Walking Marriages

Walking marriagesThe Mosuo tribe in the Tibetan region of Yunnan and Szechuan is one of the last remaining matriarchal societies in China. Women are often the head of the house and the inheritance follows the female line.

The thing that struck me most was that according to the guide, the words ‘father’ and ‘husband’ do not exist in the Mosuo dialect, mainly because marriage does not exist here.

A woman who has come of age is allowed to have a room in the house to herself. This private room is called the flower chamber. A man who is interested in having sexual relations with a woman will climb through the window of her room, stay with her through the night and leave before morning comes. The man never enters from the front door. It is said that if she keeps her window open and a man comes into her chamber, it would be unseemly if the woman does not allow the man to fornicate with her, whoever he was. On the other hand, if she isn’t interested in the man, all she has to do is to close the window.

These relations, which are called走婚 or literally ‘walking marriages’, are kept going by the mutual affection of the couple but they are not exclusive. Although many relations are monogamous, Mosuo women and men can engage in sexual relations with as many partners as they wished.

Children born from such relations are taken care of by the family of the woman and have no stigma of not knowing who their father is. They grow up with their aunts and uncles who all share in the responsibility of raising them.

While it is often said that the men don’t need to work and conserve their energy every day for their nightly forays into their lovers’ rooms, this is simply not true (sigh). Livestock farming, fishing and avuncular duties keep them busy in throughout the day, and thus balance is restored.

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