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Mosuo: A Mysterious Matriarchal Group in China

Around a great lake in the mountains of Southwest China lives a matriarchal group called Mosuo. As part of the Naxi ethnic minority -- one of China's 55 ethnic minorities -- to date, the matriarchal system is still practiced in some villages.

 Grandma Heads the Family

Mosuo people live around Lugu Lake nearly 2,700 meters above sea level. The lake is completely surrounded by mountains, with Yunnan Province to the west and Sichuan Province to the east.

Although the size of a Mosuo family varies, it usually consists of around 10 people. While some families may comprise as many as 20 or 30 members, every family is always led by a female. The head is the most capable woman in the family and is highly respected by other members. She has both an honorary status and important responsibilities since everyone counts on her to make decisions in handling family affairs.

The Mosuo people are having a festival

About 50,000 Mosuo people live around Lugu Lake, which measures over 48 square km. There is plenty of space to build large timber houses where each family has its own courtyard. The number of rooms in each courtyard depends on the size of the family. But in every courtyard -- big or small -- there is generally one room that stands out among the others: the grandmother's quarters. It is also used for offering sacrifices to ancestors, discussing family matters, dining and receptions. However, its low ceiling and dark atmosphere also brings a sense of intimacy. The only light in the room comes from a flame that burns in a coal-stove chamber, where an important stone is located.

The stone represents the entire family ancestry. It is believed that souls of past generations live in it and that the fire must stay lit all year round to keep them warm. An extinguished flame means that the family is declining. It is only when the flame is burning that the family can prosper.


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