Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
Apart from their neighbors, few people have ever heard of the Liwu. They do not have much interaction with the other people groups in their area. In the 1950s the Chinese authorities turned down the claims of the Liwu, who asked to be recognized as a distinct ethnic group. Instead, they were placed in the official Yi nationality which contains approximately 120 different ethnolinguistic groups spread throughout southern China.
The last several hundred years of history for the inhabitants of Yongsheng County have been ones of terror and domination at the hands of the Xiaoliangshan Nosu, who took slaves at will and imposed their rulership on the other peoples.
In the past many men from different branches of the Yi nationality obtained their wives by force. When Samuel Clarke visited in the early 1900s, he reported, "The bridegroom gathers his friends and makes an attack on the maiden's home. Arming themselves with cudgels ... they approach secretly and then rush towards the house. Strenuous efforts are made by the occupants to prevent their entering, and weighty blows are exchanged. ... Occasionally during these fights the maiden's home is quite dismantled. The negotiations being concluded, preparations are made for escorting the bride to her new home. On arriving at the bridegroom's house there is a scuffle. The veil is snatched from the bride's face by her kinsmen, who do their utmost to throw it on the roof, to signify that she will rule over the occupants when she enters. The bridegroom's people, on the other hand, do all they can to trample it down on the doorstep as an indication of the rigor with which the newcomer will be subjected to the ruling of the head of the house. Much blood is sometimes shed, and people are often seriously injured in these skirmishes."
The Liwu believe their souls live on after death, so great preparation is made to help the soul of a deceased Liwu find its way back to the ancestral home. For this reason, deceased Liwu are buried in their traditional clothing and with objects that help the spirits identify the person as a Liwu.
The Liwu suffer the misfortune of living in one of the most unevangelized and neglected areas in all of China. As a result, there are no churches or known Christians in their midst. Most have never heard the name of Jesus Christ.