Sani Ethnic People

Sani People call themselves “Ni”, meaning happy people. They are diligent, brave and good at singing and dancing. As a branch of Yi, Sani People enjoy some common cultural features such as similar character, religion and customs with the other branches of Yi. But the Sani have their own unique customs, language, and ethnic identity that differentiate them from other Yi people groups. Their ancestors admired tigers and regarded tigers as their totem. But besides tigers, the totems of Sani also include spiders. It has a population of about 100,000.

Sani Legend: Ashima

Sani People have deep feeling for almost every hill and stone. There is a touching story concerning every scenic spot and the most popular is The Story of Ashima.

According to Sani legend, there once was a beautiful girl named Ashima, which means “as precious and bright as gold.” An evil landlord kidnapped her and forced her to marry him. Her lover (or brother, depending on the storyteller) Ahei came and rescued her, fighting bravely against the landlord. But on the way home, Ashima was killed in a flood. Today she is seen as the protector of the Sani people, as well as a symbol of hope and freedom to choose who to marry.

Distribution of Sani Ethnic People

The Sani people live in central and eastern Yunnan province in southern China. Around 80,000 of the Sani live in Shilin county near the famous Stone Forest. There are approximately 200 Sani villiages in Shilin county. The rest of the Sani people live in nearby Mile, Yiliang, Luliang, Qiubei, and Luxi counties.

Cultural Heritages of Sani Ethnic Minority

Intangible Cultural Heritages of Sani in Yunnan

Inheritors of Sani’s Intangible Cultural Heritages

Festivals of Sani Ethnic Minority

Ethnic Culture of Sani Ethnic People


The Sani language is part of the Tibeto-Burman language tree (1). Mandarin is also used as a trade language and in the government run schools. Only the Sani spirit priests are able to read the Sani written language, which hinders efforts to put the scriptures into the Sani language.


The Sani worship numerous spirits, including earth, fire, water, sky, mountains, stones, etc. The spirit of the tiger is believed to provide protection, and most Sani homes have a stone tiger above their doorway. The Sani also worship their ancestors. Each Sani village has a spirit priest who performs religious rituals.


Most Sani people live in small, rural villages. The men grow crops like rice and wheat, and raise animals. The Sani women work in the homes, and are famous for their beautiful embroidery.


Love independence, marriage freedom, family harmony, respect for the old and the young are the traditional virtues of the Sani people. Sani young men and women look for mates to fall in love, mainly in the festival and sports activities, with the way of dancing and singing.

Jumping big three strings is an important form of social activities for young men and women. It has beautiful dancing posture and rich feelings. If the young men and women dance well, they can be engaged in the dance floor. Bamboo flute and leaves are instruments for Sani people to exchange feelings. Some Sani young men and women talk about love, they don’t dance, don’t sing, don’t talk, just use bamboo and leaves to pour out their love for each other.


The traditional costumes of the Sani branch of the Yi nationality are gorgeous and colorful. The Sani people are still weaving with the ancient weaving machine and using the original traditional crafts to make costumes. Sani men’s short sleeveless jacket is made of linen. It is embroidered with pattern and decorated with the edge of blue or other colored cloth. It looks generous, simple and bodybuilding when wearing it. The women of Sani wear colorful flower hats, which are made of strips of various colors. The top is perpendicular to the ears, with a pair of triangle embroidered corners. When the girl has a loved one, she will take them down and give them to him as a keepsake.