The Moso people, a World without father or husband 

The Moso people were declared a model people on the 50th anniversary of the UN.
The Moso people straddle Yunnan and Sichuan, the foothills of the Himalayas, China.

Who is the Moso people?

This page was posted on 21/11/2003 and updated on 10/01/2005. We thank the film team for sending us these two photos to illustrate this page.

update of 15/03/2009 : about common ownership.

update: 12/5/2007: on Namu’s declaration of love to President Sarkozy; April 2015: to add photos from another site.

source of this web page: the documentary film ” A world without father or husband ” ( 2000 – 52 minutes ), by Eric Blavier and Thomas Lavachery, Belgian directors from Brussels, whom we met in November 2003. 

In the south-west of China, on the foothills of the Himalayas, an ethnic group of 30,000 inhabitants, still little known, preserves particular traditions and rites throughout the ages.

Surprising resistance from the Moso people, this isolated “female kingdom”, where our Western conceptions falter. 
In this enclave cut off from the world, women play a leading role.

photo transmitted by the film team

une mère de famille Moso

Mothers in Moso culture

Mothers are the pillars of society. Only female ancestry is taken into account and the transmission of the name as property is exclusively female. The notion of father is nonexistent. Men and women do not live in a couple but each in his family of origin. Several times a year, the man will join for a few days the mother and her regular companion. The farther the man comes, the greater the prestige of the woman. Without this being perceived as sexual lightness and while strictly observing the incest taboo, especially between brother and sister, relationships are formed and untied without any social constraint. Without marriage or infidelity, this society so radically excludes possession that jealousy becomes shameful.

The mother is a head of the family. Aged, she will prepare one of her daughters for her succession. There is no heritage sharing at his death. Community property remains the same from generations to generations and the family, once its subsistence is assured, does not make an effort to enlarge it to the detriment of other families or embellish its heritage with richly decorated works. There would even be a certain disdain or a laziness so as not to improve the circulation of drinking water, to install a minimum of practical and hygienic comfort. On the contrary, everyone takes the opportunity to organize a peaceful rhythm of life and
Pleasant, have time for him. The village by Lake Luju, where the film was shot, is located in an enchanting landscape. Men fish with meager fish because altitude is around 2700 meters.

In this enclave cut off from the world, women play a leading role. 

photo transmitted by the film team

Men in Moso culture

Men are exempt from work and go about their occupations or inactivity in a group. From time to time, they build, repair or rebuild homes. Women in groups do most of the work for daily subsistence. At nightfall, the men join them: they show up under the window of the young woman whose favors they hope. She chooses one with which to spend the night. Every evening, if she wishes, she can choose a different partner. The man pushed aside by a young woman rushes to join another young woman until finding one who accepts her. Couples are quickly formed and during the night they must conduct their discussions with discretion without disturbing the house. This practice of visits is spectacular for us Westerners but most young women choose to establish a more lasting relationship with a man and once this relationship is formalized in front of the community, the man and the woman can behave towards each other in a fidelity chosen for a duration that can go up to death. However, when one of them dies, the other will not come from his village to attend the funeral. He will not even interfere on this occasion in the life of his partner’s family.

Children in Moso culture

The children are raised by the mother’s uncles who replace the father and they have affection for them as a father. Women are proud of their social position and laughing, explain that men during the day have to rest to be more valiant in bed at night. Today, they still insist on maintaining this way of life because they believe that they live with their companion only moments of love and shared feelings, without any dispute destroying or disturbing this relationship. The material aspects, the questions of property, the aspects of child rearing, all the subjects on which all the couples living together will quarrel sooner or later, do not exist for the lovers of the Moso people. They love each other without constraint.

The impact of Chinese society and evolution of Moso culture

By the time the film was made in 2000, lifestyles had already changed, and official Chinese government mores had taken precedence over many ancestral customs. An initial attempt to bring the Moso people to heel during the Cultural Revolution in the 1950s and 1970s was a failure.

Summoned by the Chinese power to marry under the arrangements of their families or to marry by force by the leadership of the Party, many young couples of lovers, rather than seeing their love broken, fled into the mountains to kill themselves, letting themselves, lovingly embraced, die of cold.

Faced with the death and fierce determination of these lovers, the measure was repealed.

le lac Lugu au Yunnan
le lac Lugu

In front of the camera, children confess more or less freely this wish while women do not want it!

The men found an occupation in the development of tourism following the construction of a road that goes up to the village from the town nearly 200 kilometers away. They take boatmen to walk tourists on the lake.

The latter are especially attracted by the reputation of the women of the village as if they were going to show anything in front of them or worse, prostitute themselves for them.

The opposite is true, and tourists are disappointed because during the day there is nothing special and at night everything is done so discreetly that they do not notice it either, and of course they do not take part in visits by young women. This development of tourism brings money to the village and people can go to the city to buy consumer goods or equipment they never used before.

The girls start dreaming about pictures of young couples in magazines and start thinking about leaving the village for the city. Their elders refuse to give up their ways of life which have guaranteed them a peaceful life without violence, hatred or jealousy in a freedom and sexual freedom unequaled.

For how long will they be able to fight to preserve this non-contentious way of life and these human relationships in their community?

At the moment, men are busy taking tourists for walks, and each family ensures that this remuneration is equal between all families. The men also built new houses to house tourists.

Petite fille moso
Petite fille Moso

The peculiarity of the Moso people

Indigenous Trobriandic Islands

A comparison with the culture of the indigenous people of the Trobriand Islands is not significant even if the values and norms are very similar. In fact, they’re two different lifestyles. if society is indeed matriarchal in Oceania, it is probably so in the Moso people but much less so because there is not much exchange of material goods between communities and the notion of individual property is very weak or non-existent in them.

In the Trobriand Islands, there is material wealth and trade with other islands. Men become warriors, they fish and value themselves through the most painful tasks. The ritual of visits to the wife is the same as in the Mosos, but in Oceania, the woman leaves her family for a certain time to live with her husband and the father of her children in their own home. Moso and her brothers never leave the family home and stay with their mother.

The values ​​of the MOSO people

What could explain this disconcerting peculiarity of the Moso people? Essentially the daily practice of the fundamental values of humanity: love and peace! The mother is never separated from her children throughout her life and it is the sisters who, when she dies, will choose who will replace her. Maternal love is thus preserved and serves as a pillar of social life. The eternal feminine from whom everything comes, in the words of Paul Eluard.

This disconcerting peculiarity of the Moso people can also be understood through their much harsher and poorer living environment, especially in winter at this not insignificant altitude. The region offers few resources and even quality wood is scarce. So families cannot compete with each other in terms of grabbing these natural resources at the expense of others. On the contrary, we must help each other to preserve these resources. The harshness of life means that there is no need for two people to exploit nature and men, to let them run the mountain, would usually return empty-handed, complexed by so many failures. It is then better to dispense them with work as if to save their honor. It is indisputable that this people has been able to develop and preserve a rudimentary but indeed pacifist art of living, in which hatred and jealousy are shameful.

Are these very honorable values, which we would very much need in our materialist civilization, derived from the constraints of life in this region? Are they the result of a wise compromise built on a very enlightened common sense? Or is it the will of the founders of this people who, in order to preserve them, chose to retreat to this region from society, as other communities had to do, especially in the United States in the 19th century?

We have no answer except in the words of the young women who today still prefer this peaceful and sexually liberated life. Were these sexual practices intended from the outset by the founders or are they a compromise, a valve to give more joy and unforeseen in a monotonous or even heavy daily life? There is no doubt that this organization functions properly economically and socially, that there is no quarrel over political choices. It is clear that children are far from being deprived of love and affection, that they will not experience from their adolescence sexual frustration and love disputes, nor property disputes.

The economic principles of a family are based on all the members who compose it. Each person has a role to play, it is therefore unthinkable that he leaves the home for a love he can attend anyway as he pleases. Refusing marriage therefore includes a freely experienced sexuality, without domination between the sexes and without fidelity.
This does not mean that a man and a woman, both in love, go to bed in the bed other partners. They simply do not consider it necessary to make a promise, since it could be broken. When a separation occurs, it is made in the sweetness and respect for the other. Everyone making the harmony persists.

The teachings of the matriarch and the Moso people:

  • The fact that in difficult living conditions and a certain harshness or even poverty, no one steals from others or quarrels, no one seeks to enrich himself on the back of his neighbors or no one allows himself to go to idleness and misery. There is real solidarity and there are no outsiders. Even at night, no one is left alone in the street. Poverty does not mean destitution to misery, obscurantism and violence. On the contrary, it does not forbid you to live in peace, to love yourself as you please and to help you to satisfy your individual material, social and spiritual needs
  • All points of discord are removed and if the social and economic organization has constraints, these are accepted in view of the advantages they entail in minimizing violence. Nobody imposes his will on the other, possession is excluded from the values of the culture of this people.
  • Alcohol and drugs did not exist before the people of the city arrived. Sexuality is used to let off steam in a good mood: every night, men must show themselves capable of satisfying the women who have chosen them to share their bed (and they have all day to recover!). Giving pleasure to the carnal body and producing emotions is as important a social value in them as work in us, it seems, and men must excel in it. A man who would no longer be accepted at night by a woman, reaches the worst of social situations.
  • Individual property does not exist, especially not that of a man over a woman and her children. It is only community-based and family-based, and it does not cause conflict in a village because the productions are distributed in proportion to each other’s contributions. However, the man must give the woman a gift before she invites her to join her. A man who cannot afford a gift can be helped: the woman who wishes to invite him will give him a gift, a hen, an object and it will be enough for the man to return it to him.
  • The chief has only a symbolic presence and a limited role in presiding over certain social rites during the holidays. These festivals seem much rarer and less sumptuous than those of the natives of the Trobriand Islands. The chief cannot impose his decision within the families. Decisions are collegial among women, the mother decides when it is necessary. Men have nothing to say and their capacity for male violence is socially excluded. This is one of the foundations of this pacifist organization. On the religious level, Lamaist monks perform ceremonies according to Tibetan rites. At the cremation of the body of the deceased, the family members must leave the pyre without turning back, the monks perform the funeral rites alone. In many peoples, both ancient and contemporary, to avoid the sharing of the patrimony among several sons, the parents keep the heir close to them and the other sons are placed in monasteries where they work for the good of the community. The girls are married and have children for the development of the people. In the Moso, the sons who do not inherit, do not need to go to a monastery and none are placed outside the family. The mother keeps her children with her throughout her life and manages their material property. All remain in the community, no one is excluded for property management issues. The fact that a young woman or a mother can change lovers if she so wishes has no economic and social consequences in the community, there is no threat to the children and no cause for quarrel.
  • Couples organize themselves discreetly so as not to be subject to arguments or discomfort. Love is free and during youth, young men and young women indulge in it to the fullest according to the wishes of each one. A young woman can easily bring forward more than a hundred partners, another can settle for fifty, the main thing is to have done no wrong to one of them, to have respected them and to have satisfied them. This is a commendable achievement, and these sexually satisfied men are less likely to leave the village or quarrel with each other over the odds. Everyone has a chance to grasp it and be patient if necessary. Brutalizing a woman or raping her, as in the Trobriand Islands, makes no sense since the possibilities are real to be able one day to have sex with her, it is enough to gain her confidence to say yes at least once! Apparently women prefer the joys of love to chastity and do not want to lose or deprive themselves of them.

The Moso people show us that we must not deprive yourself of love and first lovely love.

Civilizations or at least social organizations are disappearing before our eyes, while they contain solutions of peace, of human and social relations in solidarity, of absence of waste or of management of scarcity, of vision of love and pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, for us in our societies of growing violence and gross inequalities with common values in decline.

Instead of accumulating capital and wealth, of conquering the lands of neighbors if their own are too poor, the Moso people show us that we must not deprive ourselves of love and first of carnal love, that neither property issues, nor political or religious issues, nor the education of children, should lock a couple in a social status that will inevitably oblige them to know disputes, lack of respect, manipulative or aggressive behavior towards each other, even divorce or hatred, and at best a long and unspeakable dishabit of the intimacy of the other.

A community in which individuals have no object of quarrel is all the stronger to preserve the richness of sharing its purest feelings, its freest moments of love, even if they do not last an entire common human existence under one roof. The desire of these women not to live with the man chosen from their heart may seem shocking to our mentalities and our educations, but can we accuse them of an excessive selfishness to the point of preferring the game of desire, the pleasure each time renewed of waiting and preparation for the encounter, to the small and great miseries of common life more capable of extinguishing the flame of attraction towards the other, of losing the love momentum than of developing it? Where is the wisdom and art of living human love?.

Where is the wisdom and the art of living human love?

One thing is certain, the Moso people’s way of life is changing and the Chinese government’s desire to achieve its ends in less brutal ways is not in doubt, even though it does not seem to be using the criminal methods it is deploying in neighboring Tibet and that for ten years this region of Yunnan and the land of clouds is no longer forbidden.

This documentary film thus takes its full value in this restitution of a social organization in which the practice of love prevails over wars, misery, rape and the rejection of the other. The woman-future of man lives for some time yet, let us hope so, more the shores of Lake Lugu than our cities and our countryside of the so-called civilized countries… and the Romeo of the Moso people do not have to follow long the course of the moon before languishing in the arms of their beloved one night. It’s fascinating to us as Chinese tourists go up to these villages, but isn’t it enough for us to change our gaze between men and women?

Finally, looking at these pictures of the mothers lake, French translation of the word Lugu, we must remember another lake at nearly 3,000 meters above altitude in the Andes and cradle of the atlanteous people when the visitors from Venus disembarked there to transmit their form of life to a living species on our planet. Has the Moso people withdrawn at the edge of this lake by simple convenience to flee others and live in peace and in love? Did the founders of this people want to reproduce the original approach installed in Tiahuanaco thousands of years earlier knowing that if they were “returning”, their place would be ideal for finding them? Before this culture disappears under the pressure of Chinese and Western crops, is it still possible to find traces of these founding legends which would connect us to these origins before the last great cataclysm which necessarily left significant traces through the Chain of the Himalayas, especially if she escaped the flood?

the case of a Moso girl in conflict with her culture of origin 

to read the article about a Moso girl’s book, Yang Erche Namu, who has become a star in China and who hesitates between her maternal culture and modern culture:

Editor overview:

Farewell to Mother Lake is the story of an extraordinary childhood in an extraordinary society. Yang Erche Namu, a famous Chinese singer and model, lives between Beijing, Rome and San Francisco. Namu was born in 1966 to the Moso, a matrilineal society in the Yunnan Mountains, on the Sino-Tibetan border, at 2700 meters above sea level. 

Le pays des filles
Le pays des filles, livre de Namu

The Chinese call the Moso country “the land of girls,” because among the Moso, women are heads of households.

The Moso rejected the marriage. Sexual unions were temporary and children belonged automatically to the maternal family. Moso society encourages tolerance, respect for others and collective help.

Farewell to Mother Lake tells of Namu’s first sixteen years of life, her painful relationship with her mother, her desires for travel and escape, her ambition to see the world and the culmination of her dreams when she passes a singing contest and enters the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. 

adieu lac mère
adieu lac mère

The story of Namu’s learning is full of drama, strangeness and beauty.

Through the eyes of a child and then a fiery teenager, you enter the alcoves where tanned faces glow by the fire, you taste yack butter tea and you get drunk on the mountain air.

You will discover how love between mother and daughter, the conflict between the individual and society, is represented.

One experiences the unprecedented upheaval of the intrusion of the Chinese revolution into this millennial society as well as the awakening to the freedom of a young girl with an exceptional destiny.

This book is based on Namu’s meeting with a French anthropologist, Christine Mathieu, who was one of the first Westerners to study the Moso customs.

update of 5/12/2007: to watch Namu’s video declaring his love for President Sarkozy:

Our brief comment: Namu, we’ve loved you and your Moso sisters for a long time. It’s true that France needs a revolution and the place you wish to take will look wonderful, especially if you accept poets like us at your table and I see that you already love them very much. If Nicolas doesn’t respond positively, wait a bit. We are going to change life in France and certainly also in China and elsewhere, this may remind you a little of your childhood village and its values of peace and love. You’ll be a party on our Champs Elysées. Our kisses accompany you over the hills of the Himalayas. 

The common property

The rarity is not a fatality, and less “a natural data”

update of 15/03/2009: about common ownership. 

Michel Aglietta and André Orléan

IIt must be understood that scarcity is by no means a natural figure that could be measured by objective indicators such as, for example, the average standard of living of the population concerned. It would also be a total misunderstanding to say that the more prosperous a society is, the less scarce it is. It is quite different. Scarcity is a specific form of organization, established by the market, which makes the existence of each individual depend, to an extent unknown to other societies, on his or her ability to acquire objects without being able to expect help from others.

Marshall Sahlins describes it marvelously in an admirable book. Studying the peoples of hunter-gatherers, that is to say one of the oldest societies on the planet since it dates back to the Paleolithic, he shows that these societies, paradoxically, know abundance. Although the standard of living was very modest, no one died of hunger, since the custom of sharing and helping others dominated social life. In these societies, “no relationship between accumulation of material goods and social status has been established.” One can even say that the whole community organization aims to “limit the ownership of material goods”. It is in our societies that scarcity imposes itself as an autonomous power, without appeal, that regulates the life of individuals, without regard for their social dignity: “we and only we were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor. Scarcity is the sentence of our economy, and it is also the axiom of our political economy… Homo oeconomicus is a bourgeois invention; he is “not behind us,” Mauss said, “but before us as the moral man.” Hunter collectors did not seek their materialistic instincts; they just did not make it an institution. 

Money, between violence and trust, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2002.
Anti textbook on economics, 1 les ants, page 342, Bernard Maris, Edition Bréal.

Here we find an economic explanation of the common ownership and the lack of material enrichment in the Moso. We can add that another rarity does not exist among these peoples: death is not the source of the scarcity of life and this alleged scarcity of life does not legitimize the material scarcity established by the leaders of the western capitalist and liberal economic system. Common ownership and practice of the spiritual initiatory approach go hand in hand to cement the trust that individuals have in their social groups.

Guardians of Kihnu, one of the last matriarchal societies in Europe

It’s almost midnight in the wooden farm ‘Metsamaa’, which took on a festive appearance on that August vigil on the small island of Kihnu (Estonia), a confetti of land lost off the Gulf of Riga. Like spinning tops, red wool skirts with brightly-colored stripes spin and blend in with the heady rhythm of violins and accordions. Girls, teenage girls and mothers chained, feverish, the repertoire of their traditional dances. Kihnu’s men, aside from a few young boys, are absent.

Fishermen or sailors from father to son, they go into exile for many months at sea. So women learned to fend for themselves. Since the mid-19th century, they have governed the affairs of the community of five hundred inhabitants and have guarded the island. They are the ones who look after farms, fields, crops, livestock, children, but also and above all, traditions and crafts. A centuries-old cultural heritage that isolation has allowed them to preserve despite the runaway world.

In 1787, Jefferson, the principal editor of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, said of the Iroquois:

“I am convinced that Indian societies without governments enjoy a higher overall level of happiness than those living under European regimes.”


… Since then we have discovered the Moso people, the one whom Alexandra David Néel so intensely sought around 1920 and whom she was close to meeting around 1924 when the opportunity came to finally go to Lhasa. Which means she didn’t meet the Mosos in 1924 or later…

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