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Old 19th January 2007, 10:18 PM   #41
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Initially, our linguists will break the language down into its component phonemes (there are several regional dialects, so we have chosen the most common one as 'standard' Mosuo language). Once we see how many phonemes we have in total, we will see if there are enough Daba symbols to match one symbol to each sound. If not, we may end up having modified symbols. There are a total of around 32 Daba symbols (this number varies a little depending on who you talk to), but if there are more distinct phonemes than symbols, it is not a significant problem; just drawing a line under each one would double the number of symbols available to us, which should yield more than enough symbols for our use.

Second, the linguists will work with the Mosuo to assign one symbol to each phoneme. Where possible, they will try to create a linguistic link between the symbol and the sound it represents (for example, if the symbol's actual name is "mah", then that symbol could be used to represent the "m" sound). This facilitates learning the symbols later, similar to our "A is for Apple" methods in the west. But this will not always be possible, some symbols will simply be assigned more or less arbitrarily.

Third, some of the symbols are a little awkward to write in their current form, so we will ask local Mosuo artists to create stylized versions of the symbols; versions that are similar to the original, but easy to remember and to write.

Then, once that is all done, we start teaching it to them. We anticipate starting by teaching a core group of local Mosuo teachers; once they understand and are competent in using the new written form, they will begin creating textbooks based on that, for both children and adults, that can be used to teach this to everyone else.

The remaining barrier is a political one; only the Chinese gov't has the 'right' to designate an official written language (being 'official' means it can be taught as part of the regular school curriculum). This is kind of a catch-22, in that the gov't won't recognize it as official unless a significant number of people are using it; but you can't have a significant number of people using it unless it is being taught to them. So we'll mount a more-or-less grassroots campaign, where all training is done outside of the classroom. Mosuo infants will be taught in the basics of reading/writing their own language before they begin to attend primary school, and after they begin school, we'll have classes once or twice a week, outside of the regular school hours, to reinforce that.

It is our hope that this becomes the de facto standard, so that later the gov't does recognize it, and we can include it as a part of the regular education curriculum.
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Old 19th January 2007, 10:28 PM   #42
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Originally Posted by luchog View Post
Creating an entire symbolic system, rather than just adapting an existing one, is a unique challenge.
I agree. One of the most important aspects of this to me is that the Mosuo themselves really take ownership of this project, and of the written language. The involvement of outsiders is necessary, we don't have Mosuo who have the necessary knowledge and skills to do this themselves. But there is a danger when doing it this way that some Mosuo end up perceiving it as something being pushed on them by outsiders.

Involving the Mosuo in every step of the process, and particularly letting them choose what the final characters look like, and which sounds they represent, is very important in giving them a sense that this is a language they created...we were just there to assist them.

And there is also the sense, the first time the Mosuo see this written form, that their reaction isn't "that looks like English" or "that looks foreign". Their first reaction is, "Hey, that looks like Daba symbols". It is immediately recognizable as coming directly from their own culture and history.

And yes, out of all the projects we are doing, this is the one that is closest to my heart. We're doing a lot of things that are of significant benefit to the Mosuo, some of them quite arguably of more immediate concern. But 50 or 100 years later, most of the contributions we've made will be 'invisible'...but the written language will be an enduring legacy, something that myself and others will always be able to point at and say, "We helped to do that."
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Old 20th January 2007, 03:39 AM   #43
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Okay, Wolfman... you are one cool dude!

If I am incoherent, please forgive me... I should have gone to bed two hours ago (after picking up a teenager from school ski trip), but I had to click on your intro, and then come here.

I have a few thoughts... The first being my introduction into reading science fiction was through the genre known as "speculative fiction", especially the writings of Ursula K. Le Guin. As it turns out her father was an anthropologist... and even though I used to think she was too, I feel that much of her writing is influence by a "what if this culture did this!" (by the way, I did not enjoy her book The Telling at all, even though I loved The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness). The idea of a "no-marriage" culture just excites my mind on to several of the themes her books bring up.

Then there is the language. I live in the Far West... I don't know which part of Canada you are from, but you may know of the program by both the USA and Canada to "civilize" the native tribes. One way to do that was to take the children away from their families and educate them in a sort of boarding school (something similar happened in Australia with children of aborigines fathered by white men that was the genesis of the movie The Rabbit Proof Fence). The native kids were punished for using their native language and taught to be "white"... or just generally abused:
http://www.amnestyusa.org/amnestynow/soulwound.html

What has happened in the last few decades where we live... and just north where my husband is from (British Columbia) there has been a scrambling to keep native languages alive. From http://www.ydli.org/fnlgsbc.htm in Canada to http://www.lushootseed.net/ where we live... to the Tlingit a way up north (by the way, some of tribes from the north tended to come down to gather slaves from other areas, so no culture is perfectly innocent).

Anyway... the is the only reason I ventured into the mine field known as "Politics" was by clicking on this link from your intro thread. It was certainly worth it. Thanks.
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Old 20th January 2007, 04:06 AM   #44
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HC,

Actually, my father is an Anglican minister, and when I was growing up (in southern Ontario) one of his churches was on a reservation; so I grew up intimately familiar with the issues facing Canada's native peoples. While I lived in Canada, I was active in promoting awareness of native issues. I was quite young, and didn't really accomplish much, but to this day I consider our treatment of our native peoples one of the greatest black marks on our nation's history (but certainly not the only one). On the bright side, Canada's gov't is starting to take very positive steps to redress some of these issues, but there's still a long way to go.

There are actually several native tribes in Canada that used to have cultures somewhat similar to that of the Mosuo. They had matriarchal cultures, and although they had some practice of marriage, it was much looser than in many other groups. I've had anthropologists who study Canada's native peoples contact me to discuss some of these similarities.

Fortunately, these days, there does seem to be greater awareness and interest in not letting cultures like these die off. Unfortunately, in too many instances, "interest" does not translate into "financial support". And its hard to accomplish much without money.

Anyway, thanks for your comments. Regarding the inadvertent result of 'luring' you into the Politics section, I was somewhat uncertain where to place this, as there are no sections specifically relating to culture. I was stuck between putting it in the Science section (from the aspect of anthropology) or lump it in with "Social Issues" here. I went with the latter because of the more subjective nature of the material, and also because from what I could see, more people participate in this forum (and I'm something of a sucker for attention ). I guess some of the subject matter would also fit in the Religion & Philosophy section also, come to think of it!
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Old 20th January 2007, 01:43 PM   #45
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This thread is very interesting. I learned many things. I had never heard of those people before, and their culture and way of living are fascinating.

Keep up the good work.
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Old 22nd January 2007, 09:44 AM   #46
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I just received this email, from a woman who viewed my website.
Quote:
Dear Mr. Lombard,

Once again the forces of patriarchal persecution rise up to take whatever power they can from women. Your website is a load of rubbish, just trying to deny the reality of the superiority of a female-run society.

The Mosuo culture dates back thousands of years, tracing back to connections with the Mayan and Egyptian civilizations, who also revered women until men took them over. In those cultures, there was no war, no rape, no murder. Not until men took power.

Your website and your organization are just another example of the inability of men to accept women who are more powerful than them. You'd prefer to see the world torn apart by violence, than accept that women can be leaders, too.

I am going to write to the Chinese government and request that your organization be shut down. You have let me know your name, and how to find you, so I will do everything I can to prevent you from perverting this pure culture.

Don't write back, I am wise to your lies and methods.
Now, this is by far the wackiest email I've ever received; the only thing I could do was laugh at it. At least the woman appears reasonably literate, but beyond that I have problems crediting her with any serious intelligence.

1) Everything on my website has been vetted and approved by the Mosuo, and by anthropologists studying the Mosuo (every one of whom, by the way, are female)

2) I have no idea where this thing about links to the Mayan and Egyptian civilizations comes from, I've never even heard a claim like this before. And there's absolutely nothing to support such a claim, or even make us suspect such a connection.

The rest...well, its just very obviously patent nonsense. But a good example of what I mentioned earlier regarding some of the more 'fringe' elements that tend to be attracted to study of the Mosuo. I rather suspect that if I bothered to engage her in further dialogue (which I won't), she'd start telling me a spirit guides and mystical revelations that have led her to her knowledge.

Anyway, this isn't intended to try to justify myself in the work I'm doing; just as a rather humorous interlude which, given the nature of this forum, I think a lot of people will appreciate.
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Old 22nd January 2007, 05:52 PM   #47
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Originally Posted by Wolfman View Post
And there is also the sense, the first time the Mosuo see this written form, that their reaction isn't "that looks like English" or "that looks foreign". Their first reaction is, "Hey, that looks like Daba symbols". It is immediately recognizable as coming directly from their own culture and history.
That sounds to me like the logically ideal way to go, both with the creation of the script, as well as education in the written language. Again, this is a truly remarkable project, and I find it absolutely fascinating.
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Old 22nd January 2007, 09:43 PM   #48
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Wow, Wolfman - another fascinating thread.

I was intrigued reading about the Mosuo's language, and the steps being taken to preserve it.

I was heartened to read that most Mosuo are bilingual, and that their language is still being taught, and that there are still so many speakers of it.

In the other thread, I mentioned that I'm a status Indian here in Manitoba. Our local dialects are in a much more precarious position. My grandparents spoke michif, a pastiche of French and Cree. But in our extended family, it has not really survived. My grandmother spoke nothing but her language. While my mother spoke michif to my grandmother, she never taught it to my sister or myself, and she never spoke it at home. That's pretty common, I find - the language is not being passed down to most of the younger generations.

Thanks for sharing your info with us, Wolfman.

p.s. on the attached link, it tickles me to know that the woman trying to preserve our language is my second cousin. And Joseph Fagnan and Catherine Chartrand are also my great-grandparents.
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Old 24th January 2007, 09:08 PM   #49
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Originally Posted by Wolfman View Post
I just received this email, from a woman who viewed my website.
*snip email*
Wow, I sure got a chuckle out of that. All I would reply to her is, "Good luck with that, sweetie." And the "sweetie" is just a nice touch, since it's so condescendingly patriarchal, it will surely throw her into a hissy fit of feminazi rage.

Though I'm at a loss as to what she accuses you of, exactly. Where did you imply inferiority of the Mosuo, where did you try to "patriarchize" their society, etc.? Oh well, just another loony.
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Old 25th January 2007, 08:15 AM   #50
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Do any Mosuo migrate to the rest of the world, and if they do, how do they get along?
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Old 29th January 2007, 06:57 AM   #51
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Originally Posted by Lemastre View Post
Do any Mosuo migrate to the rest of the world, and if they do, how do they get along?
Well, lots of younger Mosuo are 'migrating' to other parts of China, primarily in search of jobs. But outside of China, it is very limited.

There is one Mosuo woman who has achieved a fair degree of fame abroad, a woman by the name of Yang Erche Namu (you can do a Google search on her, there'll be plenty of results). Although she never became an A-list celebrity, she enjoyed (and continues to enjoy) more than her fair share of fame. Her story, told in the biography "Leaving Mother Lake" (which, by the way, is an excellent book which has won numerous awards, and been translated into at least seven languages), is an amazing one. She started out as an illiterate, uneducated girl herding goats in the Himalayas; and through sheer determination and force of personality, managed to get to Shanghai on her own, and there got herself admitted to a music school (she is an amazing singer, who had won several regional and national contests).

While in Shanghai, she met and married a foreign diplomat, who took her to Europe. When that relationship ended, she next went to the U.S., where she gained work as a model (and was one of the first Asian women to have a cover on Vogue magazine). She also went through an impressive list of boyfriends/lovers.

She eventually returned to China, and now works in the fashion industry, hosting fashion shows and writing for fashion magazines; and also engaging in work to encourage tourism to Lugu Lake, and make more people aware of the Mosuo (in fact, the majority of tourism at Lugu Lake could be attributed to Namu). In China, her name is quite well known, and she is in many ways the "face" of Mosuo people.

Which is, sadly, very unfortunate. Because for all that she's a very remarkable woman, she does not really represent the Mosuo people at all. The way she thinks/acts/talks is very, very different from the average Mosuo person, and this has caused some animosity from the Mosuo community. While they appreciate the increased awareness of their culture, they dislike the image of the Mosuo that most people are getting from Namu.

Namu and I are good friends, and I respect her phenomenally as an individual; she's an incredibly strong and determined woman. But she is not 'typical' Mosuo in any sense of the term. And her exposure to the fashion industry and celebrity has left her more than a little arrogant.

I am only familiar personally with one other Mosuo who has gone abroad; she is a very close friend of mine, a Mosuo woman who was the first (and as far as I am aware only) Mosuo to study in an American university. She got support from Rotary International to do a master's degree in education administration, and has now returned to the Lugu Lake region to focus on educational issues affecting the Mosuo (she is also one of the chief leaders in our organization).

One further thing I'd like to comment on regarding the Mosuo. I've met quite a few Mosuo who left their homes for the 'outside' world, and quite a number of them did quite well. But they always, always ended up returning home. The people I've met are certainly capable of achieving material success in other cities/countries, but their ties to their homes and their families are extremely strong. Probably the biggest problem they face in adjusting to living elsewhere is not so much the cultural adjustment, as it is simply adjusting to being on their own, without family support or structure.

Namu is a very good friend of mine.
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Old 10th February 2007, 12:55 AM   #52
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A few pictures of the Mosuo, and of Lugu Lake:

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Old 14th February 2007, 07:48 PM   #53
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Wolfman,

Another amazing thread. You certainly know your stuff and it is a pleasure to read your well informed posts.

Just a couple of questions

- do you have trouble with Christains trying to stop they way of life and trying to enforce their beliefs as far as single partners are concerned?
- is there any jealous disputes between partners?
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Old 14th February 2007, 08:13 PM   #54
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Fascinating.

At what age do they become sexually active, on average? And, do the women usually take partners within their own generation?

Sorry if you already covered these questions and I missed them, it's 3am
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Old 14th February 2007, 08:47 PM   #55
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Originally Posted by simon dalton View Post
Wolfman,

Another amazing thread. You certainly know your stuff and it is a pleasure to read your well informed posts.

Just a couple of questions

- do you have trouble with Christains trying to stop they way of life and trying to enforce their beliefs as far as single partners are concerned?
- is there any jealous disputes between partners?
There is some missionary activity there; however, as this is illegal under Chinese gov't law, and the area is so remote and difficult to live in any way, not that much. Beyond that, the Mosuo have proven rather resistant to attempts to change/destroy their culture. My parents actually work for a missionary training organization (how's that for irony, eh?), and I once checked one of their books on evangelization efforts around the world. It said that missionaries have been working with the Mosuo for abou 10 years, and in that time only one family has converted.

I'd like to point out, however, that the most serious threats to their culture have come from the Chinese government. For quite some time, the government made their religion illegal, and forbade the training of younger priests. This didn't just affect their religion; since the Mosuo have no written form of their language, their entire historical/cultural heritage is handed down orally from priest to priest by rote memorization. With the lack of younger priests to learn this oral history, much has been lost. The government also tried for awhile to outlaw their 'walking marriage' system...but that was singularly unsuccessful. (Today, laws stopping their religion and walking marriages have been removed)
Originally Posted by tkingdoll View Post
Fascinating.

At what age do they become sexually active, on average? And, do the women usually take partners within their own generation?

Sorry if you already covered these questions and I missed them, it's 3am
This question actually leads to another fascinating aspect of Mosuo culture. Among the Mosuo, a child is not considered a full "human" until they reach a certain age (roughly corresponding to puberty). They believe that before a child reaches this age, they do not have a soul. Therefore, children are all dressed the same (no differentiation between male and female clothing), and children are not allowed to engage in any religious activities (this includes things as simple as serving food, which must first be offered to the household gods). Also, a funeral for a child is very simple, with little ritual, as compared to that of an adult, who had a soul.

Anthropologists theorize that this likely evolved as a defense mechanism against high infant mortality rates; it is psychologically easier to handle the death of your children if you consider that they didn't have souls and weren't 'real' humans. Also, I believe I mentioned earlier that the Mosuo seek to maintain household ratios of males and females...so if one family has too many males, and another too many females, they may simple swap children.

While there are some advantages to this system, it can lead to neglect and abuse of children. Not so much physical abuse (although the Mosuo definitely believe in the value of a good spanking), but more in the way of neglect. Children may sometimes be treated more the way you'd treat a pet. It is hard to describe this, in fact it is something I cannot fully understand (or describe) myself.

Anyway, when children reach a certain age (usually around 12-14 years old), they will go through a special ceremony where the girls get their skirts, and the guys get their pants. It is at this point that they are considered to be fully 'human', and to have received a soul.

It is also at this point that they are able to begin to engage in sexual activities (before this age, girls sleep in a communal area with everyone else; after this age, they can have their own bedroom, into which they can invite partners). However, from what I've been able to gather, actual sexual activity at this age is relatively rare, and more likely to consist of two young teenagers playing doctor with each other than in actual intercourse.

From our perspective, obviously, there would be potential for sexual abuse in such a system; however, from what I've been able to gather (and based on research by other female anthropologists who are significantly more knowledgeable than myself), this actually seems to be quite minimal. In fact, rates of sexual abuse and rape seem to be much lower among the Mosuo than most other cultures. Very likely, this is in large part due to having a matriarchal culture where women are the main authorities...they are much less likely to turn a blind eye to sexual abuse, or to try to rationalize it, and women are in general held in much higher respect.

As a side note, among the Mosuo, if a man does rape a woman, the penalty is death.

Regarding jealousy, certainly the Mosuo still have jealousy, lovers' quarrels, etc. They have the same feelings that everyone else does. But from what I've seen, it is somewhat different. Of course, if one man loves a woman, but she chooses another man, he'll feel jealous, sad, angry, etc.

But the Mosuo grow up without ever having any expectation of finding a 'true love' and of spending their life with that person. They view romantic love as something that is fleeting and unpredictable, that may last only a few days, or may last for decades. So it is in general far less traumatic when couples split up, and much of the anger/hatred that accompanies such splits in western culture is considerably diluted among the Mosuo.

I try my best to present a balanced picture -- there are many fascinating aspects of Mosuo culture, and certainly some aspects that I think are quite positive, and from which other cultures could learn. However, they do also have problems and abuses, just as every culture does, so I try to keep that balance.

However, for myself, I have to say that one of the things that most impresses me about the Mosuo culture is that it is exceedingly rare to see a couple who are unhappy together, who don't like each other. There are some Mosuo relationships that last only a few days or weeks; others that last years or decades. But they are almost always together because they want to be together; not out of a sense of obligation to children (which is largely irrelevant with the children raised only by the mother), not out of a sense of obligation to a marriage contract, etc. If they are no longer happy together, they will simply separate, with relatively little muss or fuss.
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Old 14th March 2007, 12:03 PM   #56
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As a side note, among the Mosuo, if a man does rape a woman, the penalty is death.
What's their judicial system like? Are there trials of some sort? Or is it more of a tribal "everybody knows what you did and the family is gonna cut off your head" sort of situation?
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Old 14th March 2007, 06:37 PM   #57
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Originally Posted by Aoidoi View Post
What's their judicial system like? Are there trials of some sort? Or is it more of a tribal "everybody knows what you did and the family is gonna cut off your head" sort of situation?
Well, of course, "officially" the judicial system would be the Communist system, with people arrested by the police, tried in the courts, etc.

However, unofficially, they tend to take care of things themselves. I was actually witness to such an event, when I had money stolen from me while I was visiting (theft is another huge taboo in the Mosuo culture). The family that I stayed with (who were responsible for me during my stay, and thus suffered a tremendous loss of face when something was stolen from me) organized what was essentially a lynch mob, about 30 people armed with knives and cleavers, who proceeded to tear through every house in the village until they found the money, and the person who had stolen it. That person was then dragged through the streets, kicked at and spit on by everyone, until he was placed at my feet, where he was forced to 'kowtow' to me.

Now, I was incredibly uncomfortable/upset with this, to me the amount of money that had been stolen was not that much (although for them it was a lot) and this man was literally being beaten and humiliated in front of me.

The next things that happened was that all the matriarchs (the oldest woman in each family) from the village walked forward, spit on the man, and cursed him. It was then their responsibility to proclaim judgment, what punishment he should face. I knew from the mutterings in the crowd that there was a strong push to slit this guy's throat -- I don't think I would have been able to handle the knowledge that a man had been killed because he stole a little money from me. But I was then asked, as the victim, what I wanted done.

I knew that the major issue was "face". Not only had the family I lived with lost face, but the entire village felt that the Mosuo people as a whole had lost face, that I would now have an impression of them as a dishonest, thieving culture whom I would never trust. The only way for them to demonstrate this was not true was to take extreme action, such as executing the thief, to demonstrate their own sincerity.

So I gave a little speech in which I told them that their actions demonstrated to me absolutely that this theft was the action of one man, not of the Mosuo as a whole; and that I could clearly see that the Mosuo were a very sincere, honest, and trustworthy people, that they had nothing else to prove to me. I then added that the man who had committed the theft had already been more than adequately humiliated and punished. Then I stated that, as of that moment, I considered all the Mosuo gathered there as my friends...but that if this man was further injured, or killed, then I would no longer consider them my friends.

As a result of my words, the man was released (with a fair degree of spitting and kicking at him), the judgment from the matriarchs was to respect my wishes.

This was by far the most uncomfortable experience I ever had with the Mosuo, one for which I blamed myself more than a little (I'd been careless with my money to begin with, which was stupid). But ironically, it proved to be one of the key moments in establishing a real trust and relationship with the Mosuo. Before that moment, they'd been very warm and friendly, but still treated me as an outsider. After that, I was more a part of the community -- we'd all been through a crisis together, and both sides had been able to demonstrate their friendship and sincerity.

So, technically, one could call this a somewhat "democratic" system of justice, in that a council of village leaders (the matriarchs) will determine punishment together. But it also can be very emotional, driven by a mob mentality, and with little or no need to demonstrate actual proof of a crime (although in my situation, the guilt was self-evident).
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Old 11th June 2007, 10:14 PM   #58
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A further note here, something I just learned on my last trip to visit the Mosuo; one of the earlier topics was related to coming of age, and during this trip I found out much more of the mythology and culture surrounding that.

According to Mosuo mythology, humans were originally given only 14 years to life; while dogs were given 65. The humans were unhappy with this state of affairs, and complained to the gods, but nothing could be done. However, the dog, being the loyal friend that he is, went to the gods and told them that he would sacrifice 50 years, and give it to the humans instead.

This explains why humans live around 65 years, while dogs live around 15 years. But more than that, it actually has a fundamental impact of Mosuo views of their lives, and their souls.

Basically, they view themselves as having two lives; the first is 14 years, and then when that period is finished, they begin the second life, that which was gifted to them by dogs. It is also at this point that a child receives a soul and becomes "human". (I do not at all understand why they aren't considered "human" until they've received the dog's added years, will have to pursue that more in future).

For this reason, also, dogs are very much revered in the Mosuo culture. Pretty well every home will have dogs, and the idea of eating dog is abhorrent to them (one of their historical terms for Han Chinese was the derogatory "dog eaters").
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Old 12th June 2007, 07:53 AM   #59
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Very interesting.
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Old 15th June 2007, 10:39 PM   #60
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Bump... so this fascinating thread attracts more notice...

... also to repost the link: http://www.mosuoproject.org/

... also to subscribe to this thread.

Wolfman, is it terribly wrong of me to feel a little bit proud of you because I invited you to this forum? I'm glad I did because your work has been seen by people who have asked intelligent questions - not that I had anything to do with that, of course.

Does your organisation need money, and if so, what would contributions be used for?
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Old 15th June 2007, 11:27 PM   #61
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Orph,

First, I'm very glad that you invited me

Second, thanks for the bump, and the compliments!

Third -- yes, we can always use money/donations/etc. Donations don't necessarily have to be money, they can be in the form of services (ie. volunteer to do work for us, which could mean coming to China and working with the Mosuo, or could simply mean working with us to make more people in your own country more aware of the Mosuo and our work with them), supplies (the schools we work with always need supplies, from things as simple as pencils/pens/markers, paper, books, etc., to second-hand computers and other necessary school equipment), expertise (if you have a particular skill/expertise that would be useful for the Mosuo, you could come and teach it to them), etc.

I tend to avoid the fund-raising pitches, as I do not want people to perceive me as just another look-at-these-poor-people-please-give-them-money type of person (think of Sally Struthers). The Mosuo are a strong, proud people, and I try to reflect that in all information and presentations about them. Of course, we have pressing financial needs -- very pressing needs -- but it is my hope that by first engaging people, getting them interested, and fostering understanding, that they will then naturally inquire, "How can I help?".

The problem for donations from outside of China is that we cannot issue tax-deductible receipts. We are registered only in China, and the cost to register/maintain offices in other countries are prohibitive, given our current budget (and another possible way of getting involved would be if someone would offer to register and run a representative office for our organization in their country). But if you don't mind not getting a tax deduction, you can make donations via international bank transfer.
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Old 16th June 2007, 01:34 AM   #62
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Oh, I failed to answer the question of what contributions would be used for. Basically, you get to choose how donations are used. We have a wide variety of projects -- some of which are already underway, others that are still awaiting funding -- and think that the best way to get support is to let each person choose the project that they find most interesting or valuable. Also, unlike many non-profit organizations, where anywhere from 40-80% of your contributions may go to administrative costs, and not the project you actually intended to support, in our organization 100% of your donation will go exactly where it was intended. Most of our people are volunteer, and where we have administrative costs, I either cover those out of my own pocket, or get donations from people who specifically designate their contribution to cover administrative needs. Our website lists some of the things we do, but here is a summary of some of our current focuses:

* The Mosuo Language Project -- this has already been mentioned in previous posts, so I won't go into excessive detail here. We had previously received support from a Canadian linguist, who was able to secure independent financial support, but he kinda' disappeared, so we are currently in limbo. What we could most use right now would be somebody who is already involved in linguistic work, and has connections with individuals or organizations who would be interested to cooperate with us.

* Women's Development -- at present, one of the significant problems facing Mosuo women specifically is the lure of prostitution. Like pretty well every impoverished community in the world, where work/career opportunities are extremely limited by lack of access to education, resources, etc., it is very easy to lure young Mosuo women into prostitution. Most of these girls have minimal education, and no understanding of STDs, so it is easy for them to contract sexual diseases, then transmit them to people back in their home community. This is a very serious problem...the good news is that this is still a very recent development, so not too much damage has been done; the bad news is that it is rapidly becoming a serious problem, and it won't take long for it to grow overwhelming.

We seek to set up training centers where we provide free training to local women, to help give them an alternate viable source of income. Our first such training center trains women how to hand-weave traditional Mosuo clothing, then we help to sell their products in tourist centers, and split the profits between the women and the training center. We actively encourage these women to use their money to buy their own weaving equipment, and do everything themselves, so that they can keep 100% of the income for themselves; in this way, we hope to also encourage greater economic independence, and show the benefits of going through such a training program. There are many other possibilities for the types of training we could do -- training for hospitality, in order to work in hotels, for example -- but we currently lack the funds and resources to do this.

* Men's Development -- While it is generally easier to attract support for women's issues, men's issues tend to be less 'sexy' and 'politically correct'. However, there are serious issues in this regard, also. Traditionally, Mosuo men were traders, who took caravans around the region to trade with others. Thus, traditional male roles focused on trade and travel; traditional female roles focused on jobs at home (tending the fields, tending the animals, cooking, etc.). But now that these caravans are no longer very useful, the primary "male" role has disappeared, and many men are reluctant to take what are perceived as "female" roles. In addition, the area has almost no special natural resources that can be used to build an economic base.

My dream -- and it is a very big dream -- is to simultaneously provide a new "male" role, and to provide a new resource that would result in a strong economic base. My idea as to how to do this is to import alpacas. Alpacas, for those who are unfamiliar with them, are similar to llamas, and live in the Andes mountains, in an environment very similar to that where the Mosuo live. In addition, alpacas are very hardy, and most importantly, their hair is wonderfully soft and delicate, and can be used to make very luxurious clothing. I would like to import breeding alpacas, then train men exclusively in raising, caring for, and breeding them -- thus creating a new "male" role. Once mature, their hair could then be sheared and used to make wonderful clothing which would have significant market value, and also be completely unique in China. (Some websites about alpacas here and here)

This is very much a long-term plan, with a lot of hurdles to cover. We'd have to get permission from the Chinese gov't to import a foreign species (including environmental impact studies), we'd have to get the money to cover the costs of importing the animals (enough to set up a viable breeding base), we'd have to hire people to come and train the Mosuo how to care for the alpacas, etc. But this, and the language project, are the two about which I am personally most excited and passionate.

* Education Projects -- Of course, we do more 'traditional' types of projects, focusing in particular on education. This includes sponsorship for local students to attend primary and secondary schools, and even college/university. We also seek to provide free training for local teachers, to improve their knowledge/skills; and to provide funds to schools to hire new teachers, when they cannot afford teachers themselves.

* Environmental Projects -- Lugu Lake is an incredibly beautiful area, and still relatively unspoiled. But rapidly increasing tourism presents a significant threat to that, so we are seeking to sponsor and support projects that will protect and preserve that natural beauty, before any serious damage is done. We hope to work with organizations such as Tourism Cares For Tomorrow to get this done.

* Cultural Preservation -- The Mosuo have a tremendous cultural legacy; but since they have no written language, most of it is preserved in oral accounts handed down from parent to child. As many of the older generation die, and the younger generation has less interest (or time) to learn this oral history, much knowledge is in danger of being lost. So we want to do as much study, and make as many recordings, as is possible, to preserve this for future generations.

Two of the local Mosuo men have also started their own Mosuo museum, which explains much of the Mosuo history and culture, and seeks to preserve traditional artifacts, ceremonies, etc. But they have few resources to do this, and no background or experience in this area (having said that, it is absolutely incredible what they have accomplished). So we want to provide financial support to expand the museum, and help them gain access to more resources and knowledge to make it more professional and comprehensive.

* Administration -- This is far from the most sexy or glamorous or exciting possibilities to donate to; but as I mentioned above, I want to operate my organization on the principle that 100% of your donation goes exactly where you wanted it to go. Thus, we do not take a portion of donations to cover administration, as is the practice in most NGOs. Of course, this creates limitations for us, such as not being able to hire full-time staff, print brochures, etc. So if people want to make donations to help cover administrative costs, it would really be very, very helpful...as all the other projects really rely on the quality of our administration, and what we can afford to do.

Well...I could go on and on and on, there are a million different things we want to do, and it is hard to say that any one is more important than another. Each individual will have a certain area that interests or excites them, and that's why we encourage people to donate specifically to the projects that they personally are most passionate about.

Again, for more info, you can just go straight to our website; or if there are specific areas you are interested in, ask questions right here (please don't send PMs or emails with questions, unless it involves something private/personal, as any question that you have may be shared by others, and it is easier for me to answer it here, where everyone can see).
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Old 16th June 2007, 01:58 AM   #63
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One more thing...something that would be of phenomenal benefit to us, and would not cost significant time or money for Americans who might be interested in this...

...I mentioned the organization "Tourism Cares For Tomorrow"; they are an amazing American NGO that seeks to promote responsible tourism (ie. tourism that respects local culture, environment, etc.). They do this by providing grants of up to US$100,000 to tourism projects around the world that they consider are sensitive to and support local cultural and environmental issues.

I've already contacted them, and they are very interested in our work; however, some of the documentation that they require in order to complete our application is impossible to get in China (NGOs are still a very new thing in China, with minimal regulation and documentation).

What would REALLY help us would be if someone (or more than one) would help us establish an American office for our organization, and get official tax-exempt and non-profit status. I don't think this costs much money, its mainly an issue of time. Once this was done, we could use that as the basis for applying for these grants, which would make things far, far easier.
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Old 16th June 2007, 12:30 PM   #64
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Wolfman,

You suckered me to come to this thread and for that I thank you.

I am glad that there are a few original cultures left that will have their own choices about how the adapt to living in in the modern World. As has been noted, we have a terrible history in Canada of not being very good at allowing that.

One question that strikes me (and you have been so good at responding to questions); is there any knowledge of how the culture evolved? It strikes me that the "sneeking in the the window" aspect would suggest that the society evolved from one with a more prudish attitude toward sex.

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Old 16th June 2007, 07:06 PM   #65
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Gord,

Given the lack of a written history, any really authoritative answer will be hypothetical at best, however most people (Mosuo and anthropologists ) seem to agree on one particular theory:

The Mosuo were migratory for much of their history, moving from place to place. This situation required the men to travel ahead of everyone else, to scout out the land, and deal with any 'resistance' or attacks along the way. In such a situation, permanent relationships were difficult to maintain, and it became more common for men to just sneak back for one or two nights with a particular lady. While not officially condoned, the people tended to take a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude...and over time, this became a natural part of their culture.

The idea of men sneaking in windows at night is, in fact, not at all unique, and there are many cultures that have similar practices...the difference is that in most other cultures, when the guy sneaks in the girl's window and spends the night with her, he is subsequently expected to marry her. Its the lack of any expectation of marriage which makes this particular practice more unique.

It should be pointed out that in times of war, when young men are being sent off to battle and may not return, we tend to see a very similar phenomenon in our own culture. Suddenly, girls who would normally "wait for the right guy" are giving themselves freely to these "brave young men who may never return"...and parents also tend to be more likely to turn a blind eye to what is happening.

As to the present day, the Mosuo do have sexual taboos, particularly in regards to family members. I'm not talking about incest taboos (although those are very strong), but rather taboos against discussing romantic or sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex within your own family. When I talk with Mosuo about these issues, I have to be very careful to first separate the men from the women...if separate, they'll talk quite openly and freely, but if together, they'll say nothing.

A good example of this...when I first went to visit the Mosuo, at one point I asked one of the young men (around 22 yrs. old) if he had any walking marriage relationships. He said absolutely not (but we were in mixed company, with female members of his family there). But three nights later, he told me he was going to go see his girlfriend, and wanted to know if I'd like to come along to see how the walking marriage was done (by this, he meant only the part up to going in her window, not observing everything). I was a little surprised, as he'd told me he had no such relations, but went along out of curiosity. The next morning, at home, nobody in the house said anything when we had breakfast together, it was just a normal morning; but after the guys left, and I was alone with some of the women, they immediately said, "So you went with our brother to his girlfriend's home last night".

Put the men and women together, they won't talk about it, will deny it even happens. Separate them, they talk about it quite openly and freely. A rather strange taboo, from my point of view, but once you understand it, easy to work around.
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Old 16th June 2007, 07:59 PM   #66
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Farmall,

I'll try to respond with less animosity/aggression than your own post:

First, I'd like to point out that the situations you describe are only superficially similar to the Mosuo at best. To list a few of the key differences:

* There is still an expectation of marriage among many of those you referred to; there is none among the Mosuo

* Many of the children in the communities you refer to are in single-parent homes; among the Mosuo, children live in large extended families of 15-25 people, all of whom share parenting duties.

* In the situations you refer to, it is common for men and women to actually live together for some time (that is, cohabit on a full-time basis), even if there is no intention of getting married; thus, when they separate, there is fighting and bitterness over division of property. Again, among the Mosuo, they never actually live together, never share property, and thus never have any fights over division of property when they split up.

* In the situations you refer to, it is a largely patriarchal system where men are considered more powerful and in control, and women are treated as subservient/inferior (the description of a woman as being "my bitch" being symptomatic of such thinking). Among the Mosuo, it is a matriarchal system, completely different, where women are treated with respect and authority.

Now, all of the points above serve only to illustrate that the situation in Chicago is a far, far distance from being even remotely similar to that I've described with the Mosuo; and I can only conclude that you failed to read much of what I've written at all, if you were able to come to the conclusion that they are the same, or even similar.

For you, it seems to be simply, "Lots of people not getting married, and having lots of kids, and living in poverty". A gross oversimplification that says more about the person making it, than about the issues being discussed.

I'd also posit, besides identifying the above-stated significant cultural differences, that there are also significant social, economic, and political differences. The Mosuo, for example, don't grow up in an environment rife with violence, where 12 year old kids carry guns to school, and you can get killed because someone wants to take your sneakers. Mosuo kids don't have to stay in their apartments by themselves because their parents are working multiple jobs and can't be at home.

Mosuo women are not daily subjected to an environment where they are referred to as "bitches", and where their value is generally determined according to their willingness to do whatever their man wants. Mosuo women don't have to worry that if they have sex with multiple men, they'll be branded a "slut". Mosuo women don't have to worry that if they have a baby out of wedlock, their parents will kick them out, and/or they'll have to raise the baby by themselves. Mosuo women don't have to worry about being beaten/abused routinely (among the Mosuo, not only is this almost impossible to hide, but a man who does it will be beaten severely for doing so).

Mosuo men don't grow up in an environment where breaking the law is a requirement to be considered a "real man". Mosuo men don't grow up in an environment where wearing the wrong colors in the wrong neighborhood can get you killed.

I could go on and on and on. In fact, I'd say that the problems you describe are far more a result of problems in Western culture/economics/society, than having any relation to or correlation with the Mosuo.

As I've stated above, several times, the Mosuo are far from a utopian society, and they have many problems of their own. And, as I've stated above, I don't believe that the Mosuo system could be feasibly transplanted into Western culture in its entirety; I have a hard time seeing Western families suddenly changing to have 15-25 people in the same family spending their entire lives living together in the same home.

So, in conclusion...I fail to see any correlation whatsoever between the situation you've described, and the topic of the Mosuo.
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Old 16th June 2007, 09:37 PM   #67
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I think I'd like to add a little more to my previous post; this is not so much in regard to the Mosuo culture specifically, but rather some things that we might be able to learn from them, and perhaps apply to at least some degree within our own cultures.

I'm surprised (and grateful to the majority of forum members) that my discussion of the Mosuo got this far before meeting someone like Farmell...in other forums where I've introduced this, this has been the type of reaction I've come to expect. Essentially, "It is different than us, here's a group of people I don't like who seem to act the same way, therefore it is wrong". Or, even more simply, "That's sinful, its wrong."

The debate often comes down to the issue of "monogamy" and "the sanctity of marriage" vs. a system that is seen as promoting promiscuity, and threatening/rejecting god-blessed unions.

I'd like to just mention a few points in this regard:

* In Western marriages, based on the Judeo-Christian ethic of monogamy and marital union, not only is divorce still very common, but so are rates of physical/emotional/sexual abuse. While such things are not unknown among the Mosuo, incidences are far, far lower, specifically because of the large extended family structure, where keeping such activities secret or hidden is almost impossible. In addition, since women are the head of the house and in charge, abuse of women is tolerated far, far less among the Mosuo than it has tended to be in Western society.

* Divorces in the West are both common, and tend to be very traumatic. Fighting over division of property/assets, fighting over possession of the children, etc. Again, with the Mosuo, these things do not happen, resulting in much greater stability both in general, and more specifically for the children.

* In the West, there is a tendency for people to stay in very harmful relationships -- where they are being physically/emotionally/sexually abused -- because it is perceived as their "responsibility" or "obligation" to do so. Again, among the Mosuo, since there is never any expectation that you should spend your life with one person, and changing partners is completely acceptable, the incidence of such problems is far, far lower.

I'm not saying that we should all become like the Mosuo; the Mosuo also suffer from the results of religious superstitions that cause them to reject medical care, for example. And as I've said before, I very strongly doubt that adopting the Mosuo extended family system is remotely realistic or practical in most Western countries.

But I think that there are things that can be learned. There are specific abuses and problems that are far more common in Western culture (and, in fact, in most cultures) than they are among the Mosuo. And I can hardly see how trying to learn something from that, and possibly find a compromise between the two cultures that will benefit us, can be a negative thing.
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Old 16th June 2007, 09:41 PM   #68
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I wonder how much of the minimization of problems in Mosuo culture comes from the smaller scope of the society. Do you think it could it hold together under the economic/social conditions necessary for a large nation?
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Old 16th June 2007, 10:04 PM   #69
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I don't think I can give an absolute, quantifiable answer to that question; however, I'd like to point out that other Chinese minorities who live in the same region, have similar populations, and face similar living circumstances, but do not share the Mosuo culture, tend to have much the same problems that I discussed above.

There are several other minorities in the same area, including the Yi, the Pumi, and the Naxi. The Yi and Pumi, in particular, are more 'traditional' patriarchal cultures, that practice marriage, etc. Anthropological studies that have compared these different groups have tended to show that rates of abuse are higher, and social stability (especially for children) is much lower, in these other minorities, than among the Mosuo.

I don't think its a terribly wild claim to suppose that a culture in which men and women never share/combine property, there will be less fighting/trauma over division of that property when they split. Or that in a culture where the mother's family bears sole responsibility for her children, that the separation of the parents will be less traumatic for the child.

However, transplanting such practices into our own culture is an entirely different affair. For example, among the Mosuo, an individual doesn't really own property or money...instead, everything belongs to the family as a whole, and the matriarch of the family determines how it is divided or used. In Western culture, by contrast, we tend to put significant emphasis on individual ownership and control of property. When I get a job, and make money, that money is my money...I don't just give it all to my family, and let my grandmother decide how to use it.

Changing this within our own cultures would require not only significant cultural changes, but also shifts in our legal system, and perceptions of ownership of property. The Mosuo would consider it ludicrous to 'demand' that a father provide money for his child's upbringing; but would likewise consider it completely unacceptable for a brother to refuse to give money to help raise his sister's child. So among the Mosuo, if one were to sue for child support, you'd sue your brother, not the child's father (I am speaking hypothetically, if we were to transfer this to our own culture...the Mosuo don't actually do this themselves). A "deadbeat dad" would be a brother or uncle who made money, but refused to give it to the family; whereas the biological father would never be expected to contribute a cent.

I think it would be fascinating to consider the ramifications if we did try to institute such changes; but that belongs more in the realm of fiction/fantasy than of reality.
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Old 16th June 2007, 10:18 PM   #70
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I wasn't suggesting to try transplanting their culture. i have my own cultural, filters of course, but in most instances I accept the value of preserving exsisting cultures when they don't impinge on mine.

My thought go more along the lines of how the society would adapt to an expanding population. Let's say that for some reason, tomorrow the rest of China finds the Mosuo culture irresistable and adopts their practices wholesale. Could the culture survive intact or would massive internal change occur leading to their social norms becoming more similiar to those most of us are familiar with.

At a cursory glance I'd say that it could make the transition. I've often argued with people claiming the superiority of a pre-agricutural tribal culture (I realise the Kosuo are not pre-agricultural or particularly tribal) that the unique aspects of that culture they find preferable would not scale up, and their disapperance was the natural extension of the growth of the population.

I'm not seeing that here. Certain things would become much more difficult. Who you were and were not related to would probably require an electronic database as the possible relative combiniations would surpass the limits of a matriarch's memory. The STD issue has already been brought up, presenting a challenge to a large population that could not effectively isolate itself from disease as in the status quo.

On the other hand the problems with cultural role of men would resolve itself with a much wider variety of roles to fill.

Wasn't taking a position. It's just interesting to mull over.
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Old 16th June 2007, 10:25 PM   #71
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Fascinating stuff, Wolfman, certainly exactly the type of thing we should talk about more of here - it is an educational foundation after all.

My question concerns whether you might be doing more harm than good.

By promoting the wonderful lifestyle of the Mosuo, you may encourage further tourism and exploitation, which appears to be well entrenched already. I can't see any way that the culture will stand up to this type of exploitation, and while I doubt you're there for the profit, you might end up encouraging the death of the very thing you're working to preserve.

Comments?
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Old 16th June 2007, 10:39 PM   #72
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Originally Posted by quixotecoyote View Post
I wasn't suggesting to try transplanting their culture. i have my own cultural, filters of course, but in most instances I accept the value of preserving exsisting cultures when they don't impinge on mine.

My thought go more along the lines of how the society would adapt to an expanding population. Let's say that for some reason, tomorrow the rest of China finds the Mosuo culture irresistable and adopts their practices wholesale. Could the culture survive intact or would massive internal change occur leading to their social norms becoming more similiar to those most of us are familiar with.

At a cursory glance I'd say that it could make the transition. I've often argued with people claiming the superiority of a pre-agricutural tribal culture (I realise the Kosuo are not pre-agricultural or particularly tribal) that the unique aspects of that culture they find preferable would not scale up, and their disapperance was the natural extension of the growth of the population.

I'm not seeing that here. Certain things would become much more difficult. Who you were and were not related to would probably require an electronic database as the possible relative combiniations would surpass the limits of a matriarch's memory. The STD issue has already been brought up, presenting a challenge to a large population that could not effectively isolate itself from disease as in the status quo.

On the other hand the problems with cultural role of men would resolve itself with a much wider variety of roles to fill.

Wasn't taking a position. It's just interesting to mull over.
Well...given that all of this is purely hypothetical...I'll give a few of my own responses/thoughts on the subject.

First, cultures change and evolve. This is a simple fact of life. Exposure to other cultures, changes in economic/political situation, or many other such factors all serve to change cultures. As mentioned previously, the Mosuo culture has itself gone through very significant changes, particularly the change from a feudal system with nobility and peasants (and one where nobility were patriarchal and peasants were matriarchal), to a more egalitarian system where they are mostly matriarchal, and roughly equal in status.

So I don't think that it would be logical to argue that under any situation, the Mosuo culture would stay the same. It is going to change and evolve. As all cultures do.

Given that, there is still the issue of whether a culture, as it changes, retains unique traits of its past culture; or if it changes so radically that there is little/no similarity between the current and past cultures.

Now, lets assume a slightly modified version of your hypothesis...for example, some terrible plague hits China, killing most of the Han Chinese majority. The Mosuo, relatively unaffected, now have the opportunity to grow rapidly, and expand throughout China. Over a period of several hundred years, they do just that, increasing exponentially in size as they do so.

Given such a situation, I do think that it would still be quite reasonable to assume that they'd be able to maintain many of the more unique aspects of their culture; by that, I mean that there would not implicitly be anything that would require them to abandon such practices, or make them impractical. I think that the idea of walking marriages, or having children reared by the mother's family, would be among the traits most likely/feasible to survive, also.

However, given human nature, I think that some changes would also be inevitable. Economic development -- ie. greater individual wealth -- always seems to lead towards a sense of greater individual independence. When nobody has much, and sharing is necessary, then it is easy to sacrifice individual ownership in favor of the group. But when you know that you have more than enough money to survive on your own, and that everyone else in the family has more than enough money to survive on their own, then the need for such 'communal property' disappears almost entirely, and you are very likely to develop a cultural sense of individual ownership and independence. I believe that this principle is fairly well reflected in pretty much every culture on the planet that has gone through such an economic transition.

So, assuming that the Mosuo not only increased in population size, but also in economic wealth, I think that you'd see the larger extended families decreasing in size, and smaller nuclear families becoming more common. As that happened, you'd also then face the issue of mothers now having to care for children by themselves, or with the help of only a few family members, rather than being able to rely on the larger family structure that currently exists. Of course, one possibility would be to put legislation in place that codified a brother's/uncle's responsibilities to provide assistance for their sisters/nieces (the mirror of our own legislation mandating the same thing for the biological father of a child).

But in the end...no, I do not think that this system would last long-term in a large-scale, developed society. Aspects of it would survive, yes. But certain changes and adaptations would also be necessary. You'd likely end up with some combination of our western practices, and the Mosuo practices, such as still having no marriage, but increasing a father's financial responsibilities for his offspring; or the decrease in family size, becoming more nuclear, but having those nuclear families made up of brothers and sisters, rather than of husbands and wives; etc.
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Old 16th June 2007, 10:45 PM   #73
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Originally Posted by The Atheist View Post
Fascinating stuff, Wolfman, certainly exactly the type of thing we should talk about more of here - it is an educational foundation after all.

My question concerns whether you might be doing more harm than good.

By promoting the wonderful lifestyle of the Mosuo, you may encourage further tourism and exploitation, which appears to be well entrenched already. I can't see any way that the culture will stand up to this type of exploitation, and while I doubt you're there for the profit, you might end up encouraging the death of the very thing you're working to preserve.

Comments?
Interesting question, TA, and just a brief opinion from me.

I'd have to disagree that Wolfman is merely "promoting the wonderful lifestyle" of the Mosuo. While he is enlightening many as to the existence of the Mosuo, his project is highlighting the difficulties the Mosuo face with respect to education, health, and preservation of their culture.
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Old 16th June 2007, 10:49 PM   #74
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Originally Posted by The Atheist View Post
Fascinating stuff, Wolfman, certainly exactly the type of thing we should talk about more of here - it is an educational foundation after all.

My question concerns whether you might be doing more harm than good.

By promoting the wonderful lifestyle of the Mosuo, you may encourage further tourism and exploitation, which appears to be well entrenched already. I can't see any way that the culture will stand up to this type of exploitation, and while I doubt you're there for the profit, you might end up encouraging the death of the very thing you're working to preserve.

Comments?
This is one of the biggest questions that I must face, and one that I ask myself regularly. However, at this point, tourism and exploitation are already happening, and it is inevitable that they're going to increase. Would I stop it if I could? I don't know. But can I stop it, or even slow it down? Not really.

Thus, I'm in a position of having to deal with pragmatic reality, rather than the ideal of how we might want it to be. Tourism is going to continue to increase. Exploitation is going to continue to increase. Exposure to and interference from the outside world is going to continue to increase. These are pragmatic facts, this is the reality of the situation. And it is that reality that we must deal with.

To me, the question is not "Are the Mosuo going to change?" or "Are the Mosuo going to be affected by the outside world?". The answer to both is an unequivocal "Yes." The question, rather, is "Are these changes going to be controlled/guided by the Mosuo themselves, or by outsiders?"

My goal is to give as much control to the Mosuo themselves as possible; not to stop change from happening (which is, at this point, impossible), but rather to give the Mosuo the tools, the resources, and the knowledge to control that change as much as they can, and to retain vital aspects of their culture as it takes place.

This is why I am the only non-Mosuo member of our organization...and why I have no vote in what projects they will do, or what their priorities are. All of these things are determined by the Mosuo themselves. My only role is that, after they've set their priorities and determined their projects. to help them find the necessary money, resources, and people to accomplish those goals and complete those projects.

Inevitably, this is not a perfect system, and certainly there will be outside influence. But, in my opinion, it gives the Mosuo themselves the greatest opportunity to take control of their own lives, and their own futures. The only other viable alternative, given the current realities of the situation, is to just watch them get steamrolled by the outside world...as has happened to so many other minority cultures throughout the world.
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Old 16th June 2007, 10:55 PM   #75
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Originally Posted by orphia nay View Post
Interesting question, TA, and just a brief opinion from me.

I'd have to disagree that Wolfman is merely "promoting the wonderful lifestyle" of the Mosuo. While he is enlightening many as to the existence of the Mosuo, his project is highlighting the difficulties the Mosuo face with respect to education, health, and preservation of their culture.
Thanks, Orph...and a very good point. In explaining the Mosuo culture, there is of course a tendency for me to focus on those aspects which I find most fascinating, and/or positive. I recognize this tendency, and try to balance it out by also explaining the very real problems and struggles that the Mosuo have. Yes, there are some problems (such as sexual abuse of females) which seem to be far less prevalent in Mosuo culture than in most other cultures, and I think it is worth noting this. But there are also some problems that are more prevalent among the Mosuo than in other cultures (for example, there are serious questions revolving around the psychological impact on a child of being considered "not human" until they reach around 14 years of age, and finally receive their human soul).

I'm not trying to promote an idea that Western culture should "learn from the Mosuo" in the context that we should adopt their practices/culture; but rather that we should "learn from the Mosuo" in the context that understanding another culture so different from our own can lead to greater insights into our own culture, and reveal alternatives that we may not have otherwise considered. Just as I believe the Mosuo can benefit from and learn from contact with other cultures, so long as they are able to determine for themselves how that knowledge impacts them, and what changes they will make.
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Old 16th June 2007, 11:00 PM   #76
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Cheers. Makes perfect sense and I agree with you on the changes happening regardless - it's clearly too late, so you may have success at damage control.

Good luck with it!
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Old 16th June 2007, 11:21 PM   #77
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Thanks! Your question is one of the most common ones I have to deal with, and is really a very important one. Good intentions don't necessarily mean that you're doing the right thing, and this is a question that I must both ask myself regularly, and answer in response to questions from others.

I think it is important to clarify this issue in particular, to make it clear that this is not a case of some "great white savior" coming in and telling the Mosuo what to do; quite the opposite, I do my best to distance myself as far as possible from the actual decisions about what will be done, and to focus only on helping them to accomplish the goals that they've set for themselves. Sometimes, I may not personally agree with those decisions -- but it is their life, their culture, their future, their children...they are the only ones who have the right to make those decisions. And, inevitably, some of those decisions may prove to be wrong, but it is my hope that the majority will prove to be right.

One further note here...it is a very difficult balancing act for me to pull off. It would, in fact, be very easy for me to become the 'benevolent dictator'. I am the one, after all, who holds the purse strings. In addition, the many different leaders in our committee have a lot of past history with each other, some of it not very good at all. There are a lot of interpersonal conflicts and rivalries. When I am not there (which is most of the time), things tend to get bogged down in interpersonal battles, and be guided by grudges as much as by a desire to help.

As the only 'neutral' party, basically being liked and respected by everyone in the committee, it often falls on me to get authoritative, and force them to sit down, discuss the issues, and reach concrete conclusions. And I've had to do this on more than one occasion. Thus, already, I have a larger role than I'd anticipated, and it would be very easy for me to take that just a little farther, and start telling them what I think they should do. And I am, by nature, a leader. I'm not so good at just following what other say. I like to be the one making the decisions, in fact, I prefer it. I know for a fact that things would go faster and more smoothly if I could simply tell everyone what to do, rather than wait for them to work through their personal conflicts and reach a decision. And I'm sure that I could help them avoid some mistakes if I refused to do certain things that they want to do.

But that's all short-term thinking...it provides a short-term benefit in getting things done more quickly, but long-term it makes the Mosuo dependent on others to make their decisions, and determine what is best for them. Again, my goal is to empower them to be able to do these things on their own...and that means letting them make mistakes, and bearing patiently with delays and problems that I see as entirely irrelevant or avoidable. Short-term, it means things happen more slowly, and less efficiently. But long-term, it builds a base of leadership who will have greater and greater competence in doing all these things themselves.

One of my greatest dreams for this organization is to reach the day where my role, or the role of any other outsider, becomes entirely unnecessary, and the Mosuo can do everything for themselves.
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Old 17th June 2007, 01:04 AM   #78
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Sounds like you're doing a magnificent job, keep it up!

I'm off to find out why this thread isn't in the "Interesting Threads" forum!
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Old 17th June 2007, 02:01 AM   #79
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Good move, TA.

Wolfman, you are doing an excellent job! I really can't find fault with your attitude and your organisational plan.

I've thought of another question. Are there any statistics on the Mosuo's individual life expectancy? Especially in comparison to the Chinese.
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Old 17th June 2007, 02:21 AM   #80
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Orph,

There are a number of different stats one can look at in regards to life expectancy. I cannot give any links here to specific studies, but based on my own observations, conversations with Mosuo, and discussions with other anthropologists, I can at least give some general info.

First, infant mortality rates have been quite high in the past; with minimal access to decent health care, and a complete lack of understanding about sanitation (bacteria, viruses, etc.), this is pretty much inevitable. In fact, it is theorized by some anthropologists that the whole thing of not considering a child to be fully human until they are 14 was partly a coping mechanism to deal with high rates of infant death; a child who makes it to 14 is far more likely to make it to old age than a child who has only made it to 5 years of age, in that environment.

This is improving now, but rates of infant deaths (whether in childbirth, or due to disease, or accidents, etc.) would still be far higher than for Chinese in more developed regions of China. In addition, completely treatable conditions -- tumors, cancers, blindness, cleft palate, etc. -- are generally left untreated, due to lack of access to adequate health care, and/or lack of money to cover the costs of such treatments. Or they may simply prefer the rituals of a local priest, to the ministrations of a doctor.

As can be surmised from this, diseases will tend to be more common, as will deaths from such diseases. This again increases mortality rates, across all age groups.

Now, all of this having been said -- the Mosuo are, for the most part, a very hardy and healthy people. For those who are lucky enough to avoid (or survive) the ravages of disease, injury, etc., they can live to quite a ripe old age. I'm met a number of Mosuo women in their 80's or 90's who are still quite healthy and spry, and in full command of their mental faculties.

So, in general, I'd say that if they had the same general lifestyle -- work, diet, etc. -- but improved medical care and knowledge, we'd see a very fast and significant increase in overall average lifespans.
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