An interesting synchronicity: ABC national news carried an item about this Lugu Lake culture just several weeks after I send out the story below.
ABC National tv news story, May 13, 2002 MATRIARCHY
The remote Chinese lake side culture is said to be the source of the myth
of "Shangri La", the non-existent idylic land depicted as a utopia in James
Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon.
Anthropologists say because men here have no power, own no land and play subservent sexual roles there is nothing for them to fight about. This makes this culture one of the most harmonious societies on the planet. They have no word for war. There are no murders and no rapes.
Should we give all the power to women in order to create paradise? Or perhaps a more practical question is, "What is there for us to learn from this culture?"
Females call the shots as men hand over matter of life and love in remote Chinese matriarchy society.
Lugu Lake, China - Alacuo, an 18 year-old beauty in this tradition bound village, wants to do something radical. She wants to get married and settle down.
"My mother think I should be like her and have several lovers." Alacuo says. "But I want someone who will stay with me all the time." Alacuo lives in China's legendary "women's kingdom", a matriarchal society of about 47,000 people that thrives on the shores of Lugu Lake in a remotre corner of southern China. The women of the Mosuo ethnic group, which is descended from Tibetan nomads, make the decisions and hold the purse strings. Property and names pass from mother to daughter. The women rarely take husbands. Instead they enjoy what is known as a "walking marriage", in which a woman invites a lover to come visit her for the evening with a discreet tickle of his palm. The man must arrive after dark and leave by sunrise, and any resulting child stays with the mother.
It is a tradition that originated thousands of years ago, when matriarchs commonly ruled agrarian villages across China, sociologists say. The walking marriage may be the legacy of a time when fathers often were lost to wars, were nomads, or were Buddhist monks who took vows of celebacy and so would not acknowledge their offspring. In the men's absence, the women harvested the crops, fed the families and made the rules.
Today, extended families still gather at night around the fire under soot-blackened eaves, drinking green tea or white liquor while the eldest woman assigns tasks for the next day. The men do occassional heavy jobs such as plowing the fields, herding horses and hualing fishnets. In between bouts of billiards or baby sitting, they may also help out in a store or guest house owned by their mothers or sisters. But the women say they do everything else. Everything.
"The men here do nothing." says Aiqingma, a 24 year old with quiet charm and quick hands. She glares at a group of men smoking and chatting while she grills fish on a stone stove near the lake shore. "Really. We don't like them."
Area's Isolation Lets System Endure
of the matriarchal tradition is all the more remarkable in China, a country
where male offspring are strongly preferred and females at times are aborted
as fetuses or abandoned as infants. But the Lugu Lake area's isolation
allowed the society's matrilineal system to flourish and endure, even under
This area of northern Yunnan province, with its,crystalline lake, Buddhist monasteries and red-earth mountains, was perhaps the model for the mythical-Shangri-La in James Hilton's novel "Lost Ho- rizon." Until a few decades ago, it took a mule train seven days to reach the
village of Lugu Lake from the nearest trading center, Lijiang. Even today, it can only be reached after a nine-hour jeep ride over harrowingly narrow mountain passes that are frequently blocked by landslides or snow.
Russian explorer Peter Goullart lived in Lijiang, formerly called Likiang, until the Communists took over China in 1949. He describes in his 1950s book "Forgotten Kingdom" the sensation that the Mosuo caused during their visits to town.
"Whenever these men and women passed through the market or Main Street on their shopping expeditions, there was indignant whispering, giggling and squeals of outraged modesty on the part of the Likiang women and girls, and salacious remarks from men.... "[Lugu Lake] was a land of free love. . . . Whenever a Tibetan caravan or other strangers were passing (their area], these ladies went into a huddle and secretly decided where each man should stay.... She and her daughters prepared a feast and danced for the guest. Afterward the older lady bade him to make a choice between ripe experience and foolish youth."
With its unspoiled beauty, remote location and rare customs, its not surprising that Lugu Lake has become legendary, a place of fascination and often prurient curiosity in China.
"People are obsessed with our walking marriage," says Yang Erchenamu, 32, who won a singing contest in 1983 and subsequently was one of the first women to make a life for herself outside the village.
"Not only because it's different, but also because it works."
"Outside Lugu Lake, marriage is like a business transaction." she says. "The women worry, 'Does he have a good job? Can he take care of me?' In our village, the girls are strong and take care of themselves. Everything we do is for love."
Namu, as Erchenamu is called, has a basis for comparison. In Beijing, she fell in love with an American. They were married in San Francisco and lived there but divorced after two years. "I was raised very strong willed," she says. "I had to learn not to tell him what to do all the time."
Following a stint as a fashion designer, she is back in Beijing after 10 years in the United States and is preparing to make her first recording for BMG Entertainment. She vows not to wed again but says with a laugh that she has a walkingmarriage with a Dutch diplomat. But walking marriage or not, her life is still a world away from the life of her family in Lugu Lake. Namu has two older sisters, and the three women have different fathers. That makes for complicated bloodlines in the village but creates general goodwill.
"When we were'kids, we were taught to treat everyone well.", Namu says. "You never know who might be your brother or sister."
When Namu came of age, her mother told her which young men not to to walk with in order to avoid a relationship with a blood relative But even in her lifetime, things have changed.
Cultural Revolution Halted Traditions
The year Namu was born, 1966, also
marked the beginning of Mao Tse-tung's decade long Cultural Revolution.
a time when the Communist party tried to eliminate old customs and create
a new China. Local government leaders tried to eradicatethe "decadent"
traditions of the Mosuo, forcing them to marry and abandon their language
As soon as the Cultural Revolution ended, the Mosuo reclaimed their traditional ways with a rash of divorces. But in an effort to simplify bloodlines, they made one change: Now, once a couple have child, they hold a ceremony announcing their relationship and usually stop seeing
other people. But almost without exception, even after fathering children, the men continue to live in their mothers' household and help raise their sister's children.
But as the Lugu Lake area becomes more accessible and tourists bring in their fashions and customes, strong currents are moving through the Mosuo villages, threatening to upset the old ways.
Chinese karaoke videos, viewed thanks to the arrival of electricity two years ago, feature coddled delicate heroines. Tourist tell the Mosuo girls they work too hard. "The boys should labor all day," they scold, while the girls play cards or go to school."
Even Namu's tales of Beijing, the United States and her brief marriage, feed young Mosuo girl's romantic ideas about the outside world.
"I tell them not to be in such a hurry to leave their culture behind." Namu says. "It's only after you lose it that you realize what you've lost."
If there were to be a men's liberation movement here, it might be led by Alazhaxi. A dashing figure in a goat-hair cape and aviator'sun glasses, Alazhaxi used to be an avid
practitioner of Lugu Lake's most renowned custom. With his sharp cheekbones easy smile and intense brown eyes full of possibility, he became a favorite of the village. In night of drunken boasting, he told outsider that he had "walked" with 26 of the village women, something of a record.
"Usually it is a secret buried deep in the bone. We don't even tell our brothers an sisters." he whispers. "The girl's family can hear the footsteps in the dark, but they never see the boy's face until there a baby."
But Alazhaxi broke tradition- and dozens of hearts, he claims- when he decided to marry and live with the woman who bore his child. "I am one man in a thousand." he declares with a broad smile. "I dare to do new things."
Others hint that he had to marry so that his wife could keep an eye on him. The real reason, he says, is that he left his mother's house when she died and opened a small guest house with his wife and her mother. He concedes that it would be hard to pay visits to other lovers while they all live under the same roof, but he says he gave up his midnight trysts six years ago any way when his son was born.
Preserving the Village's Way of Life
Today, Alazhaxi is concentrating on
preserving the village traditions. For the tourists Who brave the
long journey over the mountains tains in search of pristine wilderness
or in hopes of
fulfilling misguided fantasies (despite what, Goullart wrote about their hospitality, the Mosuo rarely tickle an outsider's palm nowadays), Alazhaxi ensuris there is something to see.
He organizes a nightly lakeside dance around a bonfire to teach visitors the traditional songs and steps. The young women wear black headdresses festooned with pearls; the older ones wear simple turbans and stamp the dirt with animal-hide boots.
The villagers are almost as curious about the'visitors as the tourists are about them. The party ends in a song exchange: Mosuo folk melodies ring in the night, along with Cultural Revolution work songs and the latest karaoke hits.
Along with their pop songs and fashions that tempt local girls away from their traditional pleated skirt and velvet blouse costumes, the tourists bring money. There follows the now-common conundrum: Will the traditions survive because of the tourists or despite them?
In Lugu Lake, there are unexpected ripples. Suddenly, the men in the village can have an independent income from taking tourists fishing or running small stores. The more ambitious, like Alazhaxi, have opened guest houses. But there's no gender revolution just yet.
"This is a woman's kingdom, Alazhaxi says. "Women have the power. When I row the boat, I hand. the money over to my wife's mother. She gives me enough to buy cigarettes and a drink, and I do what she says."
'But the changes brought from outside over the years are catching up to the village. Before primary education became mandatory in the 1970s, only boys went to school; girls were needed to run the farms and the households. As a result, educated men now hold most of the local government posts and work with provincial officials usually other men who historically have had trouble with the Mosuo matriarchs.
However, even the officials say the women hold the real power.
Tsizuoerchang, a headman from one village, says he makes the decisions outside the village, but not inside. "If I want to do something', he say, "I must get permission from my mother."
Again, the experience is that we
humans tend to have basic needs (and therefore often conflicts and "troubles")
in three major areas:
a) Safety, security & money issues.
b) Sexuality, sensuality and pleasure issues.
c) Power, control & decision making issues.
Every culture seems to play out these arenas or issues in various ways as they attempt to deal with the needs involved. The variation at times can seem to be fairly large and often with an accompanying "evaluation" by opposing or different cultures, that their own way is the best or the most moral.
So some questions come to mind regarding this example of the remote Chinese matriarchy system with its 'non-traditional' ways of handling sex, money, marriage, the raising of chidren, and of course... power and control.
1) Is their system
2) Is their system immoral?
3) If moral (or immoral).... in comparison with what? .... and why?
If "morality" really doesn't apply as an issue here, then what about just plain functionality?
4) Does their
system work well?
5) Does it not work well?
6) If so (either case), in comparison with what? ... and why?
How would we evaluate these questions and attempt to garner answers?
What process would we use for such an evaluation?
The answer for me to these questions lies not in attempting immediately to directly answer them, but to simply notice that we humans have generated a wide variety of "solutions" to those age-old problems of "money, sex, and power". It could be said, all of them have "worked" to one degree or another, simply because they have existed for some period of time. Some short, some longer; but all have existed for some period of time or we wouldn't know of them. And one thing that we know for sure is that very, very often almost every one of the systems we humans developed, presented itself as the "right" or "best" way and it "felt natural" (or at least was experienced as "this is just the way it is!") to most of its followers.
We have the ways of the Budhist, the southern Baptist, the Catholic, the Jew, the Jehovah's Witness, the atheist, the Taliban, the Hindu and the hedonist. A number of these ways just mentioned, have at one time or another proclaimed themselves to be the only way to "heaven". Politically we have seen the Nazi's, the Republican's and the Democrats, the dictators, the benevolent & wise kings, the religious/political leaders, the skin-heads, the anarchists, the patriarchs and the matriarchs. And all of these probably at one time or another proclaimed it was the best way to run their society.
How would we evaluate "morality" or "immorality" with such a background? Even functionally comes into question somewhat via the observation that each of these systems has existed at least briefly. Now I am not suggesting at all that morality should be tossed out the window or that functionality (how well something truly works or not) is irrelevent. On the contrary I think those are really important questions. AND in addition to this, I believe there is something even more powerful, useful and revelent here. Something that deserves our attention. And this is simply that we humans are tremendously creative and adaptable!!
Now most of these above mentioned creations and adaptations have evolved either unconsciously (on the broader social level), or at the direction of a few leaders, or from the influence of external events beyond the control of the effected people (like women taking over needed positions of work, power and decision making when men were no longer present due to war deaths), and almost all of them evolved over long periods of time spanning many generations. This long time period essentially meant that during one person's life time, the system they were embedded in, seemed "natural"; it was just "there". There was little conscious choice about it.
The challenge to us now is that the world is changing in ever increasingly rapid and numerous ways. We can't wait for generations to pass for us to create new and better ways of being and dealing with the significant problems that have evolved and which we have created for ourselves collectively and personally. In our own personal lives we are living long enough to easily outlive the vivability of approaches that are limited in the happiness and success they give us. Pain, tears, dissatisfaction, boredom, loneliness and disease are some of the indicators that our current approach is not working well for us now.
The OPPORTUNITY for us is that we know about this process of increasing change. We know of our ability to create and adapt. And with increased information flow (computer technology, such as this email to you right now), education, and an increasing knowledge of what it is to be human (from physiology, to psychology, and beyond) we can bring forth more and more integrated attempts to fully and safely satisfy our basic needs in a successful way. We have the ability now to more quickly "reality test" the various solutions we bring forth to our age old needs and at the same time increase the joy we experience in life.
Our our most powerful enemy is FEAR. Fear of change, even from that which is currently painful to us. Remember "better the devil I know, than the devil I don't" ! How many times have we sat on the dime because of that belief? Our greatest allies may well be two things:
1) The knowledge that we are tremendously creative and adaptable. The important thing here is that we learn to trust ourselves and our ability to create.
2) The resolution of what at first glance seems to be paradoxical: the creation of something both stable and yet evolving. A safe and supportive interpersonal environment commited to conscious and joyful evolution.
How would that work? How could we create such a thing?
A final set of thoughts on relationships: Is a matriarchy the best path? The illustration of the remote Chinese, woman dominated culture is an interesting one. But what about patriarchy? We certainly have seen a large amount of that in our western cultures. Has it worked well? Women might well give some varying answers in response to that question. So what do we (you & I) do? How do we handle the age-old questions of "money, sex and power"? Those in power will tend to set the stage, the pattern to be used in handling the other variables of sex and money. Of course very often then a "dance of power" begins. Who is really in control? How much can I (or you) if I'm not the one in control, pull out for myself? Should we use Matriarchy? Patriarchy? Or........ perhaps it is neither! Consider that with regard to relationships, people can come together on different "levels".
THE FOUR LEVELS OF RELATIONSHIP:
CONNECTION / SEX:
A wonderful, uplifting element of some relationships. Empowering, energizing, at the same time relaxing and soothing. Marvelous stuff. Yet if that is all there is in a relationship, it will last at most about 1 year. (2 years if we are really young, the sex is red hot and nothing else comes along to distract either of us.)
The good side: Snuggling at night, the best of companionship in a general sense, having someone else there, sharing of laughter, life, experiences, etc. The not so good side in terms of emotional immaturity; hand in glove, reverse compatibilities. My short comings fit right into your strengths and vice versa. We are dependent upon each other in a clinging sense. If the relationship fits into this last category, it will typically last (being vital) about 4 to 6 years at most. If that is all there is, the people may still be there after 6 years, but the vitality has long vanished.
We share the same values, the same goals, or we have the same "purpose". Then the relationship has the potential for lasting (being vital) for a life time. No guarantee, but the potential is there. Many people will have the same goal of raising their kids. But when the last of the kids is out of the nest, the marriage falls apart. It's goal has been accomplished. Others will run a family business or support their particular religious or political doctrine. These are examples of mental connections that may carry the relationship fully for a lifetime.
THE MENTAL :
Perhaps this is where the ultimate potential of REAL community lies with regard to relationship. It's "goal" or "purpose" is the creation of a total environment (physical, social, emotional, and mental) which supports each person in discovering and developing all aspects of themselves. It honors and helps to bring forth the deepest and the highest elements of our being without denying the basic elements; it helps the process of integrating these basic needs such that they support the natural unfoldment of our highest aspects. In this, without any reference to religiosity, it might well be called spiritual.
So.... "A safe and supportive interpersonal environment commited to conscious and joyful evolution." Something safe, stable and yet evolving. I believe that community consciously and purposefully formed among people focusing on deep and sustainable friendship among all, with an emphasis on empowering each person present (neither matriarchy or patriarchy) is the key.
The Mariposa Group
"Please get yourself educated as quickly as you can.
Don't get mixed up by the crossfire of information.
The only way you'll get there is by doing your own thinking.
So simply begin to dare, dare, dare.
Listen to your own mind.
It's now possible for life to be a success.
"Bucky" Fuller was the discoverer/'creator' of the geodesic dome. He was an extraordinary man with many inventions and contributions far beyond the geodesic dome. Bucky wrote a provocative book "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth" and later directed a survey of all the earth's resources indicating that human-kind had "more than enough" of what it needed not only to survive, but to live well within reason. The challenge lay in distributing it among the world's people. Before his death, for his contributions Bucky received the highest civilian award possible, the Presidential Metal of Freedom.