Perspectives on the Yi of Southwest China

By Stevan Harrell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Preferential Bilateral-Cross-Cousin
Marriage among the Nuosu in Liangshan
Lu Hui

Until 1956, the Nuosu (Yi) society that we know of in Liangshan was almost completely free from control by the central government (especially in the hinterland). Yet it did not form a separate state but was a slave society divided and ruled by various nuoho clans.

At the same time, it was also a castelike social system. The hierarchical order of castes and even of clans was demarcated by the degree of “hardness of bones. ” Such a social system had divided the Nuosu society into two sides: the aristocratic “hard bones, ” including nzymo and nuoho (“Black Yi” or “Black Bones”) categories on one side, and on the other their subordinate castes, the three categories quho or qunuo (“White Yi” or “White Bones, ” commoners), according to the region; mgajie (serfs); and gaxy galo (slaves). Marriage between castes was, and still is, considered a grave violation of social rules and punished severely, by death before 1956 and by exclusion from the clan or even caste today. The whole society, then, followed the principle of strict endogamy of caste and exogamy of clan. On the basis of this principle, bilateral-cross-cousin marriage was, and is, practiced and parallelcousin marriage was, and is, forbidden.

The principle of clan relationship applies not only among nuoho clans but also among quho clans, just as the concept of “bones” is generally acknowledged by every Nuosu caste. This fact further illustrates the hierarchical distinction in the caste system, especially the distinction between the nzymo, the nuoho, and the quho.

Nuosu society is a patrilineal society; consanguineal relatives are reckoned patrilineally. The clan consists of a group of people descended from the same male ancestors; females are excluded from oral genealogies. Sons have the privilege of inheritance in a family; men practice levirate and polygamy; mar-

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