¡¡¡¡The Drungs, numbering
about 7,426, live mainly in the Dulong River valley of the Gongshan
Drung and Nu Autonomous County in northwestern Yunnan Province.
Their language belongs to the Tibetan-Myanmese group of the Chinese-Tibetan
language family. Similar to the language of the Nu people, their neighbors,
it does not have a written form and, traditionally, records were
made and messages transmitted by engraving notches in wood and tying
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907),
the places where the Drungs lived were under the jurisdiction of
the Nanzhao and Dali principalities. From the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)
to the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Drungs were ruled
by court-appointed Naxi headmen. In modern times, the ethnic minority
distinguished itself by repulsing a British military expedition
The Dulong River valley extends 150
km from north to south. It is flanked on the east by Mt. Gaoligong,
5,000 meters above sea level, and on the west by Mt. Dandanglika,
4,000 meters above sea level.
The area has abundant rainfall due
to the influence of monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean; the annual
precipitation is 2,500 mm. Virgin forests cover the mountain slopes,
and medicinal herbs, wild animals and mineral deposits abound. Crops
grown in the area used to be limited to maize, buckwheat and beans,
but after liberation at the mid-20th century rice and
potatoes were introduced.
Customs and Traditions
Before the founding of the People¡¯s
Republic of China in 1949, Drung society maintained many vestiges
of the primitive commune system. There were 15 patriarchal clans
called "nile." Each nile consisted of several family communes,
and each commune occupied a separate territory marked off by boundaries
such as streams and mountain ridges. The clan was further divided
into "ke'eng," or villages, where people dwelt in common
Agricultural production remained at
a very low level until 1949, due mainly to the primitive nature
of the Drungs' farm tools. Every year saw several lean months when
their diet had to be supplemented by food gathering, hunting and
The ke'eng members pursued collective
farming on common land and held their hunting, fishing and gathering
grounds in common. However, in modern times this system was slowly
giving way to ownership of the means of production by blood-related
families. Following financial difficulties due to
illness or debt as a result of the imposition of taxes, land sales
gradually led to the emergence of oppressive landlords. And rich
households used to make seasonal workers and destitute children
work for them.
The Drungs produced some primitive
handicrafts, including bamboo and rattan articles and engaged in
the weaving of linen. But the absence of both traders and towns
made barter the only form of exchange.
The ke'eng was the grassroots organization
of Drung society. Its members regarded themselves as being descended
from the same ancestor. A Drung's personal name was preceded by
that of the family and his father's name. In the case of a woman,
her mother's name was included.
Each ke'eng was headed by a "kashan"
whose duties were both administrative and ceremonial. He also directed
warfare and mediated disputes. The ke'engs were politically separate
entities, which formed temporary alliances in times of great danger
threatening from outside communities.
Marriage within the clan was forbidden
and monogamy was the rule in recent times, but vestiges of primitive
group marriage remained, such as several sisters marrying one man.
Polygamy was also not unknown.
The dead were buried in the ground
in hollow logs, except in cases of death from serious disease, when
the corpses were cremated or disposed of in the rivers. Funerals
were attended by all the relatives, who brought sacrificial offerings
The Drung people, male and female,
wear their hair down to their eyebrows in front and down to their
shoulders behind. Both sexes used to wrap themselves in a covering
of striped linen fastened with straw ropes or bamboo needles. The
poorer ones would often have no other clothing but a skirt of leaves.
Girls tattooed their faces at the onset
of puberty, with the patterns varying according to the clan.
The traditional ke'eng long house --
made of logs in the northern areas and of bamboo further south --
is made up of a large, oblong room which serves as the ke'eng's
common quarters, with two rows of smaller rooms at the back. Each
small room has a fireplace in the middle and is the home of an individual
one time, each ke'eng had a common granary, but this was replaced
by granaries owned by small groups of families.
The Drungs are animists and make sacrificial
offerings to appease evil spirits. Shamans, and sometimes the kashan,
performed such rites. The Drung New Year falls in December of the
lunar calendar. The exact dates are not fixed, nor is the duration
of the celebration, which lasts as long as the food does. Cattle
are slaughtered as an offering to Heaven, and the Drungs dance around
A new life began for the Drung people
with liberation in 1949. The year 1956 saw the establishment of
the Gongshan Drung and Nu Autonomous County, with a Drung as the
county magistrate. The first task for the government was to provide
the Drungs with clothing and farm tools, and promote farm production
In light of the conditions in Drung
society, the government decided that land reform would be inappropriate,
and concentrated on the development of production.
Beginning in 1954, about 6,000 hectares
of arable land was brought under cultivation in the Dulong River
valley. Irrigation projects transformed part of the land into paddy
fields, which had been non-existent up until then. A few years later,
the area began to sell surplus grain to the state. Along with the
increased farm production went a boost for livestock raising (cattle,
goats and pigs), the cultivation of medicinal herbs and the processing
of animal hides.
Primary schools, unknown in the Drung
area in the past, now number over 20. Clinics and health stations
have put the shamans out of business.
Special attention has been paid to
making the mountainous Drung area accessible to the outside world.
Some 150 km of roads have been constructed, and ferries and bridges
now span the roaring torrents of the hill streams. Modern commodities
are now available to the Drungs. There is also a post office, bookstore
and film-projection team in the valley. Several small hydroelectric
power stations, built in the last couple of decades, have brought
electricity to the Drung villages.