Population and Distribution
The Nu ethnic group has a population of 28,759 (in 2000) in which 96 % live in Gongshan, Fugong, Laping and Bijiang counties in Yunnan Province, along with Lisus, Drungs, Tibetans, Naxis, Bais and Hans. There is also a sparse distribution of Nu in Weixi County in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and Chayu County in Tibet Autonomous Region.
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 (1368 - 1644) 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.
In the eighth century, the area inhabited by the Nu people came under the jurisdiction of the Nanzhao and Dali principalities, which paid tribute to the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) court. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties they were administrated by a Naxi headman in Lijiang. From the 17th century on, Bai, Naxi and Tibetan rulers governed the Nu area simultaneously. In addition, the newly-immigrated Lisu headmen also oppress the Nu People, usurping the their land and sometimes carrying many of them off as slaves.
The Nu people used to be called Nusu, Anu, and Along. With the founding of the PRC in 1949, it was agreed upon that their official name would become the Nu ethnic group.
The spoken language of the Nu people, consisting of three dialects, belongs to the Tibetan-Burmese group of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. These dialects differ from each other so greatly that people from different dialect areas cannot even communicate. As a result of frequent contact with the Han and Lisu, most of them can speak Chinese and Lisu language. Without a written script system of their own, they used to keep records by carving notches on sticks. Now, Han script is in common use.
The Nu people believe in a 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 worshipped. Some also believe in Christianity and Lamaism.
The Nu people mainly engage in agriculture, but also hunt and gather wild plants. Their main crops include corn, buckwheat, barley, potatoes and beans. Some Nu people support themselves through cottage industries such as weaving, wine brewing, iron forging, etc.
The area inhabited by the Nu people is a kingdom of rare animals and plants. The dense forest here not only produces rare plants such as spruce, hemlock and fir but also serves as an important habitat for tigers, leopards, bears, red deer, and other animals. In addition, rich deposits of mineral resources, including bronze, iron, aluminum, crystal and mica, are found here.
The Nu people are used to having two meals per day. Their staple foods are maize and buckwheat. They seldom grow vegetables. The vegetables they do grow are usually leafy greens, cabbages, radishes, red peppers, etc. Each year in May and June, they often go to mountain forest areas to collect potherbs. The meat they eat mostly comes from family raised animals such as cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, and sheep; another meat source for them is wild game.
Both men and women like drinking. They are especially adept at brewing wine. They make wine at home with surplus grain. When a distinguished guest comes for a visit, they always entertain him with good wine.
The Nu people's houses, mostly built adjacent to mountains, include two types: plank houses and bamboo-slip houses. Both types of houses are two-storied. 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 second floor is subdivided into two rooms. The inner room is used as a bedroom as well as storeroom while the outer one, with a fireplace in the middle used for cooking, is for guests and also serves as the kitchen.
The floor of the house is made of planks or bamboo slips and is supported by a large number of stakes and pillars under it. So people figuratively called the house 'house propped on the ground by thousands of legs'.
Both men and women wear linen clothes. The women wear linen or cotton tunics with sleeves, which are buttoned on the left and long skirts. Young girls often wear aprons over their tunics. They like to wear necklaces strung with colored plastic beads. Some don beautiful head or chest ornaments with strings of coral, agates, shells and silver coins. They wear big copper earrings that hang to the shoulder.
Men often put on linen sleeved tunics over shorts. Most of them have ear length haircuts and wrap their heads with black turbans. Almost every man wears a string of coral on his left ear and hangs a machete from the left side of his waist. When they go out, they often carry machetes, bows, and arrow bags made from animal felt, which make them looks chivalrous and heroic.
The Nu people like singing and dancing. Their energetic and straightforward songs and dances are full of national flavor. In addition, they play short flutes, Kouxuang, Dabian, Chinese lute, and other ethnic accompaniment musical instruments.
The Fairy Festival, also called the Flower Festival, is a traditional festival celebrated by the Nu people who live in the Gongshan area of Yunnan Province. The festival comes on March 15th [lunar calendar], and lasts for three days. The legend goes that the Nu River often flooded in ancient times. A 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 time and time again. 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 sacrifice the fairy maiden at a cave called Fairy People Cave. After the 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 Jijiamu Festival is the Spring Festival of the Nu people. It 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 Bijiang, Fugong, Gongshan, Lanping and Weixi counties of 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.