The Naxi Minority in Yunnan – My Yunnan Trip # 16


As I mentioned in my post “My Yunnan Trip #1”, there are many minorities in Yunnan. I am particularly interested in the Naxi or Nakhi minority, because of their matriarch family structure, which is very different from the Han’s family structure in China.

The Naxi people mostly live in the Naxi Autonomous County in Lijiang, Yunnan Province, while the rest live in Sichuan and Tibet. Their population is 308,893 according to the 2000 census. In the name Naxi (also spelled Nakhi), Na means senior and honored and Xi means people.

The Nakhi form one of the 56 recognized ethnic groups officially recognized by the People’s Republic of China. The official Chinese government classification includes the Mosuo as part of the Nakhi people, although neither ethnicity support this categorization. Although both groups are descendents of the Qiang people, together with Tibetans, Pumi and Yi, and notwithstanding very striking resemblances between their respective languages, the two groups are now understood to be culturally distinct, the Nakhi more influenced by the very patriarchal Han Chinese culture, the Mosuo more influenced by Tibetan culture and their own matriarchal family practice.

However, from the Naxi women that we met, I noticed that many of them are strong women with leadership skills.  They did tell us that the men in Lijiang, have nothing to do, and most of the work inside or outside the household are all done by women.  The literature I reviewed like the wiki I quoted above, said that the Naxi women are more like the Han tradition now.  Yet, at a PBS documentary which I came across after I came back, the Naxi women interviewed said that they still hold the tradition of “walking marriage”, i.e. they do not get married, but have boyfriends who come to their home and stay overnight.  The women can have as many different boyfriends as they like.  They do give birth to children who stay in the mother’s home.  I do believe  this tradition is changing though, as compared to the Mosuo minority which is mainly a matriarch family structure.  However, the tradition of “walking marriage” is indeed very interesting.  I think it does signify the important status of women in the Naxi people.  The lady who tried to sell a special dietary supplement to us, told a male trip member that if he styed in Yunnan, he would be very comfortable!

The Naxi women also have very special dress. See these pictures.

The Nakhi women wear wide-sleeved loose gowns accompanied by jackets and long trousers, tied with richly decorated belts at the waist.Sheepskin is worn over the shoulder. Especially in Ninglang County, the women wear short jackets and long skirts reaching the ground with several folds. Large black cotton turbans are worn around their heads, which are accompanied with big silver earrings. The men’s costume is much like that of Han Chinese. In modern times, traditional dress is rarely worn among the younger generation. It is now usually only worn at cultural events and on special occasions.

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