ETHNONYMS: Pei Er Mi, Peimi, Primi, Xifan
The 29,657 (1990) Pumi live primarily in Lijiang Prefecture and the Nujiang area in northwestern Yunnan Province; a few live in two counties in Sichuan Province. They are mountain people, occupying elevations as high as 2,600 meters. The Pumi language is a member of the Tibeto-Burman Branch of the Sino-Tibetan Language Family. There is much use of Han for written communication. "Pumi" is the name they agreed on for themselves in 1960. Prior to that, they were classified as Qiang. In Chinese texts Pumi were formerly called "Xifan" (Western barbarians). Names in self-use also include "Pei Er Mi" or "Peimi" (whites).
History and legend both indicate that the Pumi people long ago were migratory inhabitants of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. They subsequently moved south to the Hengduan Mountains. As they settled, agriculture became of more importance than the raising of livestock.
The Pumi build their villages 500 meters or more apart, on the gentler slopes. Pumi construct two-story houses out of wood; the ground floor is used to house livestock, and the upper floor is living space.
The Pumi staple food is corn, but they also raise rice, wheat, barley, beans, oats, highland barley, buckwheat, Chinese cabbage, carrots, eggplant, and melons. They also practice animal husbandry, raising cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, and bees. A favorite meat dish is salt pork wrapped in pork skin. The Pumi make wool sweaters, linen, bamboo goods, liquor, lacquered wooden bowls, charcoal, and herbal medicines. Prior to 1950 Pumi society was stratified, with landlord and rich-peasant families dominating in some areas; 30 percent or more of households worked as tenant farmers. In some areas, the landlords were Naxi. Domestic slavery was also common, particularly in Ninglang County. Some lands were owned by Naxi hereditary tusi until well into the twentieth century.
The Pumi were traditionally organized into exogamous clans. Clan members frequently ate together, and disputes were settled by clan patriarchs. Among some Pumi groups, each clan had its own cave to hold the ashes of its deceased members.
Marriages were traditionally arranged by parents, and marriage to cross cousins was preferred. Polygamy was permitted. Only men could inherit property; the parents' house usually went to the youngest son. Postmarital residence is still usually patrilocal. In some areas there are delayed-transfer marriages (bride-price paid only after the wife becomes pregnant or has her first child), and since those in Yongning are influenced by Naxi there is also some following of the Naxi marriage pattern (women stay in their natal families, and the lover visits them there).
The Pumi religion is Lamaism, although there is still considerable belief in traditional spirits and concern with a non-Buddhist array of supernaturals, ancestors, and household tutelary spirits. Holiday activities include sacrifices to the "God of the Kitchen," feasting, bonfires, horse races, shooting contests, and wrestling.
The Communist Revolution has brought schools, health facilities, and new industries, including ironworking and bauxite and salt mining. As a result of irrigation projects, terraced fields have gradually replaced earlier techniques of dry-land and slash-and-burn farming.
Ma Yin, ed. (1989). China's Minority Nationalities, 313— 16. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.
National Minorities Questions Editorial Panel (1985). Questions and Answers about China's Minority Nationalities. Beijing: New World Press.
Shen Che, and Lu Xiaoya (1989). Life among the Minority Nationalities of Northwest Yunnan, 2-24. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.