Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
Although the Northern Awu share the same autonym as the Southeastern Awu, the two groups speak vastly differing languages and live separated by more than 200 miles of rugged mountains. The Northern Awu have been officially included under the Yi nationality by the Chinese government, even though they possess their own customs, ethnicity, and language.
The Northern Awu have lived in their remote part of Yunnan Province for many centuries. They may have been former slaves of the Xiaoliangshan Nosu, who dominated the lives of people in the area until slave trade was finally abolished in the late 1950s.
Numerous festivals are celebrated by the Yi peoples of northern Yunnan. The Northern Awu participate in many of them, including the Garment Competition which involves the women's embroidery skills. All the women are dressed in their finest attire, which causes the hillsides to come alive with color. Later, there is singing and dancing, and special competitions are held. This festival affords young people a chance to meet prospective partners. It also allows older participants a time to relax from their work and to catch up with their friends and relatives from other areas.
The Northern Awu believe in a host of spirits and deities which must be appeased in order to bring peace and prosperity to their communities. They also believe the human soul lives on after death and travels back to the abode of ancestors.
Little Christian activity has ever taken place in Yongsheng County. The remote mountains and former threat of slavery combined to keep evangelists and missionaries away from the area. As a result, the Northern Awu are an unreached and unevangelized people group with no access to the gospel and no contact with Christians.