Lugu Lake (泸沽湖) is located in the northwest of the Yunnan plateau, with the middle of the lake forming the border between the Ninglang County of Yunnan Province and the Yanyuan County of Sichuan Province.
The shoreline of the lake is occupied by several ethnic minorities belonging to the Mosuo, Norzu, Yi, Pumi and Tibetan tribes.
The history of the place, however, is also well known for its matriarchal culture and also the dress of the Mosuo women and girls in particular, which is distinctly conspicuous for its maroon blouses and skirts that establish an aura of authority.
Lugu Lake is called the “mother lake” by the Mosuo people.The lake is also well known in Chinese travel pamphlets as the region of “Amazons,” “The Kingdom of Women” and “Home of the Matriarchal Tribe”, this last name highlighting the dominant role of the Mosuo women in their society. The marriage rites of the Mosuo people are known as “azhu marriage” ceremony and this unique aspect of their social culture has given the title “exotic land of daughters” to the area. It is also known as “A Quaint Realm of Matriarchy.” The matriarchal and matrilineal society of the Mosuos is also termed the “Women’s World.”
An ancient legend linked to the lake is that a beautiful female spirit by the name of Gemu had many local mountain spirits as her male friends. The young spirit was pretty and also had male friends among the male spirits from other mountain regions. During one of her intimate dalliances with a local male spirit, a mountain spirit from a distant mountain came to her house on horseback. When he found her in the company of a local male spirit, he felt humiliated and quickly turned his horse round and started going back. Gemu heard the neigh of the horse and realized that a distant mountain spirit had come on horseback to visit her. She came out of the house and started running after the visitor spirit. She could only see a large hoof print at the foot of the mountain where the male spirit had disappeared. As it was getting dark, Gemu could not proceed further and she started weeping frenziedly, which resulted in the hoofprint turning into a lake with her tears. When the male spirit heard her crying, and saw that the hoofprint had turned into a lake with her tears, he lovingly threw a few pearls and flowers into the lake. The pearls are identified now as the islands in the lake and the flowers which floated to the lake shore are said to be scented azaleas and other flowers, which bloom every year.
Another legend narrated about the creation of the lake is that Gemu had many lovers. One such lover was a god named Waru Shila. During their first meeting and romance amidst a garden of flowers they were oblivious to their surroundings without even realizing that daybreak had occurred. In order to escape discovery of their affair, Waru Shila fled from the scene on his horse towards the hill, while Gemu fondly looked at him from the shore of Lugu Lake. While trying to look back at his fiancée, Waru Shila was holding the reins of the horse very tight. As a result, the horse stumbled and fell. This caused a deep depression in the ground. Since daybreak had occurred, Waru could not return to his heaven and therefore transformed himself into a mountain, to the east of the lake. Looking aghast at this turn of events, Gemu cried intensely, which resulted in the depression being filled by her tears and eventually turning into Lugu Lake. She then cast seven of her pearls into the lake, which became the seven islands. She also turned herself into a mountain in order to keep a watch on the lake and to look at her lover in the east, who had also earlier turned into a mountain.
The minority tribal community, which resides on the shores of Lugu Lake, have many beliefs and taboos linked to the lake. They hold the lake in sacred reverence and have taboos on killing of animals and felling of trees; and Mosuos, in particular consider animals and trees as innocent. Any body desecrating the lake, as a reparation, has to sacrifice an animal used in tilling and offer the meat to the villagers to eat, contact a “Dingba or hangui (a shaman) to appease the spirits and restore topo-cosmic harmony” and pay obeisance to a Tibetan Buddhist Lama or local Lama. The fisher folk of the lake who practice zoned fishing in the lake believe that a black footed crane (Grus spp.) returning to Lugu Lake ushers prosperity.
The Mosuo people’s ancient history is identified with Lugu Lake and their interests are now protected by the “Lugu Lake Mosuo Cultural Development Association”. They are advertised as a major tourist attraction of Lugu Lake for their matriarchal traditions and “walking marriages,” where marriage is not sacrosanct as women exercise the right to choose and change their husbands at will. According to the 1990 database, there were 90,000 Mosuos, mostly concentrated around Lugu Lake.
The minority report in Time mentions “Sex appeals. And today, the area around Lugu Lake, the Mosuo homeland where Namu grew up, has become a chic tourist destination, thanks almost entirely to the renown that Namu’s book has brought it.”