The Central Yi of China
Some six million Yi, (also known as the Lolo) can be found living in the southern provinces of China. The Yi language has six distinct dialects, Central Yi being one of them. This dialect, spoken by the 212,000 Central Yi, is the only known distinction between them and the other Yi groups.
Over the centuries, the Yi have successfully maintained their own traditions and culture. Originally, their society was one of hereditary classes made up of nobles, commoners, and slaves. This caste system remained unchanged until the 1950's when the new socialist government made many reforms.
What are their lives like?
The Central Yi live in a mountainous area. They are involved in farming and breeding sheep and goats for their meat and wool. They grow maize, potatoes, buckwheat, and oats; and their diet is supplemented by gathering roots, wild greens, and herbs.
In the past, parents arranged the marriages. In some instances, ceremonial kidnapping of the bride was a custom. Usually, the bride remained at her parent's home until the first child was born. The groom would spend this time setting up his own household. After the birth of the child, the wife joined her husband.
Traditionally, mountain villages were small, averaging some ten to twenty households. More recently, however, there has been a shift to brick and tile housing, with livestock penned in adjacent buildings. Some Central Yi also live in log houses.
Yi women wear colorful costumes with bright embroideries, and are very fond of earrings. The men wear dark coats. They also grow a tuft of long hair on their heads because they believe that is where the soul dwells, and that it must not be touched. Both men and women wear thick blankets called charvas. Made of coarse wool, these knee-length blankets are used as capes during the day and quilts at night.
The Yi celebrate an annual Flower Festival. Beautiful flowers are presented to others as a blessing, wishing them long lives and good fortunes. Young men and women exchange flowers as a way of showing their admiration for each other.
What are their beliefs?
Magic plays a major role in the daily lives of the Yi. In their society, a bimo (shaman or medicine man) is held in high esteem. He performs various religious ceremonies, including sacrifices, teaching religious concepts, and serving as the mediator between humans and the spirit world.
Surprisingly, many of the Yi's beliefs are similar to our own. For example, they believe in a creator God who is both near and accessible. They also believe in heaven and hell. Saturday is observed as a rest day, and a flood story in their sacred writings is very similar to the Biblical account of Noah.
What are their needs?
Although there have been some efforts to evangelize the Central Yi, there are very few believers. The missions agencies targeting the Yi are still awaiting translation of the Bible into the Central Yi dialect.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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