Despite their large population, very little is known about the Poluo, who are officially counted as part of the Yi nationality. The Poluo have never before been listed in ethnographic or linguistic lists from China. One researcher has stated, "The Poluo never refer to themselves as 'Yi' in their own language; instead, Poluo is used. The Han Chinese in their areas are also apt to call this people Pu instead of Yi. The title Yi is virtually meaningless in reference to this people."
The Poluo are one of the most far-flung Yi groups in China today. They are believed to be the descendants of a large tribe that splintered into numerous ethnic groups during migrations many centuries ago.
Poluo houses are customarily built near streams or rivers to allow easy access to water. Bamboo pipes are arranged to carry the water into the village. Many Poluo live in extremely remote locations at the top of isolated mountains.
The vast majority of Poluo still adhere to the superstitions of animism, polytheism, and ancestor worship. In some locations a festival is observed on a dragon or ox day of the second lunar month. Each village chooses a day, and all the people gather around a large tree to hold a ceremony in worship of the dragon. The Poluo, along with many other peoples classified as Yi, believe the dragon is responsible for rainfall and other natural phenomena. They hope to appease the dragon in order to quell floods and prevent drought.
The first modern-day missionary in China, Robert Morrison, knew people must have the Word of God in their own language. He wrote, "I am still engaged in translation. My courage and perseverance almost fail me. This is a very lonely situation. I am under continual dread of the arm of the oppressor, and the natives who assist me are hunted from place to place and sometimes seized. ... What a blessing it is to have the hope of eternal life rising brighter and brighter as we enter the valley."