University of California: Los Angeles
This past month, not only did I learn to weave fabric, but also I learned to weave lies about why I couldn’t eat any more chicken feet, weave tales about American culture and weave clouds of smoke to mask my inability to drink copious amounts of alcohol, though nearly all of my handiwork was shoddily crafted. I studied weaving in a small Mosuo village about an hour outside of Yongning, on the borders of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Although the Chinese government classifies the Mosuo as a part of the Naxi minority people, they have many of their own distinctly different cultural practices. Most notably is the practice of walking marriage, which has given rise to the mislabeling of their culture as sexually promiscuous. Mosuo people are Tibetan Buddhists, but they have their own internally cultivated religion called Daba. The Mosuo religion practices that combine both Tibetan Buddhism and Daba are apparent on a day-to-day basis, as well as their agrarian and bartering lifestyles. They are most commonly labeled as a matriarchal and matrilineal society, however I find that the society cannot be quite so neatly filed away into either of those restrictive Western categories.
My primary purpose was to learn the traditional weaving techniques of a minority people. The Mosuo people are not particularly well known for their weaving, and I found myself there solely by coincidence. The one lead I had for being accepted as a weaving student happened to be in Lugu Lake so I followed it. I planned to spend all of my time weaving and living the life of a professional weaver, but I quickly learned that this aspect of Mosuo life was almost impenetrably integrated into the rest of the culture. Upon arriving at my pre-determined and entirely unfamiliar location to live with a local weaving family, I realized that I would have to completely immerse myself in all of Mosuo culture in order to really be accepted and gain insight into their authentic day-to-day lives. Since this was not my original plan, I came with absolutely no knowledge about Mosuo beliefs, cultural practices or history. I called a friend who read me the condensed Wikipedia version of Mosuo culture and then I set my mind to experiencing every aspect of this culture to the point where weaving was only a side project.
Anthropology | Arts and Humanities | Social and Cultural Anthropology
Judson, Melissa, "Weaving and Scheming: Adventures on Planet Mosuo" (2009). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 804.