A “Climb the Window”

Binma is a Mosuo girl. The Mosuo are an ethnic minority, located at the provinces of Yunnan, Tibet and Sichuan in southeast China. Mosuo adults do not get married but practise a system called “walking marriage.” The man stays with the woman only as an overnight visitor. The matriarch is the head of the household, she organises the work that has to be done, and manages property and money.

Do Mosuo get married?
We Mosuo people, even if we are very sure of a relationship, we don’t get married. But we have something like an engagement ceremony. Only if we are VERY sure he or she is the ONE, the soul mate, for our whole life.

What does the ceremony look like?
Normally the boy invites some very good friends to tell the girl’s family. If the family of the girl agrees, the couple can have the “walking marriage.” If the parents don’t agree but you really like each other, you’ll have to “climb the window.”

But even when you get engaged you still don’t live together?
No, during the daytime you would never stay together. Except when the families need you to.

You do get married in some cases?
This kind of marriage, we still call it “walking marriage.” For example if there is no man in my family, I can ask my partner to live together with MY family. Because Mosuo people share money within the family and don’t gain money or wealth for themselves, there is no financial argument for him not to do that, he will work as hard as in his family.

If your partner comes to live with you, who does he give the money to he earns?
He would give it to the matriarch of my family.

If he lives with you, he belongs to your family?

So the root of the family is the mother, who is also the matriarch. If in your family there is no mother anymore, what happens?
We have to choose the most suitable one of the sisters as the matriarch.

So, the matriarch has the most powerful position. What about the uncle in the family?
Well, for example, in my family we all respect our uncle very much. He doesn’t go out to do labour in the field, and his role is like the father in the family. He takes care of the children of my sisters. I think all Mosuo families are like this. The uncles are in charge of taking care of the children.

Do you know who is your father?
Yes, I know. We have a coming-of-age ceremony when we are 13. This is an occasion to meet your father. That is on the first of the January according to the lunar calendar. You can take a piece of 7 years preserved pork and go to see your father. And you will also get a gift from him. There is a coming-of-age ceremony for every girl, and they say after that ceremony you can start “walking.” But I don’t think it is true. It just means you’ve grown up. And you will start taking part in the work of the family.

Do you know if your father has other children?
No, I am his only child.

Is this a very common situation?
It depends. Men used to have quite many children.

Do you want any children in the future?
Of course I want.

But after you have a child there is no father that can help?
No, but I have my sisters and brothers that will help me. That is another advantage of Mosuo people: every kid gets a lot of mothers and fathers. For sisters there is no difference between “your kids” and “my kids.” They are raised together.

Printed in: Mathilde ter Heijne: Any Day Now, pages 18-21