The official Hani nationality numbered 1.25 million people in the 1990 census. This is the result of the inclusion of more than a dozen distinct people groups into the official classification. These groups have been separated and profiled individually in Operation China. There are a multitude of selfappellations among the official Hani groups. They also "have over 100 ways of dressing themselves." This Profile deals only with the speakers of "Hani proper."
The Hani language consists of three tones and five dialects. More than 450,000 Hani can speak their language. Differences with each of the major dialects "are relatively small, and speakers from the different sub-dialects can generally understand each other." A Hani Roman alphabet was introduced in 1957 but was never widely embraced by the Hani who today have a low literacy rate.
In Hani legend a Sky god named Abo-Momi sent a buffalo to the earth to teach man that grass and trees must be planted to enable crops to grow everywhere else. If man would do this they would be able to eat every second day. Unfortunately the buffalo had a poor memory and told them the crops must be planted. He also told them to let the grass and trees grow everywhere else. If they would do that, the buffalo said, they would be able to eat twice every day. Man obeyed the buffalo's message but found their lives did not improve at all. When the buffalo returned to the sky, Abo-Momi was displeased and sent the buffalo back to the earth to help the Hani cultivate the soil. The water buffalo is still revered today among the Hani. When a Hani man dies his buffalo is slaughtered and buried with him, so that the beast can guide him to the next world.
The Hani are a needy and poverty-stricken people. The central government ranked them the lowest of China's official minorities in a "quality of life index." The Hani scored 38.3%, compared to the national average of 62.7%. They also ranked last for infant mortality, with 107 of every 1,000 Hani children dying during infancy. The Hani life expectancy is just 58 years.
The Hani have three major religious clergymen. The zuima is a male from the oldest household who directs all religious activities. The beima perform magic rites and exorcisms. Male and female nima make predictions and administer medicinal herbs.
The Hani have traditionally been one of the most gospel-neglected of China's minorities. The few efforts to evangelize them have been met with resistance. Because of the lack of gospel materials one writer notes, "Even if a Hani wants to hear about Jesus Christ, he can't, no matter how hard he tries."