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Mosou: An Unrecognized Minority

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Fall Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(3) page(s): 33

This Chinese ethnic minority does have several names, the government recognizes none of them. Even so, little is known about them. Is this because there are only some forty-five thousand in China including all of them who live in the very small villages in the Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces and those close to the Tibetan border and near Lake Lugu? Is it because some spell their name Moso and others know them as the Na people, the name they call themselves? Maybe it is because others call them Nakhi and the government groups them and others with the Naxi, another ethnic group. Their beliefs and food culture do not match.

There are some who refer to them as a ‘free-lovemaking’ minority. Does this influence how they are thought of? Or, we wonder, is it because they are ruled by women, the eldest in a family needing to be a very strong woman?

There are those who say the Mosou are primitive people; but they themselves do not believe that. They say their power is religious, their political strength in the hands of their men. But this is a matriarchal society whose daily lives are controlled by women; their men tending to other things. Some say their men hardly work, meaning they have no ‘real’ jobs; they just go fishing. Of course, this is not true. Some of their men folk tend livestock and slaughter them when needed. Others say their men only engage in ‘night time’ activities if invited into the homes of their women.

Actually, this is a small ancient female-led agrarian society that is headed by the eldest female in a family. She is known as their ‘ah mi’. If all their young children are male, then need to adopt a young female for this upcoming task. Mosou females raise their young and their yaks, also their water buffalo, sheep, goats, and poultry; and they grow all needed potatoes, oats, buckwheat, and flax. They do their own weaving, manage their money, and barter for needs. Most of their children do not know their fathers thinking the woman’s oldest brother may be that male. What they raise or grow is rarely in excess of their needs, just enough to feed their family, and they have and use little cash. Most often, they get what they need bartering for it.

They do not ignore future food needs as they salt and smoke many meats; and prepare lots of pork both ot these ways; and they know they can stay ten or more years with no spoilage. The first floor is for cooking, eating, and socializing, the second one is where they store them. The first floor is also where their Daba or priest stays when invited to spend the night so he can lead or participate in any worship rituals. The second floor is also where a private room is set aside for a girl old enough to entertain her male guests. It is called the ‘flowering room,’ and it is for her use usually after she turns thirteen.

Most Mosou are known for what they call a ‘walking marriage.’ The Chinese call them zou hun, others call them ‘free-love time.’ After a girl turns thirteen and has spent one or more nights with one particular boy, he does leave early the next morning. It is not unusual for one to walk into and out of the lives of many young women that invite him to do so. She controls that room and his coming and going; and though there are some who partner for life, that is rare. She controls that, too.

As to the culinary, they never eat dog, most never even allowing them into their homes. This is an ancient belief, no one seems to know why, at least no one we spoke to. Should you know more, hope you will share that and any recipes they have to share with our readers. We found none.

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