|The history of the Nusu: a history of oppression|
All the Nusu believe they descend from a feminine ancestor called Maochongying who was born of the mating of a bee and a snake in some of their legends, or of a bee and a tiger in other versions. The ancestor Maochongying will mate later with different animals, as the tiger, the snake, the bee, the roe deer and the deer, giving origin in this way to the clans of the same name, and with them to the whole humanity. This own process seems to indicate the existence between the Nusu of a primary totem and other secondary, as has been studied with detail for the Yi by Yang Heshen (1)
Maochongying (or Mengchongying in other books) would mean Heaven (meng)
Descended (chong) Person (ying). Duan Ling (2) suggest that this name
can refer to one of the first ancestors, and, as the genealogies of the
Tiger's Clan and Bee's Clan go back to 63 ancestors, he thinks (calculating
30 years as a generation) that Maochongying must have lived about 1.900
years ago, that is, during the Han dynasty. But we think that 30 years
is a too long span for a generation (3). If we consider the average generation
span as 20 years, we can date the supposed changes in the live of the
Nusu reflected in their creation myth to have occurred about 1260 years
ago, that is about the eighth century, the turmoil years that preceded
the establishment of the Nanzhao Kingdom (738-902).
of this ancestor, and their primitive totemic cults, can suggest that
in a remote age the Nosu society was matriarchal. If it was so, maybe
the changes in their society were part of the changes Yunnan Province
as a whole experienced during the Nanzhao Kingdom.
seem to have had a close relationship in the past with the Yi of Liangshan.
Both call themselves in a similar way (the Yi of Liangshan call themselves
Nosu). Both peoples worship the black color, a color worshipped by many
other ethnic groups that could have been related to them in the past.
Also, in the Chinese documents of the Yuan dynasty both them Nusu and
Nousu, are called in a similar way receiving all them the name of Lulu.
to the Nusu traditions they come from Lijiang, from where they emigrated
first toward Lanping County, and later to the banks of the Nujiang River,
their current location. According to their genealogies, quite accurate,
they arrived at the Nujiang River about 1000 years ago, a fact that is
consistent to what we know for the Chinese historical registers.
of the Nusu in virtual isolation on the Nujiang River began to change
in the 18th century, when they were not only affected by the new imperial
policies aimed to increase the control of the government on the minorities
of China, but for the movements of peoples that they caused. In that way
those Nusu that lived in a traditional way at the beginning of this century,
as show the reports sent by the local authorities to the imperial government,
saw their way of life modified forever.
main elements that modified their existence, closely related to each other,
or increase of the tribute, that at the beginning of the century consisted
(4) in an animal skin, a package of medicinal herbs and 2.5 kg of bee
wax. The tribute increased continuously as it made the bureaucracy created
2. The arrival
of the Lisu. Although the Lisu arrived to Nujiang escaping from the imperial
oppression, and even in some occasions after having been defeated, their
superior technological development soon placed them in an advantageous
situation with regard to the Nusu, that soon became their victims, suffering
the loss of their lands at the hands of the Lisu chiefs and in some cases
even becoming their slaves. Those Lisu chiefs secured their power becoming
a link in the chain of the state oppression, located between the Tusi
of Lijiang and Dali and the Nusu. They pick up taxes on behalf of the
Tusi that already include baskets, wine and other local products, keeping
a part for them.
3. The arrival
of the Leimo (a branch of the Bai) had a similar effect. The Leimo became
during a time the lords of the Nusu, what produced several conflicts between
them. According to Nusu legends, the Leimo invaders were defeated by an
alliance between the Clan of the Tiger and the Clan of the Bee. Nevertheless
the Leimo were forced to give the political power to the Lisu, more numerous.
establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, the first government offices
were open up in the area, building barracks, schools and warehouses, settling
down for the whole Prefecture of Nujiang a system similar to that of the
the communist reforms were implemented among the Nusu. Although it put
an end to the oppression of the Lisu landowners, the Nusu lives were then
regulated by a series of communist intermediate cadres that locally applied
with great freedom the national policies. Many aspects of their culture
and traditional religion were forbidden.
of the 80s, the wind of freedom that blows in China has arrived until
that corner of the country where the Nusu live, letting them experience
a remarkable revitalization of their culture.
a future, nevertheless, full of new challenges. Both the tourist development
of the Nujiang River, and the projected building of a chain of huge dams
on the river, can undermine their already feeble culture.
(1) Yang Heshen. - Tuteng cengci lun (Discussion on the scale of the totem). Yunnan Peoples Press. Kunming. 1991
(2) Duan Ling.- Nuzu (The Nu nationalitry). Nationalities Press. Beijing. 1991
also generally accept that the length of a generation was closer to 20
years in earlier times when humans mated younger and life expectancies
were shorter". Donn Devin.- How Long Is a Generation?. http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article=11152.
jian shi" bianxiezu. - Nuzu jian shi (Brief history of the Nuzu)
Yunnan Peoples Press. Kunming. 1987
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