and once a male child reaches the age of 18, he must leave the women's village.
Matrilinial cultures are such a fascinating subject to me. Women are capable of enduring and caring for so much, and these societies are certainly evidence of that!