With a population of 634,912 recorded in the 2000 census, the Lisu ethnic minority mainly inhabit in the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, and the few in other cities within Yunnan and Sichuan. According to their clan history, they had close ties with the Yi and Naxi ethnic minorities.
Their language belongs to the Tibetan-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibentan phylum. There have been three distinct forms of writing, with the last, created in 1957 and based on the Latin alphabet, is widely used now.
They had believed the existence of gods and totem; but in the late 19th century some turned to the Christian faiths through the preaching of missionaries in China.
Food and Food Culture:
Their staple food is corn and buckwheat. Gall, a herb is considered to have medicinal qualities, cleansing the liver and digestive tract, as well as a seasoning. It is often mixed with wine or the boiled meat, and usually they will pass food to the seniors first, showing their politeness.
They are warm and open. No matter a guest being familiar or not, Lisu hosts will always treat them well. Offering the most delicious food and wine which is quite freely and with an elaborate etiquette. After holding the wine with delicate bamboo pole, a host will pour some onto the flour as an offering to esteemed ancestors, then drink a little themselves to show that the wine is palatable before finally offering it to guests with both hands.
They are a kind and honest. They will divide food into several parcels, hanging it on tree branches and caves along an outbound journey so as to provide food for the return leg. Other passersby, upon seeing these parcels will never touch them, even if they are very hungry.
There are also some taboos, and visitors should not make loud noises within the houses of the Lisu, as this is regarded to be inauspicious; when lodging with a Lisu family, they must close the door after dark; and without express permission, sacrifices must not be watched; etc.
People often say that the most beautiful clothes are those of the Lisu women, and there is some truth to this. They like to decorate their clothes and hair with pearls, coral, shells and silver rings. When singing and dancing during festivals, their jewelry and decoration add more to the sense of awe inspiring beauty. According to the color and region, the clothing is divided into three groups: the white, the black and the flowery Lisu. Girls at the age of thirteen or fourteen will attend a coming of age ceremony, held by the eldest women in her family. Only after that, they can wear adult skirt and decorations and have more communicative rights. Lisu men like to carry a knife, arrows and bow with them at all the time.
They created their own unique calendar which has ten months varying with the changes of nature, that is, blooming, tweedling, firing, collecting, harvest, wine boiling, hunting, year spending and house building months.
The grandest festivals are the Kuoshi Festival held on the first day of the lunar New Year, followed by the Zaotang Festival, and the most attractive Knife Pole Festival. In Chinese, people used to describe bravery with the phrase 'climb the Knife Mountain and dive into the fire sea'. On the eighth day of the second lunar month, if you visit the Lisu area, you will view the amazing realization of this saying through performances by brave Lisu men.