The Nu ethnic minority

The Nu ethnic minority

    The majority of the 27,200 Nus live in the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, with a scattering found in Weixi County in the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
The Nu people speak a language belonging to the Tibetan-Myanmese group of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. It has no written form, and, like many of their ethnic minority neighbors, the Nus used to keep records by carving notches on sticks; educated Nus nowadays use the Han language (Chinese).
    The Nu homeland is a country of high mountains and deep ravines crossed by the Lancang, Dulong and Nujiang rivers. The famous Grand Nujiang Canyon is surrounded by mountains, which reach 3,000 meters above sea level.
 
    The area is rich in mineral deposits and valuable medicinal herbs. In addition, with a warm climate and plentiful rain, it promises great hydroelectric potential.

Culture and Customs

    The major crops were maize, buckwheat, barley, Tibetan barley, potatoes, yams and beans.  Industry was represented by handicraft products made on a cottage-industry basis -- linen, bamboo and wooden articles, iron tools, and liquor. Surplus handicrafts were bartered for necessities in the small markets.

    After marriage, men would move out of the family dwelling and set up a new household with some of the family property. The new family, however, still retained a cooperative relationship with the parental family and the whole clan. The youngest son lived with his parents and inherited their property.

    The Nus live in wooden or bamboo houses, each usually consisting of two rooms. The outer one is for guests and also serves as the kitchen. In the middle is the fireplace, with an iron or stone tripod for hanging cooking pots from. The inner room is used as a bedroom and grain storage, and is off-limits to outsiders. The houses are built by the common efforts of all the villagers and are usually erected in one day.

    Girls after puberty wore long skirts and jackets with buttons on the right side. Nu women in Gongshan wrapped themselves in two pieces of linen cloth and stuck elaborately-worked bamboo tubes through their pierced ears. Married women in Bijiang and Fugong wore coral, agate, shell and silver coin ornaments in their hair and on their chests. For earrings they used shoulder-length copper rings. Besides, all Nu women like to adorn themselves with thin rattan bracelets, belts and anklets. Nu men wear linen gowns and shorts, and carry axes and bows and arrows.

    The staple food of the Nus is maize and buckwheat. They rarely grow vegetables. In the past, just before the summer harvest they had to gather wild plants to keep alive. Both men and women drink large quantities of strong liquor.

    The Nus were animists, and objects of worship included the sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, trees and rocks. In addition, Lamaism and Christianity had made some headway among the Nus before liberation.