Customs of Yi Ethnic Minority

The Yi ethnic minority, with a significant population in the southwestern provinces of China, has a diverse and rich tradition of clothing that varies significantly across regions. Here’s an overview of their traditional attire and some customs:


Men’s Attire:

  • In the Liangshan Mountains and western Guizhou, men typically wear black jackets with tight sleeves and right-side askew fronts, along with pleated wide-bottomed trousers.
  • In other areas, Yi men might wear trousers that are tight at the bottom.
  • A distinctive hairstyle includes a small patch of hair left to grow on the top of the head, which is then covered with a turban made of a long piece of bluish cloth. The turban’s end is styled into a thin, long awl shape that juts out from the right side of the forehead.
  • As a sign of beauty, being beardless is often preferred, and men may wear a large yellow and red pearl earring on the left ear with a red silk thread pendant.

Women’s Attire:

  • Women’s clothing is characterized by laced or embroidered jackets and pleated long skirts with colorful multi-layer laces at the hem.
  • Black Yi women traditionally wore long skirts that reached the ground, while women of other ranks wore knee-length skirts.
  • Headwear for women varies, with some wearing black turbans and younger women often choosing embroidered square kerchiefs that cover the forehead.
  • Silver ornaments, such as pins shaped like flowers on the collar, are common, and earrings are also a part of the traditional attire.

Capes and Outerwear:

  • Both men and women wear dark woolen capes edged with long tassels when going outdoors, especially during colder seasons. These capes may be lined with felt in the winter.
  • Slaves, due to their lower social status, often had to make do with clothes made from home-spun linen and were generally not as well-dressed as their free counterparts.



  • Marriages were traditionally arranged by the parents, and a significant bride price or betrothal gift was often involved.
  • Some Yi communities practiced a mock “bride kidnapping” to add excitement to the wedding festivities.
  • The wedding might involve playful scuffles and ritualized symbolic actions that harken back to more ancient marriage customs.


  • The Torch Festival is one of the most important festivals for the Yi people, usually held on the 24th day of the sixth lunar month. It involves carrying torches around homes and fields to drive away evil spirits and pests, followed by communal gatherings with music, dance, and feasting.
  • Other festival activities may include horse racing, bullfighting, swinging, archery, and wrestling.

Religious Practices:

  • The Yi people’s religious beliefs are a blend of polytheism, ancestor worship, and elements from Taoism and Buddhism.
  • Sorcerers or shamans play a crucial role in presiding over religious ceremonies and offering sacrifices.

Dietary Habits:

  • The Yi diet in most areas includes staples like maize, buckwheat, oats, and potatoes, with rice being less common.
  • During festivals, special foods such as boiled meat with salt are enjoyed, usually by the wealthier classes.


  • Traditional Yi houses are made of mud and wood, often with double-leveled roofs and minimal interior decoration. The homes of the slave-owning Black Yi were more elaborate and fortified compared to the simple dwellings of the slaves.

These customs and styles of clothing provide a glimpse into the rich cultural tapestry of the Yi ethnic minority, reflecting their historical social structure, environment, and beliefs.