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.
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