Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The Western Gepo are one of approximately 120 distinct ethnic groups that have been combined to form the official Yi nationality in China. Although they use the same autonym, Gepo, as the Eastern Gepo people farther east in Yunnan Province, the two groups speak widely different languages. Local Chinese people call this group Baiyiren, "white-clad people." Gepo, in their own language, may mean "white people."
The history of most of the people groups in northern and western Yunnan has been one of conflict, warfare, and bloodshed. Great battles were waged over land, with smaller groups like the Western Gepo invariably losing out to the stronger and more powerful alliances. As a result, many of the Yi groups in Yunnan have become more pacified than their wild counterparts in Sichuan and the adjoining parts of northern Yunnan.
The Chinese themselves were often caught up in fighting between the different Yi groups. One traveler, who journeyed through the mountainous area near where the Western Gepo live, wrote, "As one travels further north the Lolos [Yi] become more numerous and more aggressive, until the Chinese are veritably besieged in their valley. We heard of nothing but the exploits of these brigands, who fall upon the valley, kill travelers, and pillage the inhabitants. All the villages are fortified, and posts occupied by peasants armed with pikes, tridents, sabers, and sometimes with indifferent flintlocks, are permanently established along the roadside."
Today most Western Gepo lead quiet lives as hardworking agriculturists. They enjoy relatively good relations with their neighbors, even with the Nosu who used to force them to do menial labor.
The Western Gepo are among the most unreached people groups in northern Yunnan Province. They live in an unevangelized corridor, while many Lisu Christians live farther to the west and the Eastern Lipo and Naluo churches are situated to the east. These believers could potentially be mobilized to take the gospel to the Western Gepo and other unreached peoples in Heqing.