Choo Waihong, a corporate lawyer from Singapore, said she grew up in a male-orientated household where her father “was the quintessential male in an extremely patriarchal Chinese community in Singapore.” So when she heard about the Mosuo, an ancient matriarchal community of Tibetan Buddhists who live in the far eastern foothills of the Himalayas in Yunnan, China, she decided it was time to journey there and see for herself.
Among the Mosuo, she discovered, her conception of the nuclear family had an entirely different form. Their society has no marriages — sons and daughters alike live in their mother’s home, and grandmothers sit at the head of the table. Independent of permanent partnerships, single motherhood, and having multiple sexual partners, is commonplace and without stigma. Large extended families help mothers care for the children — rather than a child’s biological father, who lives in his own maternal home, it is more typical for uncles to exert the largest male influence on their sister’s children.
“Mosuo men are feminists by any standards,” said Waihong. “Boys think nothing of looking after their baby sisters, or taking their toddler brothers by the hand everywhere. I was once made to wait before talking business with an elderly Mosuo man until he had bathed his family’s twin baby girls and changed their nappies.”
In lieu of Westernized notions of relationships, men and women instead practice “axia,” a “walking marriage” in which couples can meet in the middle of the night for one-night stands, recurring encounters, and also for long-term exclusive partnerships.
“For Mosuo women, an axia is often a pleasurable digression from the drudgery of everyday life, as well as a potential sperm donor,” explained Waihong.
A few months after her first visit, a teenage girl named Ladzu offered to teach Waihang the tribe’s language, an oral tradition which lacks a traditional writing system. As she spent more time with the Mosuo, she became a godmother to Ladzu, and Ladzu’s uncle, Zhaxi, built her a house. Today, she said, her visits last months at a time.
Read the full story at The Guardian.