With a population of about 33,600, the Pumi ethnic group is mainly distributed in Lanping, Lijiang, Weixi and Yongsheng counties of Yunnan Province, as well as in the Yi Autonomous County of Ninglang. Some live in Muli and Yanyuan counties in Sichuan Province as well.
The ancestors of Pumi were a nomadic tribe living in the southern part of Gansu Province and the eastern part of Qinghai Province. Later, their descendants moved south to warmer areas along the Hengduan Mountain Range. After the 13th century, the Pumi ethnic group gradually settled down in Ninglang, Lijiang, Weixi and Lanping counties.
The Pumi ethnic group has its own language, which belongs to the Tibetan-Myanmese family of the Chinese-Tibetan language system. They also have their own simple written language based on Tibetan letters, but now Chinese characters are widely used among Pumi people.
They mostly worship nature and their ancestors. Some of them also believe in Daoism and Buddhism.
Pumi people mainly engage in agriculture and their main products include maize, rice, wheat and highland barley. They eat three meals per day, in which corn is the staple food. They enjoy a variety of vegetables and fruit including Chinese cabbage, carrots, eggplant and melon. A favorite food of the Pumi is 'pipa meat' - salted pork wrapped in pork skin in the shape of a pipa (lute).
Costumes and Customs
Pumi women in Ninglang and Yongsheng often wear jackets with buttons down one side, long, pleated skirts, multi-colored wide belts and goatskins draped over their backs. In the Lanping and Weixi areas, women tend to wear green, blue or white long-sleeved jackets under vests, trousers and embroidered belts. Women often wind their plaited hair mixed with yak tail hairs and silk threads and then wrap their heads in large handkerchiefs, Jewelry, such as silver earrings and bracelets, is prized by the women. Men normally wear linen jackets, loose trousers and sleeveless goatskin jackets. Some of them also carry long swords and deerskin bags. Pumi people over thirteen must go through the ablution rites of manhood and only after ablution may they put on adult clothing and take part in society's activities.
Pumi people are good singers and dancers. Singing contests in which partners alternate singing verses are a feature of wedding ceremonies and holidays. They dance to the flute, incorporating in their movements and gestures symbolizing their work as farmers, hunters and weavers.
The Pumi celebrate the beginning of Spring Festival (the Chinese Lunar New Year) and the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar. During the latter festival all Pumi people, young and old, clad in their holiday best, go camping on mountain slopes and celebrate around bonfires. Horse racing, shooting contests and wrestling are held at the same time.