13 Native Minorities in Puer

Except Simao District, all of the other nine counties of Pu’er which is called home by 13 native minorities are autonomous counties named after at least one native minority.

The population of minorities accounts for 61% of the total population of Pu’er. Among the nine counties, Lancang is the only Lahu autonomous county in China, Mojiang is the unique Hani autonomous county in China, and Ximeng is one of the only two Wa autonomous counties in China.

The 13 minorities have up to one hundred branches in total, and each branch has its own festivals, style of singing and dancing, etc. You will be impressed by the Hair Swinging Dance of the Wa people during the Wooden Drum Festival, the Elephant-foot Drum Dance of the Dai people during the Water Splashing Festival, the Sheepskin Drum Dance of the Yi people during the Torch Festival, the Waggling Dance of the Lahu people during the Gourd Festival, and the Drum Dance of the Hani People during the Shiyue Festival (the New Year celebration of Hani ethinic minorty), etc.

The talented minorities’ hardwork on this fertile land have endowed Pu’er with romance and legends. Different branches of different minorities have their own history, epic poems, myths and tales.

The Wa people in Ximeng claim that they are the ancient nationality who came from caves. Before the People’s Republic of China was founded, they still lived in the primitive society. Due to the direct transition of the social formation, the Wa ethnic culture of Ximeng has exhibited high value for a deeper insight. Since the Wa people don’t have written language, they only rely on their words and deeds to create a cultural system that has recorded the Wa ethnic ancestors’ ancient rich knowledge of the nature and human race. Nowadays, more and more scholars and travellers spare no efforts in coming to Awa Mountain to study the Wa ethnic culture which has been highlighted by the animism, sacred wood drum, ox slaughtering ceremony, oxtail cutting ceremony and the seldom known Sigangli scriptures, etc.

As the only Hani autonomous county in China, Mojiang is home to nine branches of the Hani minority which are Baihong, Haoni, Kaduo, Biyue, Lami, Kabie, Qiedi, Ximoluo and Ahmu. For thousands of years, the Hani people have lived on the miraculous terraced fields, creating colourful ethnic culture. Therefore, Mojiang is an important area for researching the Hani ethnic culture. In addition, Lancang is an important area for researching the Lahu ethnic culture; Menglian, where Nayun is one of the top 10 Ancient Towns in Yunnan Province and the best reserved Dai ethnic ancient town in China, is the culture converging point of the four branches of the Dai and other ethinic minorty groups. 

It is never grandiloquent to say that Pu’er is the miniature of Yunnan Province’s ethnic culture. Although these 13 different minorities of Pu’er have different cultures,  they share similar qualities, such as: being indigenous, kind, enthusiastic, amicable, and respecting the nature.

The minorities such as the Hani, Yi and Dai have their own sacred forests for the purpose of protecting the water source. They call the sacred forest “Dragon Forest” for which each year sacrificial ceremonies must be held. So in the vicinity of a village of any of these minorities, one can find a verdant forest with centuries-old trees. No matter how many terraced fields or land are farmed nearby, the Dragon Forest has to be well protected.

Take the Hani minority for example, the Dragon Forest is culturally the adobe of the sacred protector of a village. In the mind of the Hani ethnic members, the Forest is something that determines the fate of the village. Villagers would never do any harm to the Forest and impurities are strictly kept away from it. Young people are not allowed to date inside the Forest.

The worship of the Dragon Forest is in fact the worship of the nature. For these minorities, the god is the Dragon Forest, and vice versa. Some villages don’t have a Dragon Forest but only a Dragon Tree. And the reason is that during those days when religious beliefs were forbidden, the Dragon Forest was chopped down. Therefore, when a village is left with only a sacred tree that symbolises the god, villagers would suffer the anguish from inside.

For the Wa, Lau and Bulang people, everything has a deity, including mountains, waters, and plants etc. So they wouldn’t randomly chop trees and pollute waters. In case of need, they have to hold sacrificial ceremonies to get the permission of the deities. The native minorities living in mountains understand that humans have to conform to nature and rely on nature so that they can gain survival and development.

An old native ethnic member once shared his opinion concerning the eco environment,“Everything is okey today, the only thing that is not okey is disbel[FS:Page]ieving in mountain deities”. The saying is very clear: the nature can’t go harmoniously with those who don’t have any religious beliefs, rules and orders. 

When you are travelling among the picturesque landscapes of Pu’er, please follow local rules and customs.

The 13 native minorities are Hani, Yi, Lahu, Wa, Dai, Bulang, Hui, Bai, Yao, Lisu, Miao, Mongolia, and Jingpo, most of whom have well inherited profound ethnic cultures. Stepping into Pu’er, you will find you are actually in a big ethnic customs garden where each village has stories to tell.