[Perspectives of Traditional Culture of the Matrilineal Mosuo of Lugu Lake] Part 3: Mosuo People's Parenting Period - Papers & Essays



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[Perspectives of Traditional Culture of the Matrilineal Mosuo of Lugu Lake] Part 3: Mosuo People's Parenting Period


In the world of Mosuo people, they yearn for life, respect life, and therefore childbirth and raising children is a serious business for the whole family. The Mosuo people's parenting period is from the beginning of a woman's pregnancy to the Coming-of-age Ceremony held at the age of 13, during which every family member plays the role of a caregiver.


Mosuo, Matrilineal family, Parenting support, Pregnant women, Puerpera, Postpartum confinement, Parenting period,
Japanese Chinese

In their daily life, many families often have conflicts caused by disagreement regarding raising their children. For one thing, with economic development people demand better living conditions. Many people hesitate to give birth to and raise children, because they are concerned about leading an impecunious life caused by supporting children. For another, it takes time and effort to raise children, which will hinder their personal career development. Therefore, population growth has become a problem faced by numerous nationalities and countries. As a Mosuo woman with two children, my work and life often requires travel between the city and Lugu Lake. Therefore, I can testify to two different ways of parenting in different environments. The kind of issues faced by Mosuo people in child care in this community, which is also called "the daughter country forgotten by mankind," is worthy of attention.

1. Pregnancy of Mosuo women

In the traditional Mosuo society, once women are pregnant, they begin to observe some taboos of Mosuo culture. Restrictions on pregnant women are another way to protect women in this special period. A woman's pregnancy is not only regarded as a great event for the family, but she is also regarded as a key person to be protected by the whole family. Every member of the family will behave gently and considerately toward the pregnant woman, never upsetting her, always keeping her in a happy mood. At the same time, she is provided with special care, support and nutritious food. Therefore, in the Lugu Lake area, prenatal and postpartum depression is extremely rare.

What is the taboo culture of Mosuo women during pregnancy? What are the absolute no-nos? What do they mean? Let me explain in the next example:

(1) Do not eat any food from "the outside"

The Mosuo people living at Lugu Lake grow grain crops in their fields, fruits and vegetables in their yards, and raise cattle, sheep, chickens, waterfowl, pigs and so on on the grassland outside their homes. Compared with other places on the plateau, this traditional self-sufficient life is fairly comfortable. More than a decade ago, Mosuo people rarely went out to buy vegetables and grain from the market.*1 The only food at home from "the outside" was in the form of gifts from friends while Mosuo women seldom ate food gifts during pregnancy.

During pregnancy, pregnant women's three meals a day are synchronized with the rest of the family. However, as the pregnancy proceeds, mothers at home will add a meal for the pregnant women at about 10 am and 2 pm respectively, usually some fermented rice soup, eggs, brown sugar water, etc., adjusted according to individual preferences. With limited conditions, Mosuo pregnant women have usually never tried modern "nutritional food products".

In the traditional Mosuo society, pregnant women rarely go far away and have no chance to do a prenatal examination. Therefore, most pregnant women do some light housework at home and pay more attention to their diet, so as to better safeguard their personal wellbeing and the fetus.

(2) Taboo on participating in funeral related activities

Life and death are very important to the Mosuo people and so they are very particular about ceremonies during the birth of a baby. Similarly, they are especially solemn regarding funerals. Birth and death, accompanied by joy and sadness, are in serious conflict. The author witnessed a scene during the field research.

When Aa was four months into pregnancy, her grandmother died from an illness. Grandma's funeral was to last forty-nine days, during which period Aa would be sent to her husband's home to live for a while. She was not to come home until the three days of Grandma's funeral when she would ignite the light in front of her grandma's mourning stand according to tradition. During the funeral, Aa's family were very careful with her diet, at the same time reminding her not to be too involved in funeral activities. So Aa stayed away from the funeral scene except for Kowtow and igniting the lights at the sutra chanting place.*2 What made Aa especially careful was that on the day of burial, all bereaved relatives were supposed to bid farewell to grandma, which required all the relatives to kneel down in line on the ground in worship at the main house letting the coffins of the dead pass over them to honor the days that the living and the dead had stayed together in this life. However, the pregnant woman, despite all the deep feelings she had for the dead, could not kneel down to the ground in worship, because her fragile little baby was already in her body. Mosuo people believe that this small life is not strong enough to bear the world's taboo.*3 Therefore, pregnant women, even when their most intimate person dies, are forbidden to let the body of the deceased cross over their own bodies.*4

Pregnant women are a special group. During pregnancy, they must stay happy. Therefore, in Mosuo life, keeping pregnant women away from funerals can, to a certain extent, prevent pregnant women from suffering extreme grief. In addition, it is also taboo not only for the family members who just come back from the funeral to sit next to the pregnant woman, but also for pregnant women to eat food brought back from the funeral.

(3) Staying away from horses and reins

It is common sense to have a baby in ten months. In Mosuo people's life, there is a taboo for pregnant women to be near horses and reins. It is believed that once a pregnant woman crosses the reins of a horse, she will be pregnant for 12 months. Twelve months of pregnancy means physical abnormalities. Late delivery and premature delivery are very dangerous for pregnant women.

In traditional Mosuo culture, 12 months pregnancy is called the "horse barrier." It is believed that if a woman experiences delay in childbirth, it is because she must have crossed the reins of a horse or ridden a horse during pregnancy. Therefore, it is a taboo for Mosuo women in pregnancy to rein or feed a horse, or more seriously, be near anything related to horses.

The Mosuo people have a traditional horseback culture. Our parents have accumulated a fortune from the "old tea-and-horse road" nearby, not to mention the migration road of their ancestors thousands of years ago. A few decades ago, Mosuo families were considered rich if they owned a dozen horses, just as if you have several trucks today, they can create wealth for you.

Mosuo women plowing in the field can't do without horses. They get up early. No matter whether they are cutting firewood on the mountain or working in the field, the two ponies are always around them. After finishing, they use the two ponies to carry things home. This is a typical day for Mosuo women.

In order not to get fatigued, they usually avoid the daily hard work, so it is important to stay away from horses and reins. With the development of the times, life on horseback is fading out. In daily life, old people still warn pregnant women to stay away from horses and bridles or, after encountering a woman behind her due date, ask her whether she has ever touched the reins of a horse. If the answer is yes, the "barrier" needs to be eliminated. This seems to introduce us to a world of ancient gods, meaning the "horse barrier" is not as simple as we might think.

In short, the life of Mosuo people is full of all kinds of "taboos." The same is true for pregnant women. In addition to the taboo culture, there are numerous legends about the mystery of Lugu Lake. Mosuo society has a reluctance regarding anything related to child laboring. How can they resolve the awkwardness and liberate women from the embarrassment? Perhaps the existence of these taboos can better protect them during pregnancy.

2. Children's growth period

When pregnant, Mosuo women may not eat "food cooked outside the village," may not participate in funeral activities, may not go out after dark, may not go up the mountain to cut firewood, and so on. Many trivial household chores are carefully taken care of by other women in the family so that they can have an uneventful pregnancy. After birth the important issue is who will take care of the child and bring her/him up.

(1) Postpartum confinement

Mosuo women "sit" the whole first month after childbirth. During this period, the puerpera, or postpartum mother, does not leave the "Du Pan".*5 During the first month, many relatives and friends come to visit the newborn. Therefore, when the family entertains relatives and friends, the puerpera can avoid the disturbance of the guests and get a better rest. At the same time, the three meals a day are carried to the puerpera's room by female family members, and she can have all the serenity to herself in the "Du pan." During the first month, some details of Mosuo people's life are quite different from other nationalities.

In traditional Mosuo culture, men are forbidden to visit the puerpera, even their husbands. During the first month after childbirth, usually the sisters at home take turns to visit the "Du pan" to talk with the puerpera to relieve her boredom. Now that is changing in Mosuo society, because modern Mosuo women give birth at hospitals where family companionship is required, which usually means the partner of the pregnant woman. As a result, conflicts can arise.

Yang is a Mosuo woman who works in the city. Yang and her partner are both Mosuo people and live in a very traditional big Mosuo family. However, Yang chose to give birth to her first baby in a hospital for the sake of work. So, Yang brought her mother and mother-in-law to the city with her so she could rest the first month after childbirth in the city. On the day Yang went into labor, the mothers asked Yang's husband to stay at home, with the idea in mind that men could not go to the delivery room. Yang's husband tried in vain to persuade the two mothers to let him take care of Yang. Instead, the two mothers happily went to the hospital to take care of her. Unfortunately, it turned out that the doctor required the signature of the child's father. Being disqualified as signatories, the two mothers were very unhappy. When mentioning the story later, Yang believed it was a conflict between tradition and modernity.*6

It is a tradition and a taboo in Mosuo traditional culture that men are not allowed to enter the room where women spend the first month after childbirth because the room is believed to be an "unclean" place that men should avoid. Many outsiders often compare the status of Mosuo men and women. In fact, in Mosuo society, men and women perform their respective duties, and there is no simple comparability.

(2) Infancy

After the birth of a child, the mother can return to her normal life, and the child starts to be put in contact with other members of the family. Raising a child is no longer a matter only for the mother alone, but for the whole family. At this time, if the mother of the puerpera is young or the puerpera has other sisters, they will help her with the baby at night, When the baby wants to have milk at night, they will take the baby to her.

When La gave birth to her child, her mother was in her forties. Therefore, La's mother helped with her child at night. Her child slept with her mother at night. She didn't have to stay up much during the first months after labor, which is of great help to her recovery after childbirth. The same was true of La's mother when La was born, La's grandmother helped with a lot of housework, so her mother didn't feel very tired when raising her children.

Mosuo women give birth at an early age. Generally speaking, the age difference between the child and the mother is 20-25 years, which is of great benefit for women to raise children, because the grandmother who can help take care of the child will be fairly young. In addition, other women from the family also contribute. For example:

Sheng is the owner of a small restaurant. She usually needs to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to prepare the steamed buns to be sold on that day. In the evening, if the guests won't leave until late, she goes home very late. Therefore, Sheng's baby is often left in her elder sister's house, where the baby is taken care of by her elder sister and nieces.

In the traditional culture of Mosuo people, it is often said that "everything will be fine as long as you want to give birth to the baby," because when a child is born, a lot of people can help to take care of her/him. However, in other communities, you need to consider how to take care of the baby once she/he is born. For example, if there are not as many family members as in Mosuo families, or if the grandparents are too old or brothers and sisters have their own family, you cannot get as much help as the Mosuo do. Therefore, that leaves it up to the husband and wife to have children and raise them on their own.

(3) Independence period

From the age of four, Mosuo's children will not be looked after by dedicated people. Instead, the children are taken to the fields by the adults. The adults work in the fields, and children play with other children on the ridge; If there are no playmates around, they play with mud. According to the oral accounts of the villagers, the author's childhood was like this:

At the age of three or four, I often followed my family to play in the fields. One day, my family invited a number of villagers to help sow corn. Mosuo grow corn by hand. People walked back and forth, sowing from one end of the field to the other. I sat on the ridge alone humming, one song after another, without repeating any of them, leaving a deep impression on the people working around me. In fact, adults all knew that I was just humming freely without knowing what the songs were about at all. Since then, they often joke about it whenever they see me.*7

In fact, this is typical of a Mosuo childhood. When kids don't go to school, they enjoy the view of the butterflies and dragonflies in the fields while adults sow and plow nearby, sunbathe with cattle and sheep in the grassland, and listen to the wind in the mountains. Mosuo kids know at a young age that if in the afternoon the head of the goddess mountain Grimm is crowned with white clouds, they should immediately round up pigs, cattle and horses and drive them home, because heavy rain will come.*8 If there are no white clouds around the top of the mountain, then when the sun shines on two-thirds of the mountain, they should go to round up cattle and sheep and drive them home. Thus cattle, horses and pigs will be well-fed. At school age, Mosuo children go to school at 8 o'clock every morning. On the way back from school, they drive the cattle and sheep back home. On weekends, children of every family will drive their livestock to the meadow at the end of the village. Then they will find a dry place to sit down. First, they will take out their school books, finish their homework for the day, and then play together: wrestling on the grass, playing the handkerchief game, the sandbag game, playing football. The sun tans their skin. Mud stains their clothes, but bright smiles are always on their faces.

Nowadays, during the years of children raising, adults are concerned about what kind of interests they should cultivate in their children, what kind of enrichment courses their children should take, while seldom asking children what they like. Children even lack the time to play outside. From birth, Mosuo children get to learn natural knowledge and humanity knowledge from ancient myths, legends, stories. They try to judge whether the knowledge from the mouths of adults is true based on their own understanding of the world around them so that they can lead a happy and healthy life.

Giving birth to a child and bringing him/her up is not easy. Each nation has its own unique way of nurturing young lives. Mosuo people desire life, love women, let life grow freely. The bits and pieces of their child-raising stories are nothing but Mosuo people's respect for life and passion for life.

  • *1. In the Lugu Lake area before 2010, tourism did not get to penetrate every village where Mosuo people lived. Therefore, the traditional living habits of Mosuo people had not been completely broken.
  • *2. The Sutra chanting place: Mosuo people invite lamas to recite sutras at their funerals. When lamas chant sutras, some lamas sit in the Buddhist temple chanting sutras and some chant in front of the souls of the dead, and some chant at the crematorium. Different sutras are chanted at different scenarios.
  • *3. In the traditional culture of Mosuo people, when a person dies, it is only the body that dies. Therefore, the living people should chant sutras praying good fortune for her/him to help the soul of the dead to have a better reincarnation. Before reincarnation, the soul is believed to wander alone around with the living, without anything happening. Therefore, people have a certain degree of awe towards the soul of the dead.
  • *4. From the field notes of May 16, 2021.
  • *5. Du Pan: Mosuo language, it is an inner room of the Mosuo grandmother's room. Generally speaking, women only live here when they give birth.
  • *6. From the field notes of May 18, 2021.
  • *7. From the field notes of May 16, 2021.
  • *8. A mountain at Lugu Lake.

Du Ma La Mu (Lijiang College of Culture and Tourism)
Du Ma La Mu_profile.png

Mosuo native, teacher with Lijiang College of Culture and Tourism, master in religion from Southwest Minzu University. Engaged in a number of social field research projects, such as the national language protection project Mosuo language rescue and protection, the project of National Social Science Fund " Cultural History of Disaster of Yunnan Indigenous Minority Groups", etc. Since 2011, following up with studies on Mosuo matrilineal culture (marriage, religion, etc.).Also engaged in related cultural researches and visiting scholars' projects.