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“We like them and we need them, but we also value our freedom.” Chinese families have long preferred boys to girls, leading to a troubling surplus of men in the world’s most populous country.

Not so in this pristine community spread across a high plateau in the Himalayan foothills between Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, where the legend of Shangri-La was born.

“In our culture, girls are very important,” explains Rada.

“But we don’t push away our men.” While the Mosuo are perhaps the best known of the matriarchal societies that endure worldwide, the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia, at 4 million strong, are the largest community with women-centric traditions.

Sex was ritual communion, and partnership between the sexes made for a level of violence exceptionally low for the era.

One day, while picking herbs in the forest, she crossed paths with the hunter He Long. They spent every moment together until the devil showed up. Gemu became the Goddess Mountain and He Long an island within sight but out of reach. These days, a different kind of threat is appearing: tourists.It’s almost lunchtime, and 29-year-old Sadama Rada is helping her mother and aunt prepare a meal of salt pork, potatoes, and fresh greens pulled from the family farm in the village of Shekua.Seated by the hearth fire between a carved wooden bedchamber and hand-painted Buddhist mural is Ku Mu, Rada’s grandmother.History is passed from generation to generation by word of mouth, leaving stories open to variation.Some anthropologists believe Mosuo heritage can be traced to Mongolia, while others say they are native to southwestern China, where they have farmed and raised livestock for nearly 2,000 years.

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