Politics of Marriage: Love and Revolution

wedding rings

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The Naxi People of Luga Lake.

It’s a small community that practices a type of matrilineal family called yidu (meaning house). Each is an independent for production and consumption – in other words, “the basic economic unit of the society.” The community relies on the concept of azhu (which means friend or partner). Within pairings each partner continues to live at home and they do not establish a new family together. Each works for and supports their respective mother’s families, but the offspring belong to the wife and mother, and is her responsibility. These ties between partners can last for several years or for one or two nights because each partner is free to sever the relationship or continue it and have any number of other relations. The more attractive and intelligent ones have several partners and it is a source of pride and respect, while those who are less appealing usually have one azhu. This is an early form of group marriage, and one of the last primitive vestiges of it in the world. (From “The Naxi People of Lugu Lake” China Pictorial (1980): 8-15)

Heterosexual marriage. Patrilineal communities. Monogamous relationships. These concepts are somehow revolutionary. They changed countless communities, and soon became the marker of civilized society, ones that were rational, intellectual and economically prosperous. In this particular matrilineal culture it seems like there isn’t much emphasis on gender. Everyone lives at home, and works at home, and all are sustained by their immediate families. There’s no sense of competition, and thus, not much reason for violence or abuse. In a way, this seems kind of revolutionary to me. I’ve watched a few episodes of Sister Wives on Netflix, and I can’t help but think, “That looks so much nicer and easier.” The division of labor is appealing, as well as the sense of community and shared responsibilities.

At the same time, even in my own heteronormative, monogamous marriage, with it’s nuclear family averages, I hold to the hope that it is also revolutionary in its own way. While I have found myself fall into some more traditional female responsibilities, it isn’t all the way I imagined it. For good or bad, I suppose. There’s the gender shifts and fluidity, and then the constant cultural negotiations, and the space to be and do family the way it makes sense to us. Usually, that means something a long the lines of straightforward survival. But, despite the overarching pressure to do this marriage and family thing a certain way, and to deal with the realities of finances and economics – how they play a major role in rest, relaxation, and connection – and all the interesting elements of being a clergy couple, it’s been good because our friendship and partnership is good. Not exactly like an azhu but there’s something there.

“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

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