Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The Zhaba are counted as part of the Tibetan nationality, although they speak a Qiangic language. The Zhaba may call themselves Buozi. Zhaba appears to be the name used to describe them by their Khampa Tibetan neighbors.
When Marco Polo passed through rural Tibetan areas in the thirteenth century he found unique local customs. Polo wrote, "No man of that country would on any consideration take to wife a girl who was a maid; for they say a wife is worth nothing unless she has been used to consort with men. ... When travelers come that way, the old women of the place get ready, and take their unmarried daughters ... to whomsoever will accept them. ... In this manner people traveling in that way ... shall find perhaps 20 or 30 girls at their disposal."
Promiscuity continues to be rife among the Zhaba. A 1950s survey of the Garze area found the rate of venereal diseases was 40% among people in peasant areas and 50.7% among people living in the pasture areas.
The Zhaba worship a wide variety of demons and ghosts. These influences date back to the pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion of Bon. They believe large demons live inside mountains, and so they offer frequent sacrifices to appease them.
There are no known Christians among the Zhaba, although there are a few Tibetan Catholics farther west near Litang. The Zhaba lead hard lives. Workers seeking to reach them will need to help them physically and not just spiritually. Isobel Kuhn, a missionary to the Lisu, said, "I have been a missionary for 27 years, but have never met a heathen tribesman who was looking for salvation. ... They don't know enough to reach out a hand for heavenly aid. Their eyes look not up but down - down on the earth and upon their bodily appetites."