Pumi Ethnic Minority

Pumi Ethnic Group is a unique Ethnic Minority only inhabiting in Yunnan Province, with population more than 30,000, half of which are settled in Lijiang. The rest of the Pumis besides some small Pumis gathering Villages, the others mingle together with the other ethnic group such as Naxi, Bai, Tibetan, Yi and Lisu etc.


The Pumisis is the descendant of ancient Qiang ethic group, which used to be the strongest Ethnic Minority in the northwestern China (now in Gansu and Qinghai Province). Their force had once covered the whole Qinghai Province and the northern Tibet. However, during the middle of 7 century BC, the tyrant of Qin took the suggestion of his consultant, Youyu, who said that the king of Qin should unify the twelve countries in the north including the Qiang tribe.

The west Qiang failed in the battle with Qin. So one part of the Qiang tribe migrated to the Qinghai-Tibet altiplano, across Jinsha River, arriving in the up reach of the Yalong River. During the Han and Tang Dynasty, they settled in an area in the west of the Mount. Qionglai in Sichuan Province, which is in the middle of Jinsha River, Yalong River and Dadu River. It is during Yuan Dynasty when the Pumi Ethnic Group formed, which is an important period for the development and migration of the Pumisis. At the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty, a large group of the Pumis (called Xifan at the time) followed the Mongolia troops entering the northwestern Yunnan Province. The rest who had not migrated into Yunnan Province stayed there and mixed with those Xifan ethnic groups, who were till the main settlers from the south of Dadu River to Jinsha River. From then on the distribution of the Pumi was becoming more stable. After the Ming and Qing Dynasty, the Pumis in the western Sichuan Province integrated with Tibetan because of the influence of Tibetan Buddhism. However, the Pumis in the northwester Yunnan Province still mostly well kept their traditional custom and gradually developed into a mono ethnic group which is different from the Pumis in Sichuan Province.


The Pumi ethnic group call themselves Pumi, which is commonly accepted. Pu means white and mi means human bing. So Pumi means white human. However, in different area this word is pronounced differently in various dialects. For example, the Pumis in Ninglang call themselves Purimi, Pami; the Pumis in Lanping County call themselves Puyingmi, while in Yongsheng or Lijiang they call Pumi, Pingmi, Pimi etc. The Han and Bai call the Pumis Xifan; The Yi call them Wozhu; the Tibetan and Mosuo from Naxi branch call them Ba, while the Naxis in Lijiang call them Bo. In 1960, the government give a formal name for this ethnic group, which is Pumi Zu(zu in Chinese means ethnic group).

Language and Characters

The Pumi Language belongs to Han-Tibetan language branch, which can be divided into northern and southern dialect area. The southern dialect area distributes in Lanping County, Weixi County, Yongsheng County, Lijiang Country and the souther area of Ninglang County in Yunnan Province. The northern dialect area consists of Yongning County in Yonglang County, Muli Country, Yanyuan and Jiulong County in Sichuan Province. Although these two dialect branches occupy a large area, there is no big difference between them. So there is no language communication barrier in Pumis. There is no character in Pumi. With the popularization of the school education, they all use Chinese character nowadays.

Pumi Costumes

The Pumi Children, no matter boys or girls, all wear unlined long flax gown with the right side opened, girdling the waist, wearing a pair of self-made leather shoes. When thirteen years old they will attend the adult etiquette and change their costumes. For boys they will wear the long trousers. Girls will wear pleated skirt with short coat. The Pumis men wear flax the right-side-opened-short-coat, wide trousers with while woolen sleeveless jacket. Women wear their hairs in braids and are considered beauty for the long and big braid. They like to plait their hair with the yak tails and silk lines and wear it in a bun with is wrapped with black cloth.


The main Pumis diet is meat such as pork, mutton, beef and chicken. They eat pork more often which include fresh pork, fat pork and bacon. No matter fresh meat or pickled pork, the Pumis like eat meat lump. At the treat of guests they usually serve fat pork and lean pork or pork in a big bowl. If it is a great banquet, the host will kill the cattle, goat, pig or chicken in front of the guests to show their hospitality and royalty. When the guests leave after the dinner, the host will send them each a piece of fat pork called Division or Share. The Pumis’ main staple food is wheaten food which they can both cook and bake. They also make all kinds of cereals into powder. However the main staple food for aduls and the old or the children are quite different. For adults they often eat some hard cooked cakes. But for the old and the children they often have baked cookies. Some special Pumi cuisines including: Zongzong: firstly stir the mixture of oatmeal and water to make sure it’s OK. Then shape it into cake and oil the surface or add some oil and salt in the oatmeal beforehand. At last, string the cakes with some clean branches and bake them in the fire. It tastes crispy and delicious.

Stone Baked Cakes: Firstly heat the stone to a high temperature. Then put the Baba (kind of cake) onto the hot stone. It will be OK shortly after you put it on. There is a better way to bake cakes that is to find a stone and make it like a pot. Then you can make fire under the stone pot and bake your cakes on the stone.

Goat Stomach Cooked Mutton: Firstly pull out everything out of the stomach and clean the goat stomach. Then fill the goat stomach with water and put the mutton into it. At last, bake the goat stomach on the fire. Because there is some water in the stomach, it’s hard to burn it broken.

Wooden Bucket Boiled Food: Firstly, fill the wooden bucket with some cold water and put the food you want boil into the bucket. Then put the hot stone into the bucket. If the water is not hot enough to boil the food, you have to add other hot stones into it until the water and food are boiled. What’s more, the Pumis like drinking tea very much. Every morning they have morning tea after getting up. And they do so before lunch and supper. Some also drink tea before going to bed, which is called the night tea. Ghee tea is also one of their favorites. The way of making ghee tea is very funny. Firstly put a piece of ghee cube or lard into the tea bucket and add some salt and melon seeds meat. Then fill the bucket with boiled water and stir the mixture until the ghee and water mix well.


During the past, the Pumis worship various Gods and ancestors. So most of the ceremonies are closely connected with the sacrifice activities. For example, the spring festival, Tomb-sweeping Day, Summer Begins, Dragon Boat Festival, Torch Festival, and New Taste Festival etc. The way they spend the Spring Festival is quite like the other traditional Chinese, on which they get together and have family reunion dinner. During the Spring Festivals, they intend to send presents to each other which are made by themselves including fried cakes, bacon and some other food. On the other festivals, besides the tradition Pumis food, they also send some seasonable food. For instance, some cool dishes on Tomb-sweeping Day; spicy garlic bacon on Summer Begins; bean curds and flour lumps on Torch Festival; new rice and buckwheat cakes on New Taste Festival etc. The Pumis used to hold a great sacrifice every three year (sometimes on March 2nd in Chinese lunar calendar, and sometimes on October 8th in Chinese lunar calendar), when every two families will offer an ox and two sheep. At the dawn of the sacrifice, they will oblate the heads and the hearts of the cattle for various gods. And do the low mass after the sunrise. Sometimes, the sacrifice can last three months. However, it is rare to have this kind of ceremonies now.

Culture and Art

The Pumis enjoy their own unique culture and art including legends, stories, poems, music, dance, painting and graving etc. They have numerous legends and fairy stories about human origin, ethnic group migration, and conflict between human and nature etc. Some stories are romantic stories on love; some are about ancient Pumis’ lifestyles. The Pumis are really good at dancing and singing. They hold the singing competition at the wedding day and funeral. The subjects of lyrics cover various fields from farming, marriage and funeral to religion. Some love songs are short and brief, only sung when the young men and women want to find a lover. Nearly all of the Pumis poems can be used as lyrics in the song. So a beautiful poem is also a wonderful song. The Pumis create their own dance according to the content of the lyrics. They play the accompaniment on flute and hulusheng (kind of Chinese ethnic music instrument shaped as a bottle gourd). The female Pumis also like shooting, toxophily, wrestling, wushu.

Lacquerworks are the tradition Pumis craftworks, which is known far and wide. The chief lacquerworks include bowls, cups and boxes, which take black as the color base and accompanied with some white and red pictures. These lacquerworks are smart and elegant.


The Pumis’ villages are usually built in hillside covered with pine trees. The village is not so big, which consist of twenty or thirty families. The distance between each village is not so far. Most of the Pumis’ houses are made of wood. The house wall is made of overlapped 12cm round wood. The roof is composed of several wood blocks two of which are called sliding board (because they can be pulled and slide). In the four corners, there stand four columns. A quadrate pillar is set up in the center of the house, called mainstay, which is considered as a place for the gods to stay. Usually there are two storeys, in which the upstairs for human being and downstairs for cattle. Inside the house, there is a huotang (also called guozhuang, kind of fire place for heat), around which are beds. At the back of the house there is shrine for ancestral tablets. Outside the house, the Pumis hang some apotropaions such as horns or hawk heads on the wall, which also represent kind of wish that they can breed their cattle well. Some rich Pumis in Lanping and Lijiang also build brick-wood yarded house like Bai Ethnic Minority .


Being kind and polite to the guest is the Pumis’ virtue. When the guest come from far places, no matter stranger or acquaintances, the host will come out to welcome and treat hospitably. There is a saying among Pumis: “the first cup of sulima (barley beer) from the new pot should be offered to the guest; the first cup of tea from the tea jar should be offered to the brothers from the other nationalities.” The Pumis used to sitting around the huotang(also called guozhuang, kind of fire place for heat). The male are seated on the right and female on the left. The guests usually sit on the right side. If there are elders, the guests should be seated at the down side of the huotang.

At the wedding day, the funeral or some other gathering day, the Pumis use cattle horn to hold alcohol and toast to their honorable guests. They will be honored if guests drink until drunk. They also invite relatives and acquaintances to help building the new houses without paying but treating meat and drinks. Guests at the Pumis’ cannot eat dog meat, frog meat, horsemeat, and cat meat. They cannot beat human with brooms nor beat pigs with chopsticks. It is also forbidden to neither weep the house at night nor whistle at night. Do not wash hair, cut hair or comb hair in the evening. Do not sing love song inside the house. The guest cannot sit against the huotang. Do not point other’s noses with your hands. Do not wear the cap at the wrong side. Do not touch others’ head. Do not put the shoes at the headboard. Do not make any noises when having dinner. Do not drop the rice on the ground.

The Pumis used to belief in Tibetan Buddhism and local religion. Every village owns its own holy forest as a place for worship and sacrifice, where they think cannot be bother or disturb. Don’t beat the dogs, eat dog meat or sell dogs. Don’t touch the tripod on the huotang with your hand. Don’t dry foot or clothes above the huotang. Don’t put the shoes at the doorway or at the stairs. The pumis will set up mast with a sutra flag (usually there inserting a sharp knife in top of the mast and the flag can be white or red) in front of their houses if there is someone gets ill. Strangers are not allowed to enter it. When the women give birth to child, men are not allowed to enter the delivery room. Women who has given birth to child cannot stay at her own parents’ home or give birth at her parents’ home.


The witch in the Pumis used to be called Dingba (because they believe in Dingbaism Religion), who is now called Hangui or Shibi. So Dingbaism Religion is also called Hanguism Religion. Although the name is changed, they are still the same religion. In the Pumis’ language, Ding means the earth, while Ba means the Pumis. The name of the Pumis came from the Bading Goddess. Actually, both Dingba and Bading mean the same thing. Dingba Cimu Goddess is the matriarchy primogenitor the Pumis worshiped. It was said that she is a beautiful and competent goddess, wearing white clothes and white dress, hiding a white mule. She only drink pure spring water and milk without eating some five cereals (rice, millet, broomcorn millet, wheat and beans), which reflected a kind of nomadic life the Pumis’ lived during the matriarchal clan society.

It is said according to the old men’s memory that the witches in the ancient Pumis are all female, which told us that the ancient Pumis treat the witches as the heiress of the Bading Cimu Goddess. The ancient Pumis believed that the female witches could communicate with the goddess. Bading Cimu is a natural stone sculpture, which is located in a cave at the hillside of Cizi Mountain, in Wujiao District, Muli County. In the Pumis’ eyes, Bading Cimu is a omnipotent goddess. So every winter, they will come to the Cizi Mountain to worship it. Some pray for peace, some for ridding a place of or person of calamities or illness, some also for sterility disease, and some even ask for help for the family unharmonious or bad marriage.

However, worshiping the goddess is the female’s business. Although sometimes the male also come together, they are not allowed to enter the cave to worship. Besides charging for the funeral Dingba also give name to the newly born baby, hold adult ceremony for the children who are at the age of 13. However, only some of the Pumis can be qualified as Hanguis. Most of the hanguis’ family name is Gemu, which is a strong branch of Baluowa Clan. Hangui enjoy a high social position, cause they are the masters of theocracy. In the hangui system, only one of the hangui’s sons can inherit his position, and so does the believers, which is also inherited by the son. Every Pumis family has its own regular hangui, while every hangui owns its own believers.

When the belivers want to do some religious activities, they can only invite their own hangui to hold. So the hangui must be familiar with the family tree and the sending-ghost-rote of his believers. In Pumis, hangui serve as a bridge connecting the believers and the god. Since the Pumis used to be ruled by the Tibetan, some parts of the Pumis also believe in Lamaism. In some area where the Lamaism is very popular, if one family has more than two sons, they should at least make one son to be the lama. Besides believing in Dingbaism and Lamism, the Pumis develop a strong custom of nature worship and polytheism. The Pumis cannot explain lots of natural phenomenon such as mountain, river, sun and moon, so they treat them all as kinds of spirited things.

When they encounter illness, birth or death, they think it’s the behavior of the spirit. Because of this belief, they develop lots of interesting ceremony such as family god sacrifice, hearth god sacrifice, mountain god sacrifice, alcohol god sacrifice and house god sacrifice etc.

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