Author: Pascale-Marie Milan, 160 pages, 123 colour illustrations, 5 geographical maps, published by the Fondation culturelle Musée Barbier-Mueller, 2015
The Na are known to ethnologists as “a society without fathers or husbands”. Their sexual custom is for the men to visit the women in their bedrooms at night. They do not marry. That, at least, is the conventional wisdom, though the modalities of the custom are more complex than they might appear. That custom forms the underlying principle and foundation of the cultural values that give meaning to Na social life and is necessarily associated with external functions, both political and economic.
In the cold mountains of Sichuan (Liangshan), about fifty kilometres from the Lugu Lake region subjected to the glare of the media, the author conducted an up-close ethnographic study of the Na. More than two years of fieldwork allowed her privileged access to the underside of the social fabric. Her immersion in the ordinary life of the Na and her participation in various everyday activities allowed her to shed the anthropological exoticism in which explanations of the group are generally couched. Songs, dances, myths, rites, and mutual aid and exchange all provide windows on to the emotional tenor and logic of the Na system of thought. They make possible an assessment of contextualized practices, based on the justifications the villagers give from within their historical, economic, political and ideological constraints.