A SOCIETY WITHOUT FATHERS OR HUSBANDS: The Na of China Cai Hua
Marriage is the foundation of all societies, anthropologists have claimed. Yet the Na, an ethnic minority living in China's Himalayan foothills, have enjoyed a successful culture without it. The Na are a truly matrilineal society: heterosexual activity occurs by mutual consent and mostly through the custom of the secret nocturnal "visit"; men and women are free to have multiple partners and to initiate or break off relationships when they please. Children are raised by their mother's family, with the biological father playing no role whatsoever. Cai Hua, director of research at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences in China, lived among the Na for extended periods during the 1980s and 1990s and gathered comprehensive data on their history, religion, economic practices and social customs—in particular, kinship systems. The resulting description and analysis, originally presented as his master's thesis, introduces a fascinating culture for whom "sexuality is not a piece of merchandise but a purely sentimental and amorous matter that implies no mutual constraints." (Hua does not mention whether homosexual activity is similarly tolerated.) Na men and women generally report high satisfaction with their sex lives. As in other cultures, though, physically unattractive, disabled and older individuals have few (if any) romantic options; high rates of sexually transmitted diseases also occur. This painstakingly researched book will provide social scientists with much useful information and will raise major questions about accepted views of family relationships and gender roles. Its dry prose, clinical tone and exhaustive scope, however, may prove daunting for general readers. (May 1) Forecast: Touted as a groundbreaking study, this book is clearly intended for specialists. Though thoroughly researched and meticulously presented, it lacks the kind of readability that could have made it a 21st-century Coming of Age in Samoa.
Release date: 03/01/2001