¡¡¡¡The 33,600 Pumis
are concentrated in the Yunnan Province counties of Lanping, Lijiang,
Weixi and Yongsheng, as well as in the Yi Autonomous County of Ninglang.
Some live in Sichuan Province, in the Tibetan Autonomous County
of Muli and Yanyuan County. They are on rugged mountains as high as
2,600 meters above sea level, cut by deep ravines.
According to Pumi legends and historical
records, ancient Pumis were a nomadic tribe, roaming the Qinghai-Tibet
Plateau. Their descendents later moved south to warmer, more verdant
areas along valleys within the Hengduan Mountain Range. By the seventh
century, the Pumis were living in Sichuan's Yuexi, Mianning, Hanyuan,
Jiulong and Shimian areas, constituting one of the major ethnic
minorities in the Xichang Prefecture. After the 13th century, the
Pumis gradually settled down in Ninglang, Lijiang, Weixi and Lanping.
They farmed and bred livestock. Later, agriculture gradually took
a predominant place in their economy.
The Pumis speak a language belonging
to the Tibetan-Myanmese language family of the Chinese-Tibetan system.
Although Pumis in the Muli and Ninglang areas once wrote with Tibetan
characters, this was mainly for religious purposes. Gradually the
Tibetan characters fell into oblivion, and most Pumis now use Chinese.
Pumi villages are scattered, usually
at least 500 meters from one another, on gentle mountain slopes.
Pumis generally build their houses from wood and with two floors,
the lower for animals and the upper for people. Almost all family
activities indoors take place around the fireplace, which is in
the middle of the living room on the upper level.
In addition to maize, their staple
food, Pumis also grow rice, wheat and highland barley. Their variety
of vegetables and fruits is limited to Chinese cabbage, carrots,
eggplant and melons. A favorite food of the Pumis' is "pipa
meat" -- salted pork wrapped in pork skin in the shape of a
pipa, a plucked string Chinese instrument with a fretted fingerboard.
They also like tobacco, tea and liquor. Liquor, in fact, is used
both as a sacrificial offering and as a gift for the living.
Pumi women in Ninglang and Yongsheng
often wrap their heads in large handkerchiefs, winding their plaited
hair, mixed with yak tail hairs and silk threads. They consider
plait beautiful, the more so the bigger it is. Normally, they wear
jackets with buttons down one side, long, plaited skirts, multi-colored
wide belts and goatskins draping over their backs. In the Lanping
and Weixi areas, women tend to wear green, blue or white long-sleeved
jackets under sleeveless jackets, trousers and embroidered belts.
Often, they wear silver earrings and bracelets. Pumi men wear similar
clothes: linen jackets, loose trousers and sleeveless goatskin jackets.
The more affluent wear woolen overcoats. Most carry swords.
Before the founding of the People¡¯s
Republic of China in 1949, Pumi society was in many ways still organized
according to the pre-feudal clan system. In Yongsheng County, for
example, clan members lived together, with different clans having
different names. Families belonging to the same clan regularly ate
together to commemorate their common ancestry. Marriage was primarily
between clans. Internal disputes were arbitrated by the patriarch
or other respected elders. Clan members shared a commitment to help
one another through difficult times. In Yongsheng, ashes of the
dead of each clan were placed in the same forest cave.
Pumi communities in Yongsheng and Ninglang
counties were primarily made up of big families, while in Lanping
and Weixi counties, small families prevailed. Only sons were entitled
to inherit property, and the ancestral house usually was left to
the youngest son. Monogamy was customary, although some landlords
were polygamous. Parents chose their children's spouses, and marriage
between cousins was preferred. Most women married at 15, while most
men at 18. After 1949 such objectionable practices as forced marriage,
engagement of children not yet born and burdensome marriage-related
costs were gradually done away with.
Pumis celebrate the beginning of Spring
Festival (the Chinese Lunar New Year) and the 15th of the first
month of the lunar calendar. On the latter festival all Pumis, young
and old, clad in their holiday best, go camping on mountain slopes
and celebrate around bonfires. The holidays are devoted to sacrifices
to the "God of the Kitchen" and to feasting, horse racing,
shooting contests and wrestling.
Pumis are good singers and dancers.
Singing contests in which partners alternate verses are a feature
of wedding ceremonies and holidays. They dance to the flute, incorporating
in their movements gestures tied to their work as farmers, hunters
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Their main work was farming
crops. More than 90 per cent of the Pumis, in fact, farmed land
scattered on hill slopes. The Pumis' major crops were maize, wheat,
broad bean, barley, oats, Tibetan barley and buckwheat. However,
their output, relying largely on natural conditions, was generally
very low. Their farm tools came mainly from Han areas. Their farming
techniques were similar to those of their neighboring Hans, Naxis
and Lisus, though the few Pumis who lived in isolated communities
still farmed primitively.
Pumis also raised livestock, primarily
cattle and sheep. Non-farm activities included manufacture of wool
sweaters, linen, bamboo articles, liquor, charcoal and medicinal
herbs. Hunting, bee-keeping, pig and poultry raising were also common.
Some Pumis make fine crafts: lacquered wooden bowls made in Ninglang
County are known for their fine workmanship. Before liberation,
Pumis had no blacksmiths. Local tools were made of wood. All trade
In the decades prior to 1949, landlords
dominated the economy in Pumi areas in Lanping and Lijiang counties.
Except for a limited number of "public hills," the landlords
owned the land, and they exploited peasants by extorting rent in
kind, that accounted for at least 50 per cent of the harvest. Pumi
landlords and Naxi chiefs owned domestic slaves whom they could
sell or give away.
Since China¡¯s national liberation
in 1949, Pumis have become their own masters. They have been amply
represented in local people's congresses and government agencies
as well as in the National People's Congress. Democratic reforms
were completed between 1952 and 1956. The reforms were accompanied
by a large-scale construction program, which included irrigation
projects, factories, schools and hospitals. Their arid land was
transformed into terraced fields. Even in the cold, high-altitude
Maoniushan area of Ninglang County, the Pumis reaped good harvests
from 1,120 hectares of new paddy fields. New industries have been
developed: ironwork and salt and aluminum mining. Highways have
been built linking Pumi communities with neighboring areas.
The educational opportunities and health
care facilities for Pumis are rapidly expanding. Most children now
attend primary schools and many of them go on to middle schools.
Medical workers at clinics and health-care stations have replaced
witches as primary providers of care.