Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
Although they have been officially placed under the Yi nationality in China, the Xuzhang Lalu are different from all other ethnic groups. They possess their own identity, language, and customs. A local government source, the Baoshan Xian Zhi, states, "There are numerous divisions of the Yi in Baoshan County; based on a combination of autonyms [self-names], languages, and distribution, there are five kinds all together." Three of the Yi groups in Baoshan, the book concludes, are legitimate, distinct people groups.
It seems likely that the Xuzhang Lalu were once part of the large and influential Laluo people of Menghua who dominated the region from at least the eighth century AD. For an unknown reason, perhaps as they searched for more arable land, the ancestors of the Xuzhang Lalu migrated westward from the main body of Laluo. After centuries of separation they developed their own language, customs, and identity, although their name is only slightly different from the Laluo today.
Every year during the sixth and seventh months of the lunar calendar, activities known as the Flower Street Festival are organized in some Lalu communities. "On these occasions, people from all over the district come to an open area on a mountain peak. ... The young boys and girls participate in singing and dancing. Should a boy wish to pursue a certain girl, he will throw a white handkerchief at her. If the girl is willing to take him as a boyfriend, she will indicate this by picking the handkerchief up."
When a Lalu man dies, his relatives hold a feast of mourning which they call za. "A pig or sheep is sacrificed in the doorway. ... The nearer kindred, on hearing of the death of a relative, take a fowl and strangle it. ... The mourner then proceeds to his house and sticks the fowl near the head of the corpse as an offering." This ritual represents the beliefs of the Xuzhang Lalu, which are a combination of spirit worship and ancestor worship.
Although Baoshan County contains a number of Lisu and Jingpo Christians, they have not been able to take the gospel to most Xuzhang Lalu because of communication barriers.