The Nu are an ethnic minority that live in northwestern Yunnan Province, primarily along the Nujiang River in the Nujian Lisu Autonomous Prefecture and the Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Living among rugged mountains and primary rain forests, they have traditionally lived far from settled areas and hunted in the forest, herded animals and practiced slash and burn agriculture. The Nu are also known as A Long, Nu, A Yia, Nuso Rourou. They speak a Tibeto-Burman language and have adopted many words from neighboring tribes such as the Yi, Lisu and Bai. They have no written language. Some still kept records by cutting notches in sticks or tying knots. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]
The name of Nu is the generic denomination of four different groups—which some regard as separate ethnic groups, with different languages and well differentiated culture—1) the Anongs, 2) the Alongs, 3) the Ruorous and the 4) Nusus, with a total population of 30,000 people. All the Nus live along a 500-kilometers stretch of the Nu River, in the remote west of Yunnan Province. Their common name can be translated as "peoples of the Nu River". The region where they live is mountainous, with sharp gorges and virgin forests. Most Nu are farmers, with corn and buckwheat being their staple foods. They have traditionally also engaged in hunting and gathering. [Source: Ethnic China *]
The Nu are also known as Nu, Nuzu. Nusu, They call themselves "Nusu", "Anu", "Along", and "Nu people", "Nu people (different from the former one in Chinese written and pinyin forms)" and " Nuzi" in historical records. The Nu live mainly in Lushui, Fugong, Gongshan and Lanping counties of the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province and in Weixi County in the Diqing Zang Autonomous Prefecture, and Chayu County in the Tibet Autonomous Region. They live together with the Lisus, the Drungs, the Tibetans, the Bais, the Hans and Naxis. Some Nu also speak Lisu, Bai, or Chinese. All Nu regard themselves as culturally distinct from these other ethnicities and claim to be the original inhabitants of the area.[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 ~]
The Nus are old residents living on either side of the Nujiang River (Salween River) and the Lancangjiang (Mekong River). This is an area of stunning mountains, steep ravines and gorges, clear streams and waterfalls, rare plants and animals, old trees and dragon bamboo. The famous Grand Nujiang Canyon, which is surrounded by 3000-meter-high mountains, is here. The valleys are at 800 meters. The climate is temperate to semitropical, with heavy rainfall. Various streams and the Nu River cut through areas where the Nu live.
Dense virgin forests of pines and firs cover the mountain slopes that were once the habitat of tigers, leopards and bears, with deer and giant hawks still residing there. The area has large stands of primary forest, and is rich in timber, game, mineral deposits, valuable medicinal herbs, plentiful rain, and great hydroelectric potential. But for the Nu and other people that live in area it also a difficult to eke out a living as the soils are poor, there is little flat land for farming and the mountains and rapids make both road and river travel problematic. The Chinese government is deeply involved in developing the Nu region, particularly with dams that proponents say will bring many benefits to local people but critics say will harm the environment and are built with the interests of the Han Chinese in mind not the Nu.
Book: Nuzu (The Nu nationalitry) by Duan Ling, Nationalities Press, Beijing, 1991]
The Nu are the 12th smallest ethnic group out of 56 in China and the 11th smallest minority. They numbered 37,523 in 2010 and made up less than 0.01 percent of the total population of China in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census. Nu populations in China in the past: 28,770 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 27,123 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. A total of 15,047 were counted in 1964 and 25,980 were counted in in 1982. More than 95 percent of Nu people live in Lushui (called Bijiang before 1984), Fugong, Gongshan, Lanping counties in northwestern Yunnan Province. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia, Chinatravel.com]
The Nu ethnic group consists of four branches (or ethnic groups): 1) A-long, the branch living in Gongshan; 2) the Anong the branch living in Fugong; 3) the Nusu, the branch living in Bijiang; and 4) the Ruoruo, the branch living in Lanping. Some branches are natives, such as Nu in Gongshan and Fugong, the others are immigrations, such as Nu in Bijian. “These branches developed and converged during history and finally formed Nu ethnic group" [Source: Ni Peng and Wei Ping. “On Ancient Dispute Resolution System of Nu Ethnic Group,” Ethnic China *]
1) The Along number about 8,000 people and live in Gongshan County. 2) The Anong call themselves the A-nu. They inhabit Fugong County and have a population of 8,000 people. 3) The Nusus number about 11,000 and live in Bijiang County. 4) The Ruorou live in Lanping County and have a population of around 2,000 people. *\
The Anong were the first to arrive in the region. According to their legends their first ancestor was an ant, borne from the only viable embryo from the only couple that survived a great flood. The Along have a strong Tibetan influence. The Ruorou, also called "people of the wheat", have received more cultural influences from the Bai and the Pumi. The Nusus’s name means "The people from outside." *\
Nu Languages and Dialects
The Nu language belongs to the Tibeto-Burmese branch of the Sino-Tibetan Family. The four branches of Nu Ethnic Minority all have their own languages. The Nusu and Ruorou languages are most similar to Yi language and share some same word roots. The Along and Anu languages are completely different from Yi language, but similar to Jingpo language. The Along and Dulong (Drung,) languages are regarded as local dialects of the same language. The Nu language spoken in Gongshan County is mutually intelligible with the Dulong but not with the other Nu languages. Chinese linguists say that that Bijiang speech is close to Yi (Loloish). The Yi, Dulong and Jingpo are Yunnan-based ethnic minorities.
The different Nu dialects (languages) are so different from one another that members of different groups often can't communicate with each other. Because many have lived with the Lisus for long, most of them can speak the Lisu language. The same is true to a lesser degree among those who live among Tibetans, Naxi, Bai and Pumi. The Nu languages have been scarcely been studied. It is not even clear which Tibetan-Burmese group they belong to. Many are spoken only at home while the languages for trade and external relations are those of their neighbors' languages. ~ *\
Origins and Origin Legends of the Nu
Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “The Nusu seem to have had a close relationship in the past with the Yi of Liangshan. Both call themselves in a similar way (the Yi of Liangshan call themselves Nosu). Both peoples worship the black color, a color worshipped by many other ethnic groups that could have been related to them in the past. Also, in the Chinese documents of the Yuan dynasty both of them—the Nusu and Nousu—are called in a similar way and referred to by the name of Lulu. [Source: Ethnic China *]
All the Nusu believe they descend from a feminine ancestor called Maochongying who was born as a result of the mating of a bee and a snake, according to some legends, or of a bee and a tiger in other versions. Later Maochongying mated with different animals, such as the tiger, the snake, the bee, the roe deer and the deer, and their offspring gave birth to different Nusu clans and all of human kind. Similar legends of the Yi have been studied in detail by Yang Heshen. [Source: Ethnic China *]
This name Maochongying (or Mengchongying in other books) mean “Heaven (meng) Descended (chong) Person (ying).” Duan Ling has argued that this name refers to one of the first ancestors of the Nu. As the genealogies of the Tiger's Clan and Bee's Clan go back to 63 ancestors, he thinks—calculating 30 years as a generation—that Maochongying must have lived about 1.900 years ago, during the Han dynasty. Many think that 30 years is a too and for a generation and 20 years serves as a better marker. Using that figure, the Nusu creation myth occurred about 1260 years ago, in the eighth century, the turmoil years that preceded the establishment of the Nanzhao Kingdom (738-902).
History of the Nu
Ruins and relics have been found in Nu areas in Lanping and Fugong counties on the banks of Nu and Lantsang that date back to 3,000 or 4,000 thousand years ago. Historical records seem to indicate that they are the descendants of both the Luluman people who inhabited the area during the Yuan Dynasty and people who resided in the Gongshan area during ancient times. These two tribes intermingled and intermarried, and produced the Nu group.
Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “According to the Nusu traditions they come from Lijiang, from where they emigrated first toward Lanping County, and later to the banks of the Nujiang River (Salween River), their current location. According to their genealogies, quite accurate, they arrived at the Nujiang River about 1000 years ago, a fact that is consistent to what we know for the Chinese historical registers. The life of the Nusu in virtual isolation on the Nujiang River began to change in the 18th century, when they were not only affected by the new imperial policies aimed at increasing the control of the government on the minorities of China and the movements of Han Chinese into what is now Yunnan. [Source: Ethnic China *]
Between the eighth and twelfth centuries the area inhabited by the Nu came under the jurisdiction of the Nanzhao and Dali principalities, which were largely independent but were tributary to the Tang (618-907) court. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties Nu areas came under the rule of a Naxi headman in Lijiang (Lijiang Mu) (Naxi) and Bai tusi as well as Tibetan and Lisu tribesmen. Neighboring Lisu made frequent incursions into the area, seizing lands and livestock and taking slaves. According to the Chinese government: “From the 17th century, rulers comprised various Tibetan and Bai headmen and Tibetan lamaseries. These rulers usurped the Nus' land and carried many of them off as slaves.”
According to Arcones: “The three main elements that modified their existence, closely related to each other, were: 1) Establishment or increase of the tribute, that at the beginning of the century consisted in an animal skin, a package of medicinal herbs and 2.5 kilograms of bee wax. The tribute increased continuously and a bureaucracy was set up around Nujiang. 2) The arrival of the Lisu on the Nujiang River changed things a lot for the Nusu. “Although the Lisu arrived to Nujiang escaping from the imperial oppression, and even in some occasions after having been defeated, their superior technological development soon placed them in an advantageous situation with regard to the Nusu, that soon became their victims, suffering the loss of their lands at the hands of the Lisu chiefs and in some cases even becoming their slaves. The Lisu chiefs secured their power and the backing of the state through tusi system. 3) The arrival of the Leimo (a branch of the Bai) had a similar effect. The Leimo became during the lords of the Nusu and several conflicts arose between them. According to Nusu legends, the Leimo invaders were defeated by an alliance between the Clan of the Tiger and the Clan of the Bee. But even the Leimo became subjects of the more numerous Lisu.
From the mid-1850s, the British explorers pushed up the Nujiang River valley from Burma. They were followed by American, French and German adventurers and missionaries. According to the Chinese government: “This caused friction with the Nu and other minority peoples in the area, such as the Lisu, Tibetan and Drung ethnic minorities. ” The Nu were involved in several panethnic uprisings against tusi and imperial control in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1907, these peoples banded together to stage a mass uprising against the encroachments of French missionaries. In 1935 they joined in a short-lived uprising against the Guomindang (Chinese) Frontier Administration, which controlled the region after 1912.
After the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, the first government offices were open up in the area. Barracks, schools and warehouses were built. The Prefecture of Nujiang system set up was similar to that of the tusis. From 1950 the communist reforms were implemented among the Nusu. Although it put an end to the oppression of the Lisu landowners, the Nusu lives were then regulated by a series of communist intermediate cadres. Many aspects of their culture and traditional religion were forbidden. The post-Mao loosening up period led to a revitalization of Nusu culture. Now on the Nu’s biggest concerns is a plan to build a of a chain of huge dams on the Nu River. The Nujiang Autonomous Prefecture was established in 1954 and Gongshan was made an autonomous county in 1956.
The Nu were animists who worshiped natural spirits and feared and exorcised ghosts and evil spirits. Clans often had a distinct totemic animal which its members were forbidden from eating. Villages usually had a shaman that presided over rituals and took care of healing. Some villages were influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. Others responded to Protestant and Catholic missionaries, who introduced their religions and brought modern medicines and school, with Chinese as the classroom language.s.
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ Separate rituals were held by each of the ten or twelve clans. Other rituals concerned community well-being or healing. Able religious leaders spoke Yi, Lisu, and Bai in order to address the spirit-forces of those groups who might be causing illness or other difficulties. Due to the presence of Tibetan Buddhism in the area, some Nu became followers and sent sons to join the lamasaries, where they became literate in Tibetan. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, and particularly from the 1930s on, many of the Nu responded to foreign missionaries and became Catholics or Protestants. In some areas, 60 percent of the population were Christian in the early 1950s. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]
Traditional Nu objects of worship have included the sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, trees and rocks. Shamans were often clan or commune chiefs, who practiced divination to ensure good harvests. Apart from that, their duties also included primitive medicine and the handing down of the tribe's folklore. According to the Chinese government: “Any small mishap was the occasion for holding an elaborate appeasement rite, involving huge waste and hardship to the Nu people.” In addition, Tibetan Buddhism and Christianity also made some headway among the Nus before liberation. [Source: China,org]
The Nusu believe that nature is full of spirits who can influence the live of the human beings. They think that there are 13 main kinds of spirits that can be divided in four series: the deities of the clan, the demons of the disasters and illnesses, the spirits of the nature, and the spirits of the "people." [Source: Ethnic China *]
1) The deities of the clan are some ancestor deified who are invested with the power of benefit or harm the people. Among them the most important are: A) Menduo. is the spirit of the sky and of the whole village. People from every village worship him with sacrifices every year on a fixed date, requesting his protection. But his protection is requested also when something extraordinary happens, as: violent disputes, ordeals, or to find a great snake in the road. B) Zuomiqi is the main divinity of the people who belong to the clans "Duohuo" and "Dahuo". His ceremonies are directed by two persons, one of each clan. They think that by sacrificing him they can obtain good harvest and peace.
2) Among the deities of the nature are: A) Miguyu, the God of the Mountain and B) Duyaoyu, the God of the Waters. They control hunting and agriculture respectively. As these two gods have close relationship with the productive activity of the Nusu, the Nusu make sacrifices to them before they start cultivating or go hunting. 3) The most important demons linked with disasters and illnesses are Yauyu, Yiyu, Piankongyu, Meiayu, Mituoyu. The Nusu think that every sickness is caused by a different demon. When a disaster or illness strikes they believe a specific spirit associated with that disaster or illness was absorbed into a person's soul. It is necessary to cook wine and sacrifice a cow to exorcize the demon. 4) Demons of the tribe or Moyu were created as a result of the oppression by the Lisu and the Bai. If a conflict arises with the Lisu or the Bai, they make sacrifices to the Moyu. *\
The Nusu of Bijiang have two kinds of shamans. One kind is named Miyalou in their language. The other is Yugusu. They are the keepers of the sacred history and tribal knowledge. Being able to recite the names of the ancestors of each one of the clans of the village, they participate in all the important sacrifices and intervene when conflicts arise. *\
Nu people have adopted several burial forms, such as sarcophagus (stone coffin) burial, bamboo coffin burial, wood coffin burial, cremation burial and rock cave burial. Some people bury the dead in the ground, with the graves being knoll-shaped or flat. After a Nusu person dies, his family blows a bamboo trumpet to inform other villagers of his death. When people hear the bamboo trumpet, they stop whatever they are doing, take some meats and wine to visit the bereaved to express their condolence. The dead body is put in a temporary shelter before burial. People hold memorial ceremonies three times a day, each time with different sacrifice, which are then put in a bamboo tube or bamboo basket and buried with the dead. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]
Anu people also spread the news of a person's death immediately after the person dies. Generally, pigs and sheep are killed as sacrifices after children or young people die, and cows are killed after old people, chiefs of tribes, shaman or the only son in a family dies. The Anus don't blow trumpets at the funerals of children or young women. At the funerals of young men, several people walking at the front of a group and blow bamboo trumpets to lead the way to the burial place. Along people only hold funeral ceremonies for people who die after 18, and require the dead must be put in a coffin the day when he dies. Along people have the habits of moving graves to other sites. After the harvest time the year after a funeral, the families of the deceased make wine with grains that the dead planted before he died, kill some pigs, sheep, and chickens he had raised, and make 12 bowls of dishes and put them before the grave to express mourning. After a ceremony, the relatives and neighbors help move the grave and body to another site. \=/
Traditional burial forms dictate that males be buried face upward with straight limbs, while females lay sideways with bent limbs. In the case of a dead couple, the female was made to lie on her side facing the man and with bent limbs — symbolizing the submission of the female to the male. When an adult died, all the members of the clan or village commune observed three days of mourning. |
Nu Festivals, Music and Dance
Traditional Nu festivals include the New Year Festival, the Fairy Festival, Ruwei Festival, and the Festival of Mountains . The Spring Festival lasts about 15 days from the end of the 12 lunar month to the beginning of the first lunar month. Before the festival, households in every village butcher pigs, make soft-rice dumplings, brew wine and clean their courtyards. On New Year's Eve, people put corn and dishes of food on a three-legged barbecue. On top of the three legs, people also put three cups and three pieces of meat, then the family members pray for a good harvest and strong livestock for the upcoming New Year. [Source: Chinatravel.com]
On the 15th of third lunar month year, the Nu in the Gongshan celebrate the Fresh Flowers Festival (also called "Fairy Festival). In the morning, people put on their best festival clothes, bring offerings and bundles of flowers, and carry all kinds of food prepared in advance for picnics. They go into limestone caves near villages to offer sacrifices and worship the hero and "fairy"—Arong. In the evening people feast together. Drink, sing, dance and hold all kinds of entertaining activities. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]
There is an interesting legend about the origin of the Fresh Flowers Festival: long ago, there was a diligent, clever and beautiful girl named Arong in a Nu village. She searched and found a great spring at the Gaoligong Mountain that generated enough water to irrigate dry and bring mountain villages to life with fields of crops and green mountain slopes. But Arong meat a fateful end: she was burnt to death in a cave in the Gaoligong Mountain by a hateful headman. The Fresh Flowers Festival, when spring comes to life and flowers bloom on both sides of the Nujiang River, commemorate Arong, the Nus set the day as a festival — to memorialize their respectable and beloved Arong.
The Nu are known for being good at singing and dancing. Their singing is sometimes accompanied by music from a lute, flute, mouth organ or reed pipe. It said that in Nu villages, children can hum several verses and dance “shapelessly” before they can speak and walk . There are over 120 types of traditional dances that are known for their imitations, quick and powerful movements and strongly accented rhythms. There are dances reflecting animals' habits and characteristics, such as the Chicken Shakes Feet Dance, Hen Lays Eggs Dance, Crow Drinks Water Dance, Monkeys Fight Dance, Sheep fight Dance. Among their work dances are Excavating the Earth Dance, Transplanting Seedlings Dance, Feeding Sheep Dance. Love and marriage dances include Looking for Lover Dance, Amusing Dance, Meeting the Bride Dance, Escaping from Marriage Dance. Among the dances reflecting artistic life are the Playing Pipa (a plucked string instrument with a fretted fingerboard) Dance and Two Persons Pipa Dance. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]
Nu Family and Marriage
Marriages have traditionally taken place between members of different villages. Unions between cousin used to be encouraged until they were banned by the government. Marriages were usually arranged when the couple were still children and sanctified later on with payment of a bride price in wine and cattle. The wedding itself took place when the couple was in their late teens. Before marriage teenage boys and girls were free to date and flirt. It was not uncommon for arranged marriage arrangements to be broken. “Elopement marriages” and “stealing the bride” were tolerated and sometimes used as ways to get out of paying bride prices.
The boy and girl's agreement was required for the marriage to take place. The bride typically joins her husband's village. A new house, land, and livestock are provided for the married couple. The youngest son inherits the parental house and remaining lands and livestock. In some cases, the couple resided with the girl's family until the birth of the first child. Levirate marriages, in which a man may be obliged to marry his brother's widow, were encouraged but not mandatory. After several decades of marriage a couple hold a dimuwa ceremony to which a big feast is held and couple dress as bride and groom, reenact the marriage ceremonies and are presented with gifts by the relativesm friends and guests. Only males can inherit land and livestock. Women's wealth was in the form of silver, coral, cornelian, and turquoise jewelry, which were gifts from her parents or husband. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]
According to Chinatravel.com: “The Nu people's marriage is monogamous. In old times, a small numbers of tribal chiefs and rich men had more than one wife. The Nu people adopted the sub-consanguineous marriage (people can marry others except their parents, children, sisters or brothers in a family). The custom of "marrying men" still exists nowadays. The habit of "marrying men" is similar to the Han nationality habit of "marrying into and live with wife's family", but it's quite different. When Nu people "marry men", men and women get married without considering other things (such as wealth, social backgrounds, and so forth). Men's social status does not change after they get married, which displays the influence of matriarchy (the social system that gives power and authority to women rather than men). A wedding is required when people get married, even when it's a de facto marriage (existing as a fact although it may not be legally accepted). If the couple haven't held the wedding party, they will make up for it by holding one in the future, even when they have become grandparents. The make-up wedding is held at the bride's parents' home, and the procedures are just the same. [Source: Chinatravel.com]
Nu Family Naming Customs
According to Chinatravel.com: The Nu have employed a naming system in which father's and son's names are linked. This system has traditionally appeared at the transition period from matrilineal clan system to patrilineal clan system. According to Chinatravel.com: “Alongs' names are simple. They name their sons and daughters separately according to the order of their births from the eldest to the eighth (the eldest son is named Penggou, the second eldest son is named Jinduli, the third son Kun, the forth son Zeng, the fifth son Dian, the sixth son Ran, the seventh Lan, and the eighth Baliyi. The eldest daughter is named Nakele, the second eldest daughter is named Nitai, the third daughter Jianggele, the forth Na, the fifth Nianguo, the sixth Ranluo, the seventh Da'en, and the eighth Ying). If they have a ninth child, they name him or her after the thing they like, for example, crossbows or bows. [Source: Chinatravel.com\=/]
“Rouruo people name their babies when they are one-month old. Some people even host a dinner party when naming the babies. The Rouruos name their babies according to the baby's birthday, the surroundings of house where the baby is born, the order of the birth among his brothers and sisters, the weight of the baby, and so forth. Rouruo people do not name their babies with names that are same with or similar to the names of the older generation. The eldest child is named Ama, the second is named Ade, the third Abo, the forth Ala, the fifth Along, the sixth Ayi, the seventh Atang. A Shi is added before the names when naming a boy, and a Niu is added to name a girl. \=/
“Anu and Nusu people share the last one or two characters of the names of their parents. They have three names in their life. The babies get their first names immediately after they are born. The first name usually means something humble, so that everything will go smoothly with the baby. When the children begin to make friends after they are 13 or 14, their friends or lovers will give them their "youth names", which are only used among his same generation or between lovers. After they get married, fathers will name their sons by adding the last or the last two characters of their own names before the names of their sons. After 1949 (when PRC was established), Nu people began to use Han nationality names, which are often given by teachers or educated parents. But they are named more randomly. Sometimes, full sisters may have several surnames, which is rare in Han nationality naming habits (Han nationality people always get the same surnames as those of their fathers').” \=/
Nu Life and Society
The Nu live in a tough mountainous and rainy environment. They have traditionally counted the seasons by observing the withering and flourishing of flowers and trees, transferring message by means of tying knots or carving wood, and farming use the slash-and-burn methods. According to the Chinese government: “For thousands of years, the brave and diligent Nu people have never stopped resisting and fighting with nature, they have changed history with their own hands and wisdom, and they are composing a new chapter of the age.
The Nu live in villages with 150 people in single-plank houses with split bamboo walls, a fire pit in the front room and sleeping area in the back and a drying and storage area for grain. The roof is pitched. Animals are kept in separate buildings. Most villages are made up of members of a single clan. Traditionally, Nu society revolved around nuclear families joined together into 10- or 12-relative households. Communities were led by elder males chosen because of their ability rather than some hereditary claim. Houses in a village are often far apart. Most are made up of households of a single patriline, though some are multilineage and even multiethnic.
Nu grow buckwheat, barely, maize and oats and some paddy rice and raise cattle, sheep and horses. They also hunt with a bow and arrow, brew liquor, fish and make items from bamboo and wood. Land has traditionally been communally owned in areas they had control over. In areas that were controlled by Yi or Lisu overlords, Nu sometimes acted as bonded servants and household slaves. The Nu have traditionally practiced both slash-and-burn and plow agriculture with a team of draft oxen. Hemp is grown for clothing. Before 1949, pasture, forest, and uncultivated uplands were usually communal property of lineages or villages. Much of the economic work was done cooperatively by households of a localized patriline. Land was collectivized by the state in the mid-1950s. Both men and women take part in agricultural activities. Spinning, weaving, gathering and cooking are women's tasks. Caring for livestock, manufacturing of iron tools, and hunting are men's work.
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: ““The nuclear family household is the basic unit, and in the past worked together with some ten or twelve closely related households. Under the new socialist government, collectives based on kin ties were discouraged. Above the localized lineage branch is the clan, which has a totemic name drawn from the Nu origin myths, a genealogy going back thirty to forty generations, and its own rituals for the ancestors. Hunting or eating one's totemic animal is forbidden. Community leadership was under the direction of a respected elder male, chosen for his intelligence, ability, and moral standing, who settled internal disputes and represented the community to the outside world. In villages comprised solely of kin he also served as a healer, diviner, shaman, and director of religious rites; in multilineage villages these roles were separated. Women had no public voice in community matters and did not participate in the rituals of their husband's lineage. Chinese sources are vague about women's roles in their natal lineages. Since the 1950s, political criteria have been the main determinants of official leadership at the village, township, and county levels, and religious leaders are discouraged. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]
Nu Customs and Taboos
Chinatravel.com report: “According to the Nu etiquette, people should take some presents of tobaccos or wines when they visit a Nu family. After the hosts seat the guests, they will serve the guest a cup of Nu liquor and entertain the guest with the best things that they have to show respect. Occasionally, the hosts will play the Dabiya and sings some songs of welcome. Both the guest and the host will get very happy at the meal. Sometimes, the host will invite the guest to drink the "one-heart-wine". They will put one arm around each other's neck and bottom up the cap. Drinking "one-heart-wine" is the highest-rank etiquette for Nus to show trust to the guests. The two people who have drunken the "one-heart-wine" are good friends from then on. It is an honor for the guests to drink "one-heart-wine" with Nu people, so they should accept the offer happily. Of course, if the guests want to express their appreciation and make friends with the Nu people, they can also offer to drink "one-heart-wine" with the hosts. It is a taboo to kill chickens to entertain the guests, so do not ask to eat chicken meat when visiting a Nu family. [Source: Chinatravel.com\=/]
“There is a fire pit in the middle of the guest room. Over the fire pit is a three-leg iron frame or a Gorchom stone. The fire pit is used for cook or taking warmth by fire, it is also the residence of the guardian angel of the whole family. The place above the fire pit is the spirit tablet, where sacrifices are put during the festivals. Nobody can sit on the spirit tablet, nor can they pass the place. There are also many taboos about farming. People cannot open up wasteland without offering sacrifice to the mountain deity; they can't sow the seeds without offering sacrifice to the god of the land; they can't hunt animals without offering sacrifice to the god of hunting; they can't harvest their crops without offering sacrifice to the rice deity; they can't fell trees without offering sacrifice to the god of trees; and if they meet others on the way of hunting, they will go back and choose another day for the hunting.” \=/
The Nus live in wooden or bamboo houses, each usually consisting of two rooms. The outer one is for guests and also serves as the kitchen. In the middle is the fireplace, with an iron or stone tripod for hanging cooking pots from. The inner room is used as a bedroom and grain storage, and is off-limits to outsiders. The houses are built by the common efforts of all the villagers and are usually erected in one day. [Source: Chinatravel.com]
Nu houses are famous for sitting of slopes high above the Nujiang River below. Ancient descriptions of the Nu went: "The Nus lived at the top of mountains" and"They covered houses with bamboo and weave bamboo into wall." The bamboo or wooden houses live in today are simple and suited for the mountain region they live which in addition to being high, rocky and heavily forested and receives a lot of rain and fog. According to traditional custom, if a family decides to construct a house, other people of the village come to help, and the job can be finished in one day. [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 ~]
Nu pile-dwelling style houses are often built at the foot of a hill. There are mainly wood with bamboo strips used in making the walls. Most of the Nus in Gongshan region live in wooden houses or half-earth and half-wood houses. This kind of house is wide, and the walls are usually built with logs and thin slab stones cover the roof. The slab stones are about 1 chi (a Chinese length unit) square and pave the roof from the eaves using an overlapping fish-scale style. The first piece is put on the roof flatly, the second is put on the first one, and the third is put on the second—until the slab stones reach the ridge. ~
The Nu people in Fugong live in bamboo strip house. These houses are low and small. The walls and the partitions are made of bamboo strips. The roof is comprised of boards covered with slab stones. The house usually has two storeys, and the second floor is divided into two rooms. The outside room is for entertaining guests and has a fire pit. An iron tripod or stone tripod is put over the pit for cooking. The inside room is both a bedroom and a storeroom. The first floor is for storing farming tools and stuff and for providing shelter for domestic animals. The floors are made of boards or bamboo strip mat, which are placed on wood supports and stakes on the slope. These wood stakes and poles support the whole house like thousand of feet, so people call it "house with thousand of feet reaching the ground." These days though many Nu have abandoned their traditional dwellings in favor of concrete and metal roof housing.
Nu Food and "One Heart Wine"
The staple food of the Nus is maize and buckwheat. They also eat rice, barley grain, wheat and millet. In the past, they rarely grew vegetables and gathered wild plants, especially when others sources are low. Both men and women drink large quantities of strong liquor. Meat mainly comes from family-raised animals such as pigs, chickens, cattle, sheep, fish and wild animals they hunt. Among the vegetables they grow are leafy greens, cabbages, pumpkins, radishes, taros, yams, sweet potatoes and towel gourds. They use capsicums, shallots, gingers, Chinese prickly ash and garlic as spices. Their sweet food includes honey and cane sugar. Their fruits are mainly oranges, persimmons, peaches, plums, pears and bananas. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]
Nu specialties include roast porkets, Xiala meat fried with Nu liquor). When Nu people make Xiala, they first chop the meat into small pieces, put some ghee in the frying pan, fry the meat until they get golden and crisp, turn down the fire, and put in the liquor, then cover the pan and cook for five to six minutes. Xiala was originally eaten mainly by women who have just given birth. Nowadays, everybody eats it. Gongla (egg fried with Nu liguor) is also popular. Other common dishes include rice served with meat, cooked corn and corn congee, pipa-shaped meat (pipa is a Chinese string musical instrument), Gudu meals (made from corn flour and buckwheat flour, similar to rice cakes), fried bee pupas, honeyed sticky rice congee, Mazi tofu, baked tea and pop corn. \=/
The Nu like to drink wine, and are also good at it and other alcoholic drinks. Their main wines and spirits are "Gulu wine", "turbid wine" and "Sorghum spirit". "Gulu wine" is made from "Gulu rice" (made of corn flour and buckwheat flour, the same as their New Year cakes). To make it: 1) make the Gulu rice when temperatures are relatively cool, mix it with distiller's yeast, put it in a bamboo basket and cover the basket. 2) After several days, if the smell of wine comes out or the wine oozes out, it should be put into a jar and sealed for tens of days. 3) Before the wine is ready to drink, it is filtrated in a strainer and some boiled water or cold boiled water is added with some honey to sweeten it. After the wine is fully fermented, they drink it. This kind of wine is sweet and the smell of it is good and rich. It is the top-grade wine of the Nus, who say it is not only good for quenching one's thirsty, it also nourishes the body. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]
The Nu like to give wine or another kind of beverages when entertaining guests. When honorable guests come, the Nus entertain them with wine. Men and women, old and young: everyone drinks "one heart wine" with people and guests they regard as bosom friend. Their faces come close to each other, their mouths are next to each other, one hand holds the shoulder, and the other hand holds the wine bowl. They drink together with faces lifted up and the bowl of wine emptying down their throat. Even people who don't normally drink a drop of wine are expected to indulge. Only after you drink the "one heart wine" are regarded as a true friend of the Nus.
Women wear distinctive tunics and skirts made from hemp that the Nu grow and strip and spin into cloth. Often times their families wealth is measured by a woman’s silver, coral, cornelian and turquoise jewelry. The Nu have traditionally worn a long robe made of flax or cotton. Women like to wear a skirt, head ornaments and necklaces stringed with coral, plastic beads and shells. Men traditionally have carried a knife or machete in their belt and slung a crossbow over their shoulder. According to the Chinese government: “Until the mid-20th century, both men and women wore linen clothes. Girls after puberty wore long skirts and jackets with buttons on the right side. Nu women in Gongshan wrapped themselves in two pieces of linen cloth and stuck elaborately-worked bamboo tubes through their pierced ears. Married women in Bijiang and Fugong wore coral, agate, shell and silver coin ornaments in their hair and on their chests. For earrings they used shoulder-length copper rings. Besides, all Nu women like to adorn themselves with thin rattan bracelets, belts and anklets. Nu men wear linen gowns and shorts, and carry axes and bows and arrows.” [Source: Chinatravel.com\=/]
According to Chinatravel: “Anu and Nusu men have long hair. Some wear braids. Headmen and the rich men often wear coral in their right ear. Anu and Nusu men wear loose, knee-length unlined, linen long gowns that have no collar and button on the right. There are two pockets sewn onto the front of the garment that are black and white or black and blue stripes. Anu and Nusu men wear short linen trousers. They often go barefoot. Adult Anu and Nusu people wear shin guards woven from thin bamboo strips to protect themselves from snakes and bugs. On their left shoulders, adult men often carry crossbows or their beloved Dabiya, a kind of lue-like stringed musical instrument, special to the Nu, and hang machetes kept in bamboo baskets or sheaths on the right side of their waists. \=/
Girls wear linen skirts after they are eleven. They wear white gowns, which are buttoned on the left, sometimes with dark red or dark blue lined jackets over the gowns, and dark long skirts, which have wide lower hems. Married women wear skirts sewn with laces of contrasting colors, and carry Nu bags or sewing kits woven from thin bamboo strips. Their beautiful headwear consists of plastrons of strings of corals, agates, shells, pearls and silver. \=/
Adult Rouruo men wrap their heads with black turbans. They wear edge-to-edge jackets (a kind of Chinese-style jacket with a buttoned opening straight down the front), trousers, and straw sandals or are barefooted. Women wrap their heads with small wraps. They wear blue coarse linen clothes, the front hems of which are shorter than the back ones, and trousers, straw sandals or go barefoot. Men from rich families wear bigger headdress or satin caps, unlined long gowns with short coats over the gowns, and cloth shoes. Women from rich families also wear bigger headdresses, as well as earrings, eardrops, and bracelets. The necklines and wristbands of their clothes are rimmed with satin. They usually wear embroidered shoes. \=/
Along women wear scarves over their hair and tie the scarves with long braids woven from colored wool. They wear linen gowns, and dark vests over the gowns in winter or when it rains and it gets cold. Women wear strings of red or green beads as necklaces. Along women don't wear skirts; they wear trousers, around which are wrapped Nu blankets for warmth. Young women also like to wear colored Pulu (Tibetan wool) skirts on the front of the blankets. Some old women like to wrap themselves with black Naxi-style pleated aprons. Men's clothes are similar to those of other Nus.
Bamboo and Sliding Cable Bridges
Bamboos plays an important role in the economic and social life of the Nu. People live in bamboo houses, fetch water with thick bamboo tubes, carry things on their back with bamboo baskets, and store grains in bamboo baskets. People also use bamboo bowls, chopsticks, cups, and bamboo tobacco pipes (a small-bowled, long-stemmed tobacco pipe). Nu people sleep in bamboo beds, hunt with bamboo arrows and spears. In the ancient times, there were bamboo armor and leg wrappings. People use bamboo bridges, bamboo ladders, bamboo rafts and bamboo overhead cable (sliding bridges over high mountains and valleys) to cross the river. In their spare time, they play bamboo flutes, and they also play on bamboo swings. At the end of spring and the beginning of summer when vegetables are rare, they even eat dish of bamboo shoots. So the Nu culture can be called "bamboo culture". In the Nu society, a man is not a man if he doesn't know how to cut bamboos into thin strips and weave bamboo utensils.
The Great Nujiang gorge—with the Biluo Snowy Mountains one side and the towering Gaoligong Mountains on the other side—is one of the world’s deepest and most dangerous gorges. It is sometimes called the Grand Canyon of China. Dangerous rocks tower emerge from the mountains and precipitous cliffs drop to the river. Water in the valley flows rapidly and tempestuously. Since ancient times traveling on the river or crossing it has been so perilous and difficult that was said, "blue sheep has no way out and monkeys worry, too". There are only several ferry crossings where the flow of water is a bit slow and wooden boats can cross the water. Except for these, there is no place for erecting bridges or wading across. For most The Nu people, there is only one way to cross the river—overhead cables. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]
Overhead cables are an indispensable means of transportation for the Nus. To make one: 1) First twist bamboo strips into large rope as thick as a a person’s wrist. 2) Then draw the rope across the river and fix it on big trees, wood stakes or cliffs. 3) People use a sliding board (clipper) to slide along the bamboo rope. The sliding board is a hard wooden chute, which is 25 centimeters long and 12 centimeters cuns wide with two symmetrical holes on the back for tying the rope. When people use it, they put the groove of the board on the rope, cross flax rope or leather belt around the holes, fix the rope or belt on the waist, hold the sliding board while lying horizontally and slide down the rope. ~
There are two kinds of overhead cables: flat cables and steep cables. Flat cables have only one rope, which is horizontal and can be used when coming and going. But it's hard to cross the river by this method. Because the middle part of the rope hangs down naturally, when people reach the middle, they have to make use of the strength of the four limbs to climb up the rope hand over hand to the opposite bank. Steep cable needs two ropes — one for coming and one for going. One end of the rope is high and the other end is low, with a slope in the cable. This method is quick and saves effort, but is more dangerous and requires particular carefulness. ~
It's not only people that are carried by overhead cables, but also goods and domestic animals. It is said that the Nus' invention of overhead cable was inspired by a spider, which weaves webs and hangs lines among trees which it uses to climb back and forth. With the development of the society, several modern bridges have been built over the Nujiang River, but the overhead cables are still widely used and still favored by the Nus in some places. However, the dangerous and breakable bamboo has been replaced by a steel cable with a pulley.
Nu River Dams and Development
Hydroelectric power company Huadian plans to build a cascade dams on the Nu River in the spectacular 'Grand Canyon of the Orient'. The plan envisages the construction of 13 dams on the middle and lower reaches of the Nu river, with a total generating capacity of 21.3GW, similar to that of the Three Gorges Dam. In 2013, Beijing decided to reopen controversial plans to dam the Nu River— eight years after Premier Wen Jiabao suspended the plans out of environmental concerns.
The Nu ("angry river" in Chinese) is better known outside of China as the Salween. It flows from its source in the Himalayas through the heart of a UNESCO world heritage site that has been called the "Grand Canyon of the Orient". It is home to more than 80 endangered species, including snow leopards and Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys. Downstream, it provides water for Burma and Thailand, whose governments have joined a coalition of conservation groups and scientists in expressing opposition to the dam plans.
Despite government assistance, the area where the Nu live remains one of the poorest in Yunnan and in China as a whole. The state has built roads and bridges and has expanded the rural school system. All schooling is in Chinese. According to the Chinese government: The Nujiang River valley is one of the regions which have the worst environment and living conditions. The social development of different nationalities in the region is very slow. Until at the beginning of the Liberation, the Nus' society still stayed at the level of the end of primitive society, and the level of productive forces was low. People in most of the region still used wooden pickaxe and wooden stick, and slash-and-burn was main method of cultivation. Gathering and hunting were main sources for living. They didn't have enough clothes to cover their body and enough food in their belly. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]
“After the establishment of the new China, the Communist Party and the government adopted a series of policies and measures, and helped the Nus, Drungs and Lisus in many aspects, such as politics, economy, culture and transportation. Now the old Nujiang River is still flowing with great waves and sound, but scenes on the sides of the river have had an enormous change. Changes of the Nujiang River can be vividly represented by the developing transportation facilities like bridges and roads. ~
“Nujiang was peacefully liberated in 1949. Before that year, there were only 500 kilometers of post roads in the mountains in Nujiang, and they were always destroyed by mountain torrents because the road was very narrow. Two persons couldn't walk abreast on some country roads, and two horses couldn't make way for each other. People climbed rattan, swung or walked on the single-plank high bridges. The transportation was very primitive and backward. After the setting up of the new China, transportation conditions have changed with each passing day. During the ten years from 1951-1961, post roads of Nujiang increased to 2000 kilometers. At the same time, transporting stations were set up, packhorses were increased, and animal-drawn carts were used. In 1956, the first road was constructed in Nujiang, and from then on, cars went into the region. By 1984, there were 58 roads and traffic mileage was 883.5 kilometers. Besides, a single-arched crossing bridge, 5 road suspension bridges, 26 temporary bridges, 23 suspension bridges for humans and horses, 48 steel overhead cables, and other 188 permanent bridges have been built by the government over Nujiang River, Lancangjiang River, and Drung River. The length of post road has been increased to 6389 kilometers. The natural moat of the Nujiang River today becomes a thoroughfare, road extends in all directions and vehicles are unblocked.” ~
Image Sources: : Nolls China website and CNTO, Wiki Commons
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 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