Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
Although officially counted as a Hani subgroup, the Neisu have possessed their own customs and national dress for centuries, as well as their own distinct language. One writer explains, "The term Hani can be a little misleading. In the 1950s, Communist government officials ... found a host of various minority groups and began to combine those that had some sort of affinity into larger groups for administrative purposes." Neisu women are easily identified by their distinctive roostershaped hat and the colorful decorations of silver and embroidery on their aprons.
The oral stories and poems of the Neisu are rich with images of high mountains and rice-terracing systems. The Neisu have been cultivating rice on the steep mountain slopes of southern China for many centuries.
Neisu villages are constructed, where possible, along mountain ridges. Their homes are built with thatched roofs. Inside there is a strict division between the men's part of the house and the women's. Males are not allowed in the women's section. Every year the Neisu traditionally carve a pair of male and female wooden figures. These are placed on paths leading to the village entrance. At the end of the year the figures are not removed but are simply left to rot. After a number of years the village entrance seems to be guarded by many of these distinctive carvings.
The primary religion among the Neisu is polytheism. The term polytheism literally means "many gods." Indeed the Neisu worship a multiplicity of deities, from Chinese Daoist gods to ones portrayed as fearsome figures brandishing swords and clutching the severed heads of their human victims.
There are believed to be several hundred Neisu Christians meeting in mixed churches with believers of other nationalities. In the 1950s and 1960s the Communist authorities launched a systematic plan to destroy the church in Honghe. Believers were forced to work on Sundays to prevent them from meeting together. Many worked twice as hard on Saturday to meet the quota for Sunday, so they could take the day off. Others continued to meet secretly on Sunday or stopped work to worship God in the fields. Believers still suffer discrimination today.