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Pumi girls

The Pumi are an ethnic minority that lives in Hengduan mountains in the Lijiang area of northwestern Yunnan and a few areas of Sichuan Province. They live in villages on gentle mountain slopes at elevations as high as 2,600 meters. They are believed to be descendants of herders originally from southern Xinjiang that migrated southward and eastward, arriving in Yunnan in the 13th century. Originating from the Tibetan plateau, they have traditionally spoken their own Tibetan-Burman language but now mostly speak Chinese. and have traditionally raised livestock and grown corn, wheat, oats, vegetables and highland barley. Their favorite dish is said to be salted pork wrapped in pork skin.

The Pumi are also known as P'umi, Pei Er Mi, Peimi, Primi, Xifan, Pimi, Primmi, Pruumi, P'ömi and P'rome. The Pumis call themselves "Puyingmi", "Purimi" or "Peimi". They were called "Xifan" or "Baju" in the past. After the new China was founded in 1949, they were designated as Pumi by the Chinese government. The Pumi (English translation of Chinese pinyin) are also known as Prmi or Primi in western texts. "Pumi" is not a Pumi language word, but a Chinese word related to the way they know themselves: it means "the white people". Basically they are same word pronounced differently in various dialects. For example, the Pumis in Ninglang call themselves Purimi, Pami; the Pumis in Lanping County call themselves Puyingmi, while in Yongsheng or Lijiang they call Pumi, Pingmi and Pimi. The Han and Bai call the Pumis Xifan; The Yi call them Wozhu; the Tibetan and Mosuo from Naxi branch call them Ba, while the Naxis in Lijiang call them Bo. [Source: Ethnic-China.com /*/; Chinatravel.com; Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences ~]

The Pumi mainly live the in mountainous northwestern regions of Yunnan Province in the Laojun Mountains of Huaping in the northwestern plateau and at the foot of the Yak Mountain of Ninglang Lanping Bai and Pumi autonomous county, Ninglang Yi autonomous county, Lijiang Naxi autonomous county, and Weixi and Yongsheng counties. A small number are scatters over the Yongsheng and Zhongdian areas of Yunnan. .They live together with the Han, Naxi,, Bai, Nusu, Miao and Yi. In addition an even larger number of ethnic Pumi live in Muli Zang autonomous county and Yanyuan county in Sichuan, however here they are classified as Tibetans (or 'Zang') rather than Pumi. *\ ~

The Pumis are mostly Tibetan Buddhists. They have traditionally worshiped nature and ancestors and a large number of gods and spirits. A few believe in Taoism. Their main festivals are Big New Year, Big 15th of the 1st Lunar Month and New Product Tasting Festival. Most Pumi are farmers. Corn, wheat, highland barley, beans and yam are their main crops. Animal husbandry still plays an important role in social economy.

There is some debate as to whether or not the Pumi are really a distinct ethnic group. Stevan Harrell argues there are clearly doubts about this based on culture, history and kinship. The history of the Pumi as a group is difficult to separate from that of the other members of Qiangic language group. It was only after 1960 that the Pumi in Yunnan came into existence as an 'ethnic group'. The Pumi living in Sichuan are not even officially classified as as 'Pumi' but as 'Tibetans'. Cultural markers such as dress, housing, and marriage frequently serve to unite, rather than distinguish, the Pumi from neighbouring ethnic groups. For example, the traditional dress of the Pumi is indistinguishable from that of the local Naxi and Mosuo, and the same is often true of their housing styles. Apart from the Pumi language—which is highly variable and not widely spoken among the Pumi—there is not much that distinguishes the Pumi from other groups that live alongside them. [Source: “Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China” by Stevan Harrell; Ethnic China]

BooK: “Backbone of a Nationality:The Pumis” by Zheng Hai and Yin Haitao, Yunnan education publishing house, China, 1995; “Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China” by Stevan Harrell;

Pumi Population and Distribution

Where the Pumi live Yunnan (pink)

The Pumi are the 40th largest ethnic group and the 39th largest minority out of 55 in China. They numbered 42,861 in 2010 and made up less than 0.01 percent of the total population of China in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census. Pumi populations in China the past: 33,628 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 29,657 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. A total of 14,298 were counted in 1964 and 18,860 were counted in 1982. About half these Pumi live in the Lijiang area. As some of the Pumi in Sichuan province are considered Tibetans, there are between 25,000 and 50,000 more Pumi, living in Sichuan not counted in the censuses, even though, as Stevan Harrell wrote, they are "culturally and linguistically the same people".[Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia; Ethnic China]

The Pumi re scattered in a wide area of mountains in northwest Yunnan and along the border of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. A) In Yunnan Province, the Pumi are concentrated mainly in: 1) Lijiang Prefecture in Ninlang, Yongsheng and Lijiang Counties; 2) In Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Weixi Lisu Autonomous County; 3) In Nujiang Lisu and Nu Prefecture in In Lanping Bai and Pumi Autonomous County. B) In Sichuan Province, where they are classified as Tibetans they are found in: 1) the southwest part of Liangshan Prefecture, in Yanyuan and Muli Counties; 2) Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Jiulong County.

The Pumi do not have a compact territory they call their own. Their villages are "small and widely dispersed. Most of them have scarce contact with others, governing themselves in their mountains". Many have more contact with Tibetans and Naxi that they do with other Pumi. The region where many of them live is characterized by rugged mountains as high as 2,600 meters above sea level, cut by deep ravines.

Pumi History

According to Pumi legends and historical documents and records, speakers of Qiangic languages—which included ancient Pumis—were nomadic tribes living in a region where the Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan meet, and later they moved southward (See Qiang). By the seventh century, the Pumis were living in Sichuan's Yuexi, Mianning, Hanyuan, Jiulong and Shimian areas, constituting one of the major ethnic minorities in the Xichang Prefecture. After the 13th century, the Pumis gradually settled down in Ninglang, Lijiang, Weixi and Lanping. They farmed and bred livestock. Later, agriculture gradually took a predominant place in their economy. [Source: China.org]

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “The history of the Pumi is hard to untangle from the history of the broader group of the speakers of Qiangic languages. The origin of these people is generally agreed to be as nomadic herdsmen on Qinghai-Tibet plateau . By the later Han dynasty they had migrated south to Sichuan and north-western Yunnan. Before the ethnic identification project it is also possible that the Pumi may not have had a separate name or been distinguished by others as a separate group. In fact, in early twentieth century Chinese sources the Pumi, along with Tibetans, were known as 'Xifan' (or 'Western Barbarians), and were identified with Tibet because of religion. Consequently in the ethnic identification project all Xifan, apart from the Qiang in Sichuan, and the Pumi in Yunnan were identified as Tibetans. [Source: Ethnic China *]

Pumi manuscripts

The Pumi formed as a distinct ethnic group during Yuan Dynasty, when a large group of the Pumis (called Xifan at the time) enter northwestern Yunnan Province with Mongol. Many stayed in Yunnan Province and mixed with local people and settled between the Dadu River and Jinsha River. From then on the distribution of the Pumi was becoming more stable. During the Ming and Qing Dynasty, Pumis in the western Sichuan Province integrated with Tibetan because of the influence of Tibetan Buddhism. However, the Pumis in the northwestern Yunnan retained their traditional custom and gradually developed into a different from the Pumis in Sichuan Province. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

Chinese government sources say: “In the middle of the 13th century, some of the Pumis were enlisted in the Yuan army and went on an expedition with Hubilie (one of the emperors of the Yuan Dynasty) to Yunnan. From then on, ancestors of the Pumis finished their nomadic style of "migrating with water and grass", and began to farm.” “Thousands of years have passed. But generations of Pumis still cherish the North grassy plains — their birthplace. Even today old customs of the northern nomadic groups still can be seen in the Pumi clothes. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences]

“Why the Pumi in Yunnan were not identified as Tibetans in the ethnic identification project was the responsibility of a Pumi man from Ninglang County— Hu Wanqing. He was called to Beijing by Zhou Enlai in 1957 or 58 and asked whether the Ninglang people were Xifan or Zang (Tibetans). Mr Hu said they were Xifan but preferred to be called their own name; 'Pumi'. Subsequently teams were sent from Beijing to conform this, and the Pumi minzu (minority) was recognised in 1960.” *\

Pumi Language and Pictograms

The Pumi language belongs to the Qiang language branch of the Tibetan-Burmese sub-family in the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. Many Pumis also know the language of the Han Chinese, Bai, Naxi and Tibetans. In the past, Pumis in Ninglang and Muli used Tibetan characters for the Pumi language to record their historical legends, stories and folk songs. This practice has largely died out. Today But Chinese characters are commonly used in most part of the Pumi region.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

There are two main dialects: northern and southern. The southern dialect is spoken in Lanping County, Weixi County, Yongsheng County, Lijiang Country and the southern area of Ninglang County in Yunnan Province. The northern dialect is spoken in Yongning County in Yonglang County, Muli Country, Yanyuan and Jiulong County in Sichuan Province. Although these two dialect branches are spoken in large areas, the differences between them are not so great and people in different places can easily communicate with each other.

Some view Pumi language and ethnicity differently. James S. Olson wrote in “An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China”: "It is divided in three dialects, and Pumi ethnic identity is related more to membership in a dialect group than to any generic Pumi membership. They identify themselves by dialect, not by being Pumi. In this sense, some ethnologists prefer to divide Pumis in three separate ethnic groups. The three Pumi languages are Phzomi, Phzome and Tshomi." [Source: Olson, James S.- An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China. Greenwood Press. 1998]

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “Variation in the Pumi spoken language can be roughly divided into Northern and Southern dialects, with intelligibility between the two being difficult. These dialects have also local variations, sometimes very important. Depending on where they live, Pumi are usually also able to speak Mandarin Chinese, Tibetan, Lisu, Bai, Naxi, or Yi. Some linguists have doubts about the really meaning of Pumi language. More recent studies show more than seven dialects spoken by the Pumi of different places. In some areas the Pumi shamans have a kind of pictograms who use in their religious ceremonies. They use also both the Tibetan and Chinese writing; Tibetan for their religious activities; and Chinese for administrative ones. [Source: Ethnic China]

Pumi manuscripts

Pumi Signs

Yan Ruxian discovered that the Pumi who inhabit the area around Yongning in northwest Yunnan have, at least, two kinds of systems of signs widely recognized among them. The first system of signs was used specially in the building of their wooden houses; it consisted in al least three series of signs marking the owner of wood, the orientation in which the wood is put when building a house, and its position in a wall. The first kind of signs developed from the need to identify property. After trees are cut down, the wood is left to dry in the wild. Seeing the mark of a family other people will know that they can not take the wood away. [Source: Ethnic China *]

The second series of signs consists only four signs denoting the four cardinal directions using the sun: 1) the pictograph of the sun rising denotes the east; 2) the sun moving to the west to denote the south; 3) the sun setting in the mountains denotes the west; and 4) the north is represented in less uniform ways as it is difficult to express using the sun. The third series of signs consist of simple numeric notation to specify the position of wooden planks every trunk in the wall of which it is part. These signs are usually carved on the wood. *\

The second system of signs is used by their hangui shamans in their ceremonies. It is a very primitive system both in its conception, where "a man is painted as a man and a cow as a cow", Only around 50 pictographic signs have been discovered. Used as a mnemonic tool when the hangui shamans are performing their ritual and ceremonies, the system is useful in understanding how systems of signs and writing evolved and how pictographic systems are used by shaman as a mnemonic tool, something that seems relatively common in Yunnan, especially with widely known pictographic signs of the Naxi Dongba shaman. *\

Pumi Religion

Tibetan Buddhism is the predominate faith. Traditional animist beliefs remain alive. The Pumi cremate their dead.Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “The religions practised by the Pumi are the Gelugpa (yellow hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism and their own indigenous Dingba, or Hangue, religion. The is a great variation in adherence over the area inhabited by the Pumi. [Source: Ethnic China *]

“Practising Buddhists inhabit the area around Lugu Lake in Ninglang county. The homes of the Pumi in this region contain altars for the worship of the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, and sons are often sent to local monasteries to become monks. For instance new Pumi (as well as Mosuo) monks are trained at the large monastery in Yongning, a town in northern Ninglang county. Buddhists priests in this area are often called upon for funerals, ancestral rites, and various other rituals . *\

Pumi manuscripts

“The Dingba, or Hangue, religion is similar to other folk traditions in the area; the Ddobaq of the Naxi and the Ndaba of the Mosuo have similar beliefs and practices. The Dingba religion is separate from the Buddhism practiced by the Pumi and consists of various folk beliefs and ritual offerings to ancestors and nature spirits10. In the past it had religious texts written in a Tibetan script, however these are not widely read or understood now. Amongst the Pumi in Yunnan these religious traditions are more prominent in the southern part of Ninglang county.” *\

Pumis used call shamans “Dingba.” Today they are called Hangui or Shibi. In the Pumi language, Ding means the earth, while Ba means the Pumis. The name of the Pumis comes from the Bading Goddess. Actually, both Dingba and Bading mean the same thing. Dingba Cimu Goddess is the matriarchal primogenitor the Pumis. It was said that she is a beautiful and competent goddess, who wears white clothes, hiding a white mule. She only drink pure spring water and milk, reflecting original nomadic life the Pumis when they were a matriarchal clan society. It is said that all shamans in the ancient Pumi’s world were female, and the were regarded as heiresses of the Bading Cimu Goddess and were able to communicate with here. Bading Cimu is a natural stone sculpture located in a cave in Cizi Mountain, in Wujiao District, Muli County. Every winter Pumis come to the Cizi Mountain to worship the sculpture and pray for peace, health and fertility, or maybe some help with a family problem or a bad marriage. [Source: Chinatravel.com ]

Pumi Ritual Specialists

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “Among the Pumi of Lanping there are two kinds of ritual specialists. One is called shibidai or big sorcerer. He acts as a psychopomp, accompanies the souls in the afterlife and presides the ceremony of giving a sheep to the dead (to guide his or her soul to the land of the ancestors), and the ceremony of opening the way (for the soul to return to the land of the ancestors). The shibigece is considered inferior in rank. He usually performs divination to heal illness, worships gods and spirits, dances with spirits, expels and beats spirits, and goes in search of the soul. Usually they don't wear any special dress though in some ceremonies they can wear a yellow dress. He usually carries some magical instruments, as knife, drum, cymbals and a branch of a peach tree. [Source: Ethnic China*]

“In Weixi and Lijiang the Pumi people call their priest dongba (due to Naxi nationality's influence) and their sorcerers, shibi. The dongba perform the afterlife ceremonies, as the shibidai in Lanping, though their ritual dress and instruments reflect Naxi's influences). The shibi performs the same ceremonies than the shibigece. *\

“In Ninlang, Muli and Yanyuan the Pumi call their sorcerer hangui, that means the "parrot of beautiful words", because they dress with red clothes and a green headdress during their ceremonies, and they are good praying and singing. The Pumi worship parrots because they think that after dead, the parrots can guide the souls to the land of the ancestors. Parrots, as their sorcerers, are natural intermediaries between the human and magical realms. These hangui always are male. They are more related with the Tibetan religion (most of them study in Tibetan areas) than to the religious specialists of the Yi, Naxi or Moso. They know both the Pumi's original religion and the Tibetan Buddhism. They are called haba in Tibetan, and are held in great esteem by the people. They perform a variety of ceremonies to the Pumi people, as heal illness, divinations, expel the spirits, and carry on funerals, marriages and feasts to the ancestors. They solve some conflicts among the members of the community. They have also some lesser ritual specialists called hasibi and bizha. They are helpers who assist the hangui in the ceremonies.” *\

The Hangui religion of the Pumi is named after the ritual specialists of the northern Pumi: the Hangui priests. Usually this work is transmitted from fathers to sons. Every Pumi family around Ninglang have their own hangui priest, and every hangui priest has his own followers. Usually when a family want to perform a ceremony they only need to call his hangui priest to preside over it. But if a hangui loses the confidence of his followers they can choose another hangui. *\

The usual task of the hangui priests is to preside over the weddings, funerals and cremations. They usually have an important role in festivals, births, the burning the fields, harvest ceremonies, and rituals before caravan journeys. They are in charge of making sacrifices on behalf of their followers to the spirits. They are also called upon when their followers suffer a disaster, get sick, need a demon expelled or when women can not give birth. In the past hangui priests worship the goddess Badinglamu. Their cult was called Dingba and the priest was called Dingba priest. At that time all the Dingba priests were women and they were regarded as the heiresses of the Bading goddess. *\

Pumi Festivals

Pumi holidays and festivals include Spring Festival, Tomb-Sweeping Day, the Beginning of Summer, the Dragon Boat Festival, Torch Festival, and New Taste Festival. Spring Festival is quite like the other traditional Chinese, on which they get together and have family reunion dinner. During the Spring Festivals, they intend to send presents to each other which are made by themselves including fried cakes, bacon and some other food. On the other festivals, besides the tradition Pumis food, they also send some seasonable food. For instance, some cool dishes on Tomb-sweeping Day; spicy garlic bacon on Summer Begins; bean curds and flour lumps on Torch Festival; new rice and buckwheat cakes on New Taste Festival etc. The Pumis used to hold a great sacrifice every three year (sometimes on March 2nd in Chinese lunar calendar, and sometimes on October 8th in Chinese lunar calendar), when every two families will offer an ox and two sheep. At the dawn of the sacrifice, they will oblate the heads and the hearts of the cattle for various gods. And do the low mass after the sunrise. Sometimes, the sacrifice can last three months. However, it is rare to have this kind of ceremonies now.

Pumis celebrate the beginning of Spring Festival (the Chinese Lunar New Year) and the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar. On the latter festival all Pumis, young and old, clad in their holiday best, go camping on mountain slopes and celebrate around bonfires. The holidays are devoted to sacrifices to the "God of the Kitchen" and to feasting, horse racing, shooting contests and wrestling. Spring Festival itself is celebrated similarly to traditional Chinese New Year families get together for a big dinner and exchange presents. [Source: China.org]

The biggest Pumi festival—honoring the mountain god Suoguonaba, who resides on a hill near to Lugu lake— takes place on the 15th day of the 7th Lunar month. On the morning of the festival all Pumi hike up the mountain to pay homage to the god. Those who are unable must give a barley cake to someone to represent them. It is believed that bad karma and evil spirits cling to these cakes, and that by laying them at Suoguonaba's altar those who cannot go are protected and bad fortune is warded off . [Source: Ethnic China *]

Like the Mosuo, the Pumi also venerate the Goddess Ganmo, who is said to reside in Lion mountain. On the 25th day of the 7th Lunar month, both these groups celebrate the festival Zhuanshanjie by hiking to Ganmo's shrine on Lion Mountain. Here horns are blown and prayer flags are ties on strings and picnics are enjoyed in the grass. In the evening, after returning home, celebrants sing and dance around a communal bonfire. *\

Many Pumi festivals have special seasona foods associated with them: fried cakes and bacon at the Spring Festival; cool dishes on Tomb-sweeping Day; spicy garlic bacon on the Beginnning of Summer; bean curds and flour lumps on Torch Festival; and new rice and buckwheat cakes on New Taste Festival. The Pumis used to hold great sacrifices every three year (generally on the 2nd day of the third lunar month or the 8th day of the tenth lunar month), when every two families offered an ox and two sheep. At the dawn the animals were sacrificed and their heads and hearts were offered to various gods. Sometimes, the sacrifices last for three months. Today, these ceremonies are rare. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

Pumi Funerals

20080305-Pumi-2 Nolls.jpg
Pumi chillin'
When the Pumi people celebrated weddings or funerals they use to sing ceremonial songs in which historic and religious content were mixed together. Led by hangui priests, the keeper of the old traditions, these songs helped preserve Pumi history, customs and traditions. *\

In Pumi funerals, a rite called "giving sheep" is held to guide the deceased to the land os his ancestors. The rite begins with the shaman reading the ancestors' names, explaining the route for returning home, and preparing a sheep to guide the way. The shaman sprinkles some wine and Zanba (roasted highland barley) on the ears of the sheep at first. If the sheep shakes its head, it means the deceased accepts its death willingly and the whole family should be lucky and safe. Then the family members of the deceased kneel down to invite the sheep to drink wine, and kowtow to the sheep. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

At that moment, the shaman stabs and kills the sheep, and quickly cuts out the heart and puts it on the funeral table, and begins to chant the "Blazing the Trail Sutra": "pack up your luggage quickly and go back to the place where our ancestors live by the leading of the white sheep. There are thick white snow and the Bengbengmuzhawa Mountain where our ancestors rest. This white sheep is descendent of wild sheep captured by the ancestors. It will surely be loyal to you, heed your words and take you home." "Only the North is peaceful and happy hometown. Go cheerfully; Go bouncingly and vivaciously; go singing and laughing." The shaman described in detail the route that the deceased should take. The shaman’s words contain consolation to the deceased and reveal the hope of those still living. ~

Pumi Customs and Taboos

According to Chinatravel.com: Being kind and polite to guests is a Pumi virtue. When the guests come from far away places, whether a stranger, good friend or acquaintances, the host is expected out to welcome and treat them hospitably. There is a saying among Pumis: “the first cup of sulima (barley beer) from the new pot should be offered to the guest; the first cup of tea from the tea jar should be offered to the brothers from the other nationalities.” When Pumis sit around the huotang (also called guozhuang, kind of fire place for heat), males are seated on the right and females on the left. Guests usually sit on the right side. If there are elders, the guests should be seated at the down side of the huotang. Guests cannot sit against the huotang. Don’t touch the tripod on the huotang with your hand. Don’t dry shoes or clothes above the huotang. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

At the weddings, funerals and other gatherings, Pumis often use cattle horns to hold alcohol and toast their honorable guests. Honored guests are expected to drink up and get drunk. Freinds and villagers that help build a new house are rewarded with a feast with lots of meat and drinks. Pumis do not eat dog meat, frog meat, horsemeat or cat meat. They cannot beat humans with brooms or beat pigs with chopsticks. It is also forbidden to weep in a house or whistle at night. Do not wash hair, cut hair or comb hair in the evening. Do not sing love song inside the house. Do not point at other’s noses with your hands. Do not wear the cap on the wrong side. Do not touch others’ head. Don’t put the shoes at the doorway or at the stairs. Do not make any noises when having dinner. Do not drop rice on the ground. Don’t beat dogs, eat dog meat or sell dogs.\=/

Every village has traditionally had a sacred forest for worship and sacrifice, where people could think without being bothered or disturbed. As a rule don’t enter this forest and don’t relieve yourself in it. The Pumis set up a pole with a sutra flag in front of their houses if there is someone gets ill. Strangers are not allowed to enter it. When the women give birth to child, men are not allowed to enter the delivery room. Women can not give birth at their parents’ home or stay there after giving birth. \=/

Traditional Pumi Family and Clan System

According to the Chinese government: “Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Pumi society was in many ways still organized according to the pre-feudal clan system. In Yongsheng County, for example, clan members lived together, with different clans having different names. Families belonging to the same clan regularly ate together to commemorate their common ancestry. Marriage was primarily between clans. Internal disputes were arbitrated by the patriarch or other respected elders. Clan members shared a commitment to help one another through difficult times. In Yongsheng, ashes of the dead of each clan were placed in the same forest cave. [Source: China.org |]

“Pumi communities in Yongsheng and Ninglang counties were primarily made up of big families, while in Lanping and Weixi counties, small families prevailed. Only sons were entitled to inherit property, and the ancestral house usually was left to the youngest son. Monogamy was customary, although some landlords were polygamous. Parents chose their children's spouses, and marriage between cousins was preferred. Most women married at 15, while most men at 18. After 1949 such objectionable practices as forced marriage, engagement of children not yet born and burdensome marriage-related costs were gradually done away with.” |

Pumi Puberty Rite

For the Pumi, the age boundary line between children and adults is thirteen. Before thirteen, children all wear long gowns. After a special rite at thirteen called "wearing trousers" for boys and "wearing skirt" for girls is held, they can they change their clothes and join the ranks of adults. This puberty rite of Pumis is often held on Big New Year's Day (spring festival). The rite is mostly directed by the mother or mother's brother, which is simple but enthusiastic. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

When the time for the rite comes, members of the family sit around the fire pit with fire burning inside. The child whi is the object of the rite walks by a magical post near the fire pit, and steps on some pig's fat and a grain bag. The pig fat symbolizes wealth and the grain bag represents bumper harvests, and means the child will have enough food to eat and clothes to wear when he or she grows up and will live a happy life. If the child is a boy, he holds a sharp knife in his right hand and a silver coin in his left hand. The silver coin symbolizes wealth and the sharp knife symbolizes bravery. If the child is a girl, she holds adornments like earrings or bracelets in her right hand and flax yarn or cloth in her left hand, which symbolizes her rights and obligations as a woman. A shaman prays to the kitchen god and ancestors, the mother's brother or mother takes off the child’s long gown and dresses the child with short coat and long trousers or a plaited skirt. After the clothes are changed, everybody presents the child with gifts to show their congratulations. The new adult kowtows and offer wine to thank the kitchen god and relatives one by one in hope of receiving their protection and help in the future. From then on, the new adult can take part in adult agricultural chores and engage in boy-meets-girl socializing. ~

It is said the custom of "wearing trousers" and "wearing skirt" has been around for centuries. According to legend, when the Mongol-Yuan leader Hubilie attacked Yunnan, only two only thirteen-year-old boys went to the South with his army when he passed the western Sichuan. The two boys were brave and skillful in battle and were appreciated deeply by Hubilie. Later, in order to commemorate them and also educate younger generations, the Pumi decided to hold puberty rite for children who are 13 to bless them and ensure they grow up in good health and become individuals with lofty ideals. ~

Pumi Marriage and Wedding Customs

Pumi society has been traditionally organised into exogamous clans with marriages arranged by the parents occurring between cross-cousins and marriage within the clan is prohibited. . However today there is great variety of marriage patterns and styles, with intermarriage with other ethnic groups common in some areas while not so common in others. Some polyandry exists among the Pumi. Those that live near the Mosuo have adopted some of their men-women customs. Generally marriage is patrilocal, with men inheriting property, except in the area around Mosuo-dominated Lugu Lake and Yongning where the Pumi seem to have adopted the Mosuo practice of the 'walking marriage' (See Mosuo), where husbands visit their his wife's home at night but returns their maternal home in the day to work. Also, where Pumi live alongside Mosuo, it is not unusual for the two groups to intermarry. [Source: Ethnic China]

Pumis weddings have traditionally been held in slack season in winter when people are not so busy. The details are different in different places. The old custom of "marriage by capture"—a kind of "the rice is cooked" marriage—is still practiced in the Ninglang region by couples that love each other very much but are prevented from getting married. After the couple secretly work out a plan, the girl goes out to work pretending as if nothing is going to happen. The man's side sends people, whose Tibetan- Chinese astrology signs are compatible her, to follow the girl secretly, and snatch her at the right time. When they catch the girl, they shout loudly, "Someone invites you to have tea!" The girl pretends to struggle. Her relatives who know in advance what is going to happen beforehand head out quickly to where the girl is after hearing the news, They have a fierce pretend fight with the girl’s abductors. Because the bride's side overwhelms the captors with their numerical strength, the girl is taken back to her home to either hold grand wedding or prepare for one. Though the bride's parents don't agree to the marriage, they have no way out. They reluctantly give tacit consent and prepare rich food for celebrating their daughter's marriage. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

"Antiphonal singing (alternate singing by two choirs or singers)" plays a big part in the corting and marriage process of the Pumis in Lanping and Weixi. During a wedding there, the whole succession of events—from bridegroom going to the woman's side to meet the bride to the couple entering the bridal chamber—is accompanied by happy sound of singing songs like the "Getting Married Song", "Dressing up Song", "Becoming Related Song", "Open Door Song", "Escorting the Bride Song" and "Getting Together Song". ~

The custom of "long stay at parents' home after marriage" is still kept by some Pumis. From the first night of the wedding, the bride and the bridegroom can live in one room, but they can't have sex for three years. On the third day after marriage, the bride goes back to her parents' home to "pay a visit back" and lives there for some time— the beginning of the the “long stay at parents' home after marriage.” One year later, the bridegroom “marries” her again, but the bride run back to her parents' home secretly after staying in bridegroom's home for a few days. After another year, the bridegroom sends people to meet the bride again, and they two sides begin living tofther at that time. The bridegroom hopes that the bride will become pregnant as quick as possible, but the bride still tries to return to her parents' home. When she is pregnant, her parents notify the man's side to hold rite of staying home, and the bride begins to settle down in the man's home. According to old tradition, women were expected to return back to their parents' home between three and seven times. If a bride settles down in her husband's home soon after they get married, this would kind of boring and would not reflect how much the bride is supposed to miss her family. In the old days, if the bride refused to along with the old rules, she was mocked by everyone. ~

Pumi Houses and Villages

Pumi villages are generally small, around 20 to 30 households, and scattered but close together, usually at least 500 meters from one another, on gentle slopes halfway up mountains. Members of the same clan often settle together according to the distance of blood relationship. The distance is very short between villages: traditionally smoke from kitchen chimneys could be seen and the crow of cocks and bark of dogs could be heard between villages. Each family makes a yard and different families are neighbors.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]

Pumi houses are generally made of wood and have two levels. The traditional Pumi house is a kind of log cabin. The lower level is reserved for animals and storing stuff and the upper level is for people. On one side of the upper level are the bedrooms and on the other side is a large main room with the central fireplace and possibly a Buddhist shrine. This room where most of the family activities take place. The walls are made of overlapping 12-centimeter-thick logs. The roof is composed of several wood blocks, two of which are called sliding board (because they can be pulled and slid). In the four corners, there stand four columns .[Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com; [Source: Chinatravel.com]

A traditional Pumi house, commonly called a "Muleng house" or "Muleizu" has two storeys. The main room on the upper level is 6.5 meters long and about three meters wide. Big posts are erected at the four corners, and a square post is erected in the middle, which is called "Mainstay" ("Samawa" in Pumi language) and is regarded as the place where gods stay. A crossbeam with the shape of (a Chinese character referring to human beings) is put up on the ridge of the house, and boards or tiles are covered on the roof. The wall is piled up with round wood. ~

The arrangement of the room has fixed pattern: the door is open toward the east and there is a fire pit at the right side by the door which is built by stones, surrounded by boards and is called the upper fire pit. Wooden platforms about 70 centimeters wide are put up on the two sides of the fire pit, which are for receiving guests. A 70 centimeter-high-platform is built at the foot of the wall opposite the door, and the platform is covered with boards. Another fire pit is built in the middle of the big platform with tripod over it. This is commonly called the latter fire pit, and is for warming, boiling water and cooking. Bunks are arranged around the fire pit, which are living places for the whole families with the left side for men and the right side for women. Bones of ox and sheep are hung out of the Pumis' house. It is said these are symbols of the family wealth and they also have the effect of exorcising and pressing down evil spirits. ~

Pumi Food, Drink and Fire-Pit Hospitality

Many Pumi are farmers. Maize is their principle grain and staple food. In addition they also grow highland barley, wheat, and vegetables such as carrots, Chinese cabbage, melons, eggplant and potatoes. Wine, which is used for ritual offerings, is also produced along with tobacco and tea. A famous food of the Pumi—called 'Pipa meat'— consists of "salted pork wrapped in pork skin in the shape of a 'Pipa', a plucked string Chinese instrument with a fretted fingerboard". A typical Pumi meal consists of a stew is made of steaming hot beef, mutton, and pork fat and a bowl of vinegar-pepper soup which is mixed with onion, garlic, chili, prickly ash and leaves of Chinese toon. [Source: Ethnic China]

Wheat cakes are a common Pumi food. Adults like hard cooked cakes. Children love baked cookies. Zongzong is from a mixture of oatmeal-like dough, water, oil and salt that is shaped into cakes that are strung on some clean branches and baked in the fire. They come out crispy and delicious. Stone baked cakes are cooked on a hot stone heated to a very high temperature. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

The Pumis eat a lot of meat such as pork, mutton, beef and chicken, especially fresh pork, fat pork and bacon. They are fond of fresh meat, pickled pork and big lumps of meat. As a treat, guests are served fat pork, lean pork or pork in a big bowl. At a great banquet, the host will kill the cattle, goat, pig or chicken in front of the guests to show his hospitality. When the guests leave after the dinner, they are sent home with a piece of fat pork called Division or Share. Goat Stomach Cooked Mutton is made by stuffing a goat stomach with water and mutton into and roasting the goat stomach over a fire. Because there is some water in the stomach, it’s hard to burn it or cause the stomach to break open. Wooden Bucket Boiled Food is made tossing various kinds of food in wooden bucket with some cold water and heating the water with hot stones. \=/

Pumis like drinking tea very much. They often drink at every meal sand before they go to bed. Ghee tea is one of their favorites. To make it: put a ghee (clarified butter) cube or piece of lard into the tea bucket and add some salt and melon seeds. Then fill the bucket with boiled water and stir the mixture until the ghee and water mix well.

The fire pit is the center of the house, and is the main place for activities of the whole family. In normal times, family members can sit near the fire and get warm, chat, sing or sleep. When having dinner, the whole family sits around the fire pit. The hostess distributes food to them or they eat while toasting cakes or meat with glowing red flames shining upon the faces of the family members. When relatives and friends come, the hospitable Pumis guide the guests to the honorable seat near the fire pit. Then they offer tea and wine with respect, Guests are expected to eat and drink to their hearts' content and or even get dead drunk. [Source: Ethnic China *]

Pumi Clothes

In daily life, Pumi women tend to wear ordinary Chinese rural dress, no different from that worn by Han women. Generally, only during festivals or special occasions do they display their traditional ethnic costume. In Ninglang county this traditional costume is very similar to that of the local Mosuo and Naxi, and consists of "a long pleated skirt of a single colour (usually black, blue or gray), over which they tie a rectangular apron with embroidered edges. At the top of the skirt they wear a wide belt, usually red, made of homespun hemp. On their upper body they wear a wool or felt vest with frog-buttons in front; and wrap their head in a turban of black cloth, or in the case of young women on festive occasions, sometimes multicoloured yarn. Adornments include silver jewelry. [Source: Ethnic China *]

. Pumi men and women wear long sarongs. The long sarong worn by women spreads out, flows and drags along the ground. Pumi women in Ninglang and Yongsheng often wrap their heads in large handkerchiefs, winding their plaited hair, mixed with yak tail hairs and silk threads. They consider plait beautiful, the more so the bigger it is. Normally, they wear jackets with buttons down one side, long, plaited skirts, multi-colored wide belts and goatskins draping over their backs. In the Lanping and Weixi areas, women tend to wear green, blue or white long-sleeved jackets under sleeveless jackets, trousers and embroidered belts. Often, they wear silver earrings and bracelets. Pumi men wear similar clothes: linen jackets, loose trousers and sleeveless goatskin jackets. The more affluent wear woolen overcoats. Most carry swords. [Source: China.org]

According to old customs, Pumi children can only wear a long gown and unlined garment, and change to trousers or skirts and short gowns after thirteen. Adult men and women still wear sheepskin sleeveless jackets or capes and tie belts around their waist. Women regard thick braids as beautiful and like to braid yak tail strands and silk into their hair and coil it at the top of their head. The Pumi women in Ninglang often wear long skirts with many plaits. They embroider a horizontal line in the middle of the skirt with red thread. They say it is the route along which their ancestors migrated, and people should look for their final setting place along the route after they die or they can’t return to the birthplace. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]

Pumi Culture

Pumis are good singers and dancers. Singing contests in which partners alternate verses are a feature of wedding ceremonies and holidays. They dance to the flute, incorporating in their movements gestures tied to their work as farmers, hunters and weavers. The subjects of lyrics cover various fields from farming, marriage and funeral to religion. Some love songs are short and brief, only sung when the young men and women want to find a lover. The Pumis create their own dance according to the content of the lyrics. They play the accompaniment on flute and hulusheng (kind of Chinese ethnic music instrument shaped as a bottle gourd).[Source: China.org]

Pumis art forms include legends, stories, poems, music, dance, painting and engravings. They have numerous legends and fairy stories about human origin, ethnic group migration, and conflict between human and nature, Some stories are romantic stories on love; some are about ancient Pumis’ lifestyles. Nearly all of the Pumis poems can be used as lyrics for songs. Female Pumis also like shooting, archery, wrestling and wushu. Lacquerware is the craft which Pumis are known best for. They make lacquerware bowls, cups and boxes, which have a black background and white and red pictures.

Pumi Musical Instruments

The Sixianqin is a traditional musical instrument named after a Qin general loved very much by the Pumis. In Pumi villages, simple and mellifluous music played with the Sixian can be heard no matter whether one is in the fields or inside a wood houses. Sixian is not only a common instrument but also a tool for boys to express love to girls. The tone of "Sixian" is beautiful. When Pumi people return to home after being away and family members reunite or friends meet again, the "Sixian" is played to express happy feelings. Today, even with the intrusion of modern instruments, Pumis still love "Sixian". People use it to praise new life, express their deep love of their hometown and boys use it to convey their admiration to girls.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

According to legend, long ago there was a boy named Abu who fell in love with a beautiful girl named Anai, but the girl wasn't moved in the slightest degree by his true affection. Hurt and bored, Abu cut a piece of wood and sadly carved one end of it into the shape of a human head, and covered the "face" with sheepskin. He carved the other end into the shape of human's body and stretched four flax threads on the wood, creating the "Sixianqin". Abu dejectedly played the Sixian day and night, day after day, pouring out wonderful music with his sadness. The sound of strings reverberated in the air above the village. On the forth day of the constant music, Anai was finally moved by Abu's sincerity, and accepted his love. From then on, "Sixian" became symbol of good luck and happiness for the Pumis. ~

Pumi Development

According to the Chinese government , before the Communist take over of China in 1949: “More than 90 per cent of the Pumis, in fact, farmed land scattered on hill slopes. The Pumis' major crops were maize, wheat, broad bean, barley, oats, Tibetan barley and buckwheat. However, their output, relying largely on natural conditions, was generally very low. Their farm tools came mainly from Han areas. Their farming techniques were similar to those of their neighboring Hans, Naxis and Lisus, though the few Pumis who lived in isolated communities still farmed primitively. [Source: China.org |]

“Pumis also raised livestock, primarily cattle and sheep. Non-farm activities included manufacture of wool sweaters, linen, bamboo articles, liquor, charcoal and medicinal herbs. Hunting, bee-keeping, pig and poultry raising were also common. Some Pumis make fine crafts: lacquered wooden bowls made in Ninglang County are known for their fine workmanship. Before liberation, Pumis had no blacksmiths. Local tools were made of wood. All trade was bartered. |

“In the decades prior to 1949, landlords dominated the economy in Pumi areas in Lanping and Lijiang counties. Except for a limited number of "public hills," the landlords owned the land, and they exploited peasants by extorting rent in kind, that accounted for at least 50 per cent of the harvest. Pumi landlords and Naxi chiefs owned domestic slaves whom they could sell or give away. |

“Since China’s national liberation in 1949, Pumis have become their own masters. They have been amply represented in local people's congresses and government agencies as well as in the National People's Congress. Democratic reforms were completed between 1952 and 1956. The reforms were accompanied by a large-scale construction program, which included irrigation projects, factories, schools and hospitals. Their arid land was transformed into terraced fields. Even in the cold, high-altitude Maoniushan area of Ninglang County, the Pumis reaped good harvests from 1,120 hectares of new paddy fields. New industries have been developed: ironwork and salt and aluminum mining. Highways have been built linking Pumi communities with neighboring areas. The educational opportunities and health care facilities for Pumis are rapidly expanding. Most children now attend primary schools and many of them go on to middle schools. Medical workers at clinics and health-care stations have replaced witches as primary providers of care.” |

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, China.org, Nolls website

Text Sources: 1) “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) Chinatravel.com\=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2022

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