Identification. "Wa" (Va) refers to a mountain people who reside in southwest China, spreading across the border into Myanmar (Burma). They have a well-defined homeland called "A Wa Shan" (Mount A Wa) by the local peoples. The three names by which the Wa refer to themselves, "Va," "Pa rauk," and "A va," all mean "a people who reside in the mountain." The Wa distinguish themselves by their own language—Wa. Their history has been preserved through legends passed on orally by cultural and religious specialists and the elders. The Wa are well known for their religious practices such as oxen sacrifices. Their material culture is also distinctive, including their method of mountain agriculture, their unique way of cooking, and their hand-woven costume and dress, as well as their mountain villages with bamboo houses.
Location. In China, the Wa inhabit the region between 22° and 24° N and 99° and 100° E, called A Wa Shan. It is the southern part of the Nu Shan Mountains, running between Lancang Jiang and Nu Jiang (Salween) and is formed of steep peaks that are sharply cut through by innumerable deep valleys with rivers and streams. The highest peak reaches 2,800 meters while the deepest valleys lie about 1,800 meters below that point. In the subtropical zone, this region has just two seasons—a rainy one and a dry one—with annual average rainfall of 150 to 300 centimeters falling between June and October, and with an annual average temperature of 17° C, ranging from 0° to 35° C.
Demography. According to the China censuses, the population of the Wa within China was 175,000 in 1958 and increased to 266,853 by 1978 and to 351,974 by 1990. Most of these people inhabit the southwest corner of Yunnan Province, in the counties of Ximeng, Cangyuan, Menglian, Gengma, Lancang, Shuangjiang, Yongde, and Zhenkang. In Ximeng and Cangyuan, the two counties that are the center region of A Wa Shan, the percentage of the Wa population was 88.3 in 1958 and 79 by 1978. In the latter six counties, which they inhabit together with other peoples (mostly Dai, Lahu, and Han), the percentage of the Wa population runs from 9 to 20. Besides these eight counties in the A Wa Shan region, the Wa are also spread through Baoshan, Dehong, and Xishuangbanna and some regions of Myanmar and Thailand.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Wa language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Branch of the Southern-Asian Language Family and is very close to De'ang (spoken by the De'ang or Palaungs, who reside in Yunnan, China and in Myanmar) and Bulang (spoken by the Bulang or Blang, who reside in Yunnan, China).