Nanman, Shuiluo Valley
Shaxi Projekt
The Shuiluo Valley
Cultural diversity and social aspects

Ethnic Tibet – The Hengduan region belongs to the eastern part of “Ethnic Tibet”, where the origin of the Tibetan culture is assumed. It is inhabited since palaeolithic times. Most of the recent ethnic groups seem to be descendants of the so-called Qiang, the supposed ancestors of the Tibetans, who migrated from NE to SE Tibet approximately 1000 B.C.

Historical trade routes – Since the second half of the first millennium the region was crossed by important historical trade routes, resulting in a remarkable cultural exchange with neighbouring countries like Central China, Burma or India, but more recently the area was highly isolated.

Cultural diversity – Various aspects characterize the cultural diversity among the recent ethnic groups. Differences are found among the language, traditional cloths, agricultural system, religion, and “social structure”. One of the most obvious distinguishing features is the different language that characterizes each ethnic group. They all belong to the Tibeto-Burman language group, which show similarities not only with the Tibetan but also with the Burmese language. Also the traditional cloths vary considerably. Quite simple dresses contrast with highly elaborated ones such as the headdresses and skirts of the Yi women. According to the agricultural system the ethnic groups can be divided into two major groups, the paddy farmers and the “barley cultivators”. The former tend to live at lower elevations.
The religion is influenced by both Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism) and animistic Bön-religion. Some ethnic groups, such as the Naxi, mainly practice an animistic religion with rituals performed by so-called Dongbas, their ritual specialists. Others practice a mixture of both or have converted to the Tibetan Buddhism.

Social structures – Also the “social structures”, i.e. forms of residence and marriage, are highly diverse. Households may be bequeathed matrilinealy or patrilinealy, i.e. among the daughters or the sons. In addition, a variety of marriage types exist beside the one-woman-one-man alliance, such as two brothers sharing one wife, two sisters sharing one husband, not cognate men sharing one woman, not cognate women sharing one man, etc. Among the matrilineal Mosuo marriage not even exist. Because traditional ethnological lineage theories fail to explain the diverse residence and marriage forms, studies among the Naxi, Mosuo, Tibetans, Lisu or Kachin emphasize the house as central social entity (not the lineage) and the household with an extended family as basic organisational unit.


Geographical aspects and plant diversity
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Used literature

Aziz B. 1978. Tibetan Frontiers Families. Vikas Publishing House, New Dehli.

Baumer C. 1999. Bön. Die lebendige Ur-Religion Tibets. Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz.

Baumer C. and Weber T. 2002. Ost-Tibet. Brücke zwischen Tibet und China. Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz.

Beckwith C.I. 1987. The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Cai H. 1995. Les Na. Une société sans père ni mère. Ph.D. thesis in Comparative Ethnology and Sociology, University of Paris.

Chao E.K. 1995. Depictions of differences: History, gender, ritual and state discourse among the Naxi of Southwest China. Ph.D. thesis in Anthropology, University of Michigan.

Dollfuss P. 1989. Lieu de neige et de genévriers. Centre de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris.

Goodman J. 1997. Children of the Jade Dragon. The Naxi of Lijiang and their mountain neighbours Yi. Peoples and Cultures of southeast Asia. Amarin, Bangkok.

Hsu E. 1998a. Introduction. In Oppitz M. and Hsu E. (eds), Naxi and Moso Ethnography: Kin rites and pictographs.Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich, Zürich: 9-19.

Hsu E. 1998b. The house among the Moso and the Naxi. In Oppitz M. and Hsu E. (eds), Naxi and Moso Ethnography: Kin rites and pictographs. Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich, Zürich: 67-99.

Hutheesing O.K. 1990. Emerging sexual inequality among the Lisu of Northern Thailand. Brill, Leiden.

Knödel S. 1995. Die matrilinearen Moso von Yongning: Eine quellenkritische Auswertung moderner chinesischer Ethnographien. Lit Verlag, Münster.

Leach E.R. (1954) 1993. Political systems of Highland Burma. Athlone Press, London.

Mair V.H. (ed) 1998. The bronze age and early iron age peoples of eastern central Asia. The Institute for the Study of Men. Washington.

Mathieu C. 1996. Lost kingdom and forgotten tribes: Myths mysteries and mother-right in the history of Naxi nationality and the Mosuo people of Southwest China. Ph.D. thesis, Murdoch University.

McKhann C.F. 1992. Fleshing out the bones: Kinship and cosmology in Naqxi religion. Ph.D. in Social Anthropology, University of Chicago.

Schicklgruber C. 1993. Who marries who and why among the Khumbo? In Ramble C. and Brauen M. (eds), Anthropology of Tibet and the Himalaya. Ethnologisches Museum Zürich.

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