Dean Owen

5 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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In the Kingdom of Women

We woke from our beds at 5:30am, our home for the night a little wooden guesthouse run by a family of Mosuo. We peaked through the window into the dark. The eerie calm and still waters of the lake reflected a moonless sky. Our hosts had prepared butter tea the night before, but “pressed” for time we scampered out and to the water’s edge where the boatlady was waiting.

This is Lake Lugu, nestled in the Tibetan plateau at an elevation of close to 9,000ft. Some ten or so ethnic minorities inhabit the shores of this serene lake but the Mosuo are the most predominant. The Mosuo call it "mother lake" and believe the lake represents the beautiful spirit Gemu who in ancient legend was courted by the many mountain Gods. Here, the women rule and men are relegated to menial tasks such as attending the livestock and fishing.

The female elder of each household (Ah Mi) is all-powerful and her decisions are final.

There is no marriage in Mosuo culture and women are free to be courted by many men. Male suitors visit their ladies in the dark of night, hoping to be able to climb through a window left purposely ajar. The man must return to his household before his Ah Mi awakes and first meal is served.

Couples do not live together, and any offspring are raised by the female’s household. Men attend to their own family, but may attend a birth of their children or meet with them on special days. There is no Mosuo word for husband or father, but a father is usually acknowledged and will participate in the child’s life through to their coming of age ceremony at the age of thirteen.

This tradition of “walking marriages” has survived through the centuries and the Mosuo ladies we encountered felt no need or desire to adopt the traditional concept of marriage. The livestock, dwelling, and the children are the property of the women. They often stay loyal to the father of the child but are free to couple with other men, but all nightly hops through windows are kept secret.

We cast away our small boat and headed toward one of the islands in the middle. Climbing to the top of the island, deep orange streaks began to permeate the clouds. We stood, breathless, in awe of the fiery red canvas that appeared before us.

As we decended, we saw the Mosuo boat lady had prepared a fire and was cooking up some Yak butter tea. Looks like there was no escape.

Do take a minute of your time to watch this short video of the Mosuo boatlady singing us back to shore. There is something so captivating about her voice.

Dean Owen is Co-Founder of Quimojo, a revolutionary new concept in Global Campus Recruitment

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Dean Owen

4 years ago #16

Something fishy going on with the notifications. Just got notified of this comment 3 days late! Anyway, today was the last day of school and we've a short trip over Chinese New Year. I'm incapable of planning a second trip until first completed, but I do miss the sun. Lembogan looks enticing, but that's more of the same for you.

Paul Walters

4 years ago #15

Dean Owen great piece...time we did a trip together...what say you?

CityVP Manjit

4 years ago #14

Now you are also introducing me to the cultures of Naxi, Baima, Miao and Mosuo as well as the Dong culture, which is where you provided me the link to this page, I now have ample reason to develop a new learning hive for my use next year as I begin to delve more into the rich new perspectives you have introduced to me through your own exploration and journey within China. I set it up right now at Thank you for opening up my worldview through the window of your insights.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #13

Surprising to hear about the Celts. I had images of boisterous men pulling women along the ground by their hair.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #12

Thanks Lisa Gallagher. You are not missing much with the butter tea, it is not very pleasant! It is usually made from Yak butter or cow milk with tea leaves and SALT !

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #11

Very interesting story Dean Owen. I had no idea a society existed where people dont marry and women rule! What an experience you must have had. What is butter tea and did you like it? Photos are breathtaking and your right, the woman in the video, her voice was capturing. Thank you for sharing this

Dean Owen

5 years ago #10

Thank you Franci. Certainly more to come!

This is a fascinating post. I love the photos and the Mosuo boatlady singing acapella. I hope you will share more about your travels.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #8

Thanks so much Purnima. I am always in a dilemma as to whether of not to add lots and lots of photos, but for this post I felt less is more. Thanks for taking the time to read it.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #7

Thanks as always. It is amazing how few people can just sing, without any musical accompaniment, and be so engaging. Thanks for stopping by.

Mamen 🐝 Delgado

5 years ago #6

Absolutely grateful for that plan, you know! I usually say that China y the "Planet China", so lots of ground in deed...

Dean Owen

5 years ago #5

Thanks for dropping by Mamen Delgado. I plan to keep reminding you of this beautiful country in the coming months. Lots of ground to cover :)

Dean Owen

5 years ago #4

Thanks Ken Boddie, will be a few more ethnic minority group posts in the coming months hopefully. I can't wait to see your post on Sumatra (and the Sumatran coffee report!). I have travelled quite extensively through Java, but have never been to Sumatra.

Mamen 🐝 Delgado

5 years ago #3

Post absolutely enchanting Dean Owen!! Thanks so much for transporting me for a while to my dear China... ;)

Javier 🐝 CR

5 years ago #2

Did you applaud ?? Of course !!! :)

Ken Boddie

5 years ago #1

I love this buzz, Dean - and the pics. The soulful, dirge-like, wail of the boat lady is the icing on the cake. China has so many ethnic minority groups, if the excellent museum in Shanghai is anything to go by. I have only been introduced to a few in an overly short guided tour there a couple of years back. I am advised by my Javanese relatives that the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra also have a matriarchal and matrilineal society. 🙆 I hope to go there this August. Although the wife comes originally from Sumatra, she is, luckily for me, from the south and not the west.

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