The Nu Ethnic Minority has a population of only 28,759. More than 95% of Nu people live in Lushui (called Bijiang before 1984), Fugong, Gongshan, Lanping counties in northwestern Yunnan Province. A small number of Nus live in Weixi (in Diqing Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan) and Zayul (in Tibet) counties.
The Nus call themselves "Along", "Anu", "Nusu" and "Rouruo", and today they are still considered to be the four branches of Nu people (with the founding of PRC in 1949, it was agreed upon that their official name would be Nu Ethnic Minority ). Judging from the ruins and relics in Lanping and Fugong counties, the Nus began living on the banks of Nu and Lantsang rivers 3 to 4 thousand years ago.
The origin of Nu Ethnic Minority is quite complicated. The Nu is an ancient tribe that originally lived on the banks of the Nu and Lancang Rivers. Historical records show 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, finally giving birth to a new group - Nu even though some distinctive characteristics of each group were preserved.
The Nu Ethnic Minority region was part of Yizhou Prefecture in Western Han Dynasty (206 BC---25 AD); and it was part of Yunnan, Xihe and Yongchang prefectures successively in Wei Dynasty (220-265) and Jin Dynasty (265-420). It was part of Tieqiao (the present Judian), Jianchuan and Yongchang prefectures in Nanzhao Kingdom (649-902). The Chinese historic records began to mention Nu Ethnic Minority in Tang Dynasty (618-907). Later, the region came under the jurisdiction of Judian and Yongchang prefectures in Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), and Lijiang Prefecture in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
In Qing Dynasty (1616-1911), the Nu Ethnic Minority region was part of Lijiang Prefecture. From the 17th century on, Bai, Naxi and Tibetan rulers governed the Nu area simultaneously. In addition, the newly immigrated Lisu headmen also oppressed the Nu People, usurping the Nu people's land and sometimes carrying many of them off as slaves. In 1949, the People's Liberated Army liberated the region peacefully and it was agreed upon that their official name would become Nu Ethnic Minority . In 1956, Gongshan Nu Ethnic Minority Autonomous County was set up.
The Nus living in Zayul County in Tibet and Gongshan County in Yunnan call themselves "Along". Those living in Fugong County call themselves "Anu" and "Nusu" ("Nusu branch has the largest population of Nus). Those living in Lanping County call themselves "Ruorou".
The four branches of Nu Ethnic Minority all have their own languages, which belong to the Tibetan-Burmese branch of Sino-Tibetan language family. Nusu and Ruorou language are most similar to Yi language (Yi is a Ethnic Minority in China, mainly living in Yunnan), and they even share some same word roots. The Along and Anu languages are completely different from Yi language, but similar to Jingpo language (Jingpo is a Ethnic Minority of China, mainly living in Yunnan). Along and Dulong language, the two local dialects, are just two versions of a same language.
Nu people have been living together in the same area with the Lisu, Tibetan, Han and Dulong people, and they intermingled and intermarried. Thus the bilingual or multi-lingual phenomena do exist commonly in the region. Most Nu people can speak their own language, the Lisu, Tibetan and Bai languages, even Chinese.
Nu does not have a written system of their own, and people use oral language to record history and culture and to communicate generation by generation. They used to keep records by tying knots or carving notches on wood.
Anu and Nusu men wear long hair. Some have ear length haircut, and some wear braids. The headmen and the rich men often wear corals on their right ear. Anu and Nusu men wear linen unlined long gowns with knee length sleeves, which are loose and have no collar and are buttoned on the right. There are two pockets sewn onto the front of the garment (the cotton or linen pockets are usually in black and white or black and blue stripes). Anu and Nusu men wear short linen trousers. They are barefooted. Adult Anu and Nusu people wear shin guards woven from thin bamboo strips to protect themselves from snakes, bugs, etc in forests or in fields. Adult men wear on their left shoulders crossbows or their beloved Dabiya (like pipa), a kind of stringed musical instrument, which is special to Nu Ethnic Minority ). They hung machetes (which are put in bamboo baskets or the sheaths) from 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. They wear dark long skirts, which have wide lower hems. Married women should wear skirts sewn with laces of contrasting colors, and they also wear Nu bags or sewing kits woven from thin bamboo strips. What's more, they wear beautiful headwear and 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), common trousers, and straw sandals or are barefooted. Women also wrap their heads and have little headwear. They wear blue coarse linen clothes, the front hems of which are shorter than the back ones. They wear common trousers, straw sandals or just keep barefooted. Men from rich families wear bigger headdress or satin caps, unlined long gown with short coats over the gowns, and they wear cloth shoes. Women from rich families also wear bigger headdress, 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 the hair and tie the scarves with long braids woven from colored wool. They wear the underwear of linen gowns, and dark vests over the gowns in winter or when it rains and it gets cold. The women wear strings of red or green beads to the breast of the clothes. Along women don't wear skirts, and they wear trousers, around which are wrapped Nu blankets to keep warm. Young women also like to wear colored Pulu skirts on the front of the blankets (Pulu is also called Tibetan woolen cloth. It is a kind of rough woolen cloth made from wool and yak hair). Some old women like to wrap black Naxi-style pleated aprons (Naxi Ethnic Minority mainly live in Yunnan Province). Men's clothes are similar to those of other Nus.
The staple food of Nus is corn. They also eat rice, buckwheat, barley grain, wheat and millet. The meat that Nu people eat mainly comes from family raised animals such as pigs, chickens, cattle, sheep, fish and wild animals they hunt. The vegetables they grow are leafy greens, cabbages, pumpkins, radishes, taros, yams, sweet potatoes, towel gourds, and so forth. They use spices of capsicums, shallots, gingers, the Chinese prickly ash and garlic. Their sweet food includes honey and cane sugar. The fruits they usually eat are oranges, persimmons, peaches, plums, pears and bananas, etc.
The Nu cooking skills include boiling, steaming, braising, frying and quick frying. The Nu specialties mainly include roast porkets, Xiala (In Nu language, La refers to liquor; Xia refers to meat. Xiala is the food of 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 meats until they get golden and crisp, turn down the fire, and put in the liquor, then cover the pan and cook the food for five to six minutes. Then the Xiala is ready. Xiala is a kind of very nutritious food and is originally used for women who have just given birth to babies. Nowadays, Nu people all like the delicious and nutritious food), Gongla (Gong refers to egg. Gongla means the food of egg fried with Nu liguor. The way of making Gongla is similar to that of making Xiala. It is also a nutritious and delicious Nu food), 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, pop corn, and so forth.
Etiquettes and taboos
According to the Nu etiquettes, 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.
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 traditional Nu festivals include the New Year Festival, the Fairy Festival, Ruwei Festival, and the Festival of Mountains .
The Fairy Festival, also called the Flower Festival, is a traditional festival celebrated by the Nu people who live in the Gongshan County in Yunnan Province. The festival lasts for three days. The legend goes that the Nu River often flooded in ancient times. A Nu girl named A-Rong, inspired by the web of a spider, created a kind of rope-bridge, by which the people could conveniently cross the river. Coveting the beauty of A-Rong, the chief of the Hou tribe tried to force her to marry him. A-Rong wouldn't agree, so she escaped into the mountains and eventually turned into a stone statue in a cave. To honor her, the Nu people celebrate Fairy Festival on March 15th every year.
When the festival comes, people will pick bunches of azaleas and place them at a cave called Fairy People Cave. After the memorial ceremony, they drink together at home. The Nu people, young and old alike, dress up in their best traditional costumes, hold fresh flowers, and gather together in the open air, singing, dancing, and telling stories. There are also ball matches (a kind of football match), bow and arrow competitions, etc.
The Spring Festival lasts about 15 days from the end of lunar December to the beginning of lunar January. It is often celebrated by the Nu living in Yunnan Province. Before the festival, households in every village are busy butchering pigs, making soft-rice dumplings, brewing wine and cleaning their courtyards. On New Year's Eve, before eating, they put corn and dishes of food on a three-legged barbecue. On top of the three legs, three cups are put and also three pieces of meat, then the family members, either young or old, pray for a good harvest and strong livestock for the upcoming New Year.
Cultures and Arts
The Nu people have created many special culture and arts, all passed on from generation to generation by oral tradition. These oral literatures often take the forms of melodies, which are often sung without preparation or planning. The melodies have certain rhythms and take a lot of forms. There are Hunters' melody that describe the life of hunting; there are Corn melody that describe the farming scene; there are Proposal melody that describe the love between people; and there are Lament melody to express great sadness for somebody who has died.
Nu people have been living in mountains and they are familiar with the living habits of various kinds of animals. The Nus have produced many dances that copy the activities of animals. For example, there are dances showing how monkeys break off corncobs, how pied magpies eat food, and the dances of the birds. There are also dances that express the ordinary life of Nu people, such as the dances of hunting, collecting bamboo leaves, harvesting in autumn, wedding party, washing clothes and so on. Nu people like to dance. They dance to express their feelings, no matter when they are happy or sad. Their dances are straightforward, agile, bold and unconstrained, just as the people are. The rhythms are vivid and sprightly.
The Nu musical instrument includes Dabiya (a kind of pipa), Kouxian, Dizi (Chinese flute). Dabiya is the most popular. Many men play Dabiya. Dabiya has the shape of pipa, and is ellipse or triangle. Nu people play Dabiya when they leave home for a long journey, go hunting, do farm work, get married, have festivals or pay court to girls. The girls play Kouxian (a kind of musical instrument made of strings and thin bamboo pieces. People play it by plucking the stings and blowing) made by themselves. Young people use music instead of words to communicated with each other.
The residence of Nu people differs greatly as they live in different places. Their houses are pile dwelling. There are mainly wooden house and bamboo strips house. The Nu people in Lushui County live in bamboo strips houses due to the high temperatures and high humidity. The houses are two-storied and are moisture proof and well ventilated. The second floor makes up the living quarters for the family while the ground floor is used for storage and provides accommodation for the livestock. The Nu houses in Lushui have wood stilts, bamboo woven walls, and wood board or couch grass roofs. However, the Nu people in Gongshan live in wooden houses since the temperature there is usually low, the air is very humid and there are thick forests there. The two-storied houses are warm and moisture proof.
Bamboo utensils: bamboos have played an important role in the economic and social life of Nu Ethnic Minority . People live in bamboo houses, fetch water with thick bamboo tubes, carry things on the 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.
Marriage and Family: 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.
Naming The Babies: 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.
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').
Funeral Customs: As far as the burial is concerned, Nu people have adopted several burial forms, such as sarcophagus (stone coffin) burial, bamboo coffin burial, wood coffin burial, cremation burial, rock cave burial and so forth. Some people bury the dead in the ground, with the graves being knoll-shaped or flat. After a Nusu person dies, his families will blow bamboo trumpet to inform of his death. When people hear the bamboo trumpet, they will stop whatever they are doing, take some meats and wine to visit the bereaved to express their condolence. The dead body will be 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.
Anu people also inform of a person's death immediately after one dies. Generally, pigs and sheep are killed to offer sacrifice to the dead after children or young people die, and cows are killed after old people, chiefs of tribes, wizards or the only son in a family dies. The Anus don't blow trumpets when attending funerals of children or young women. But when attending the funerals of young men, there will be several people walking at the front of group and blow bamboo trumpets to lead the way until they get to the burial place. Along people only hold funeral ceremonies for people who die after 18, and 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 next year, the families of the dead will make wine with the grains that the dead had planted before he dies, kill the pigs, sheep, and chickens he had raised, and make 12 bowls of dishes and put them before the grave to express their mourn. After the ceremony, the relatives and neighbors will help move the graves to another chosen site.
Nu people do not have a uniform religion. The Nu people believe in the primitive religion and worship nature. They believe that everything in the world has its own spirit. Objects such as the sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, trees and rocks are all worshiped. After the Lama Religion, Catholicism and Christian religion were introduced into the region, some Nu people began to believe in the three religions. Generally speaking, the primitive religion and the Christian religion have had a greater influence on Nu people. It is also common that the family members believe in different religions.