Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The Gese (pronounced "Geh-Seh") are one of the dozens of tribes which the Chinese authorities combined to form the official Yi nationality. Jamin Pelkey notes, "Though no Chinese sources firmly attest to this people group's existence, this people refer to themselves as Gese in their own language and think of themselves as different from Naisu. The Gese are not the same as the Gesu or the Gepo - two other Yi tribes in Yunnan Province.
A rich oral history recounts the Gese's victory over a terrible plague that struck the people in their region. Their stories may well refer to the Black Plague that decimated Yunnan Province between 1812 and 1903. It is estimated to have reduced the population from eight million to three million.
Gese women are easily identifiable by their habit of wearing long earrings and black turbans. On the 13th day of the third lunar month the Gese celebrate the Flower Festival. They worship the Medicine King, who they believe saved their race from the plague in the past. According to their folklore, people everywhere were dying. The first sign of impending death was to lose feeling in their arms and legs. The Gese say numerous bodies were being carried out of their villages daily. The people who carried the corpses out also died because of contact with the bodies. The Medicine King set out to find a cure for the plague. He tasted 99 herbs from 99 mountains and drank 99 gulps of water from 99 springs, but none of them provided a cure. Finally he climbed the "Third Month Mountain" in the Gese area and tasted the herbs and drank the water. Immediately, feeling returned to his limbs. He ran down the mountain and told the people, who were also healed when they ate and drank from the mountain.
The respect the Gese have for the memory of the Medicine King borders on worship. They also appease locality spirits, such as the spirit of the soil, the spirit of the water, and the spirit of the forests.
There are no known Christians among the Gese people. Few mission agencies have ever heard of this hidden people who go about their lives in the remote mountains of Lufeng County. The area where the Gese live has historically been devoid of gospel witness, although in recent years it has been rumored that some A-Hmao evangelists have reached out to people there. In 1998 gospel recordings were produced in the Gese language for the first time.