A nice book about the Lahu: Chopsticks only work in pairs


Du Shanshan.- Chopsticks only work in pairs: gender unity and gender equality among the Lahu of southwest China. New York: Columbia University Press. 2002.

In the best tradition of anthropological literature Du Shanshan studies the Lahu people, discovering in the process what had been hidden from a host of ethnologists that came before her.

Her interest in the Lahu people began with an investigation into the reasons behind the high rate of suicide among Lahu young people. As the writer delves more deeply into the culture and symbolic life of the Lahu, she discovers that this high rate of suicide is due to the constraints experienced by a society based on a dyadic concept of gender equality.

This dyadic concept of Lahu society, different from the oppositional halves in the yin-yang theory of the Chinese mind, is expressed in the Lahu proverb: "Chopsticks only work in pairs."

Analyzing Lahu society from this new perspective, Du Shanshan discovers that it permeates every single activity of the traditional society of the Lahu people. From the very beginning of mythical Lahu history, as shown in their myth "Mupha mipha", where their heavenly dyadic deities XeulSha (in fact XeulYad and ShaYad) together create heaven and earth, and the first pair of human beings on the earth.
Everything in the Lahu world comes in pairs. A person is not considered a proper part of society until he or she becomes part of a dyadic pair. Among the Lahu, the most important rite of passage for young people is a proper wedding. The wedding itself has two twinned ceremonies, one in the bride's home and another at the bridegroom's home.

The pair established during the wedding should remain together forever. Even in the other world, that pairs with the living world we know, the couple will live together, and the funeral ceremonies take care to show this.

Among the Lahu, even aspects of life most conspicuously associated with a specific gender are shared by both husband and wife. Pregnancy is considered to be carried out by women only out of necessity. All the processes of pregnancy, delivery, and child rearing are the shared tasks of both the husband and wife. Even different kinds of leadership in the village are shared by a couple in which the woman and the man have the same importance.

Du Shanshan discovered among the Lahu a society where complete gender equality is still preserved in the early years of the 21st century.

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