Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The Northern Naxi are linguistically distinct from other groups of Naxi in China, including those who live in Zhongdian County. The Northern Naxi also possess a different style of dress and customs from their counterparts in Lijiang. The Northern Naxi, including those inside Tibet, still proudly identify themselves as members of the Naxi nationality.
Today's various branches of the Naxi nationality in China, including the Mosuo, Naru, and Naheng, all share the same migration stories. They claim they originated on the Tibetan Plateau and migrated en masse approximately 1,000 years ago in search of better pasturelands. The Northern Naxi claim they came to live in their present location by two means. Firstly, during the original migration certain families who had fallen sick or weak were left behind while the main body continued their journey south. They settled down along the banks of the Lancang River and gradually formed into communities. Secondly, the Northern Naxi say Naxi soldiers from Lijiang were sent north in the past to guard the fertile valleys from invaders and bandits. Many of these soldiers stayed behind in the area.
To an outsider, there is little to visually distinguish the Northern Naxi from neighboring Tibetans today. The Northern Naxi wear Tibetan clothing.
The Northern Naxi are comprised of several interesting religious elements. Most follow Tibetan Buddhism. Ancestors are also worshiped and revered. In addition, a small number of Northern Naxi have converted to Catholicism.
Between 50 and 100 Catholic believers are found among the Northern Naxi. Most of them meet in Deqen Tibetan churches, including one church at Yanjing, just inside Tibet, which contains more than 700 ethnic Tibetan believers and a small number of Northern Naxi.