There was a matriarchy among the Yugur?

There was a matriarchy among the Yugur?

The matrimonial customs of the Yugur present differences between their two main groups.

Among the Eastern Yugur, girls had a time of great sexual freedom. Their rite of passage was the ceremony of making the headdress, which was performed in a tent set up for that purpose, with the help of two adult women. They chose an auspicious day and combed her hair in two braids and decorated it with pearls, agate and silver pieces, indicating that she was already an adult. Then, if she was not yet engaged, the exchange of sahs would take place. All Yugur carry a sahs. For the exchange, one was sent to a male, preferably the children of the maternal uncles, of any age. The next day she would return to his parents’ house and from then on «she could sleep with men and if she had children they would take the surname of the man to whom she gave the sahs. (Gao 1996:6).

The total freedom of Yugur women

The western Yugur had a similar custom. Coming of age was reached after the first headdress was made in an auxiliary tent. She would then hang the headdress and sahs from the door indicating that she could now have sex with men. As in the famous Moso visiting marriage system, men could spend one night with her, or perhaps a whole lifetime. Potential children borne from these relationships were not discriminated against. The woman’s sexual freedom was greater among them than in other villages in China, since she could «live today with one man and tomorrow with another, and it was also possible that she would be living with several simultaneously» (Gao 1996: 6). 

As she grew older, a woman often went to live with her daughter, even if she had sons, which is also a vestige of the matrilineal family structure. In addition, as in other societies where women have a high role, the maternal uncle has an important role in family and social life.

These women, with their absolute freedom to seek a husband or lover, were never subordinate to the man, but were always the head of the family. As this sexual freedom was in fact adjusted to communities with a few hundred inhabitants, it was normal for the woman to live for a long time with the man of her choice, but if the relationship began to go wrong they would separate and each would look for a new partner. The woman’s family expected the man to contribute to the family’s economy, and the man who did not would be excluded from the family. 

Their myths emphasize more stable marriages

It is curious that, in spite of this relic of primitive marriages, the myths of the Yugur emphasize the importance of formal marriage, and prior to the institution of this ritual, the need for people to have a name is established, to know that they are marrying outside the clan, and matchmaking and gift exchanges are regulated. In other myths, the war that is fought because of the enmity between King Baoerde and King Zhenersi, is frustrated when the only daughter of the former makes peace with the only son of the latter. After a series of vicissitudes, the two young people are reunited, and are rewarded by two heavenly dragons with silk strips, and ride up to heaven together on the dragons. Since then, at the Yugur wedding, the bride rides a white horse and the groom rides a black one.

The Yugur family organization

The family is the foundation of their society. Each family used to consist of about 4 – 5 people, who lived together in a yurt. Among them they divided the economic tasks, mainly as shepherds and peasants. But unlike the neighboring populations of other minorities, women maintained a high status in the family, and it was not uncommon for marriages to be matrilocal, that is, with the husband going to live in his wife’s house.

They were still free to choose their boyfriends. Marriages took place outside the clan, but within the same social class. At the time of the wedding they held two celebrations, one at the bride’s house and the other at the groom’s house. From the bride’s house they accompany them singing half way. Then everyone sings some of the traditional songs, especially the Sanamak.

The wedding starts at the bride’s house, where she dresses as a bride. It continued the next day at the groom’s house, which ended with the newlyweds eating a leg of lamb together. On the third day, the bride returned to her home, to return to her husband’s house at the end of the month or when she had her first child.

In recent times, as the families of the brides asked for many gifts, marriages were celebrated by exchange. Through which brother and sister married into the same family.

Each person had three names. The milk name, which was given at birth. The religious name, given in the ceremony of peeling him for the first time, when each family member cut off a lock of his hair and listed the gifts they gave him, leaving a lock in the center. He was then given a Lamaist name. The third is the intellectual name, which he took as he grew older.

More info:

Ceinos Arcones, Pedro. El matriarcado en China:  Madres, reinas, diosas y chamanas. Miraguano Ediciones. Madrid. 2010.

Fan Yumei. Etnia Yugur. En Yan Ruxian. Matrimonio y familia de las etnias minoritarias de China. Ediciones de lenguas Extranjeras. Beijing. 1991

Gao Qian. Pre-liberation Yogur wedding Customs. En Zhang Juan, Kevin Stuart et al. Blue Cloth and Pearl Deer : Yogur Folklore. Sino- Platonic Papers. 1996.

Ye Dabing. The Bridal Boat. Marriage Customs of China’s Fifty Five Ethnic Minorities. Translated by Mark Bender y Shi Kun. New World Press. Beijing. 1993.

Zhang Juan, Kevin Stuart et al. Blue Cloth and Pearl Deer : Yogur Folklore. Sino- Platonic Papers. 1996.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "There was a matriarchy among the Yugur?," in Ethnic China, 12 enero 2021,
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