Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
Few people have ever heard of the Suodi. Most publications have failed to distinguish the Suodi from the Nosu, who are the largest Yi group inhabiting the Daliangshan in southern Sichuan. Although the Suodi and Nosu languages are related, they are different enough that speakers have difficulty in communicating and often must revert to Chinese in order to be understood. Just as important, Suodi is the autonym of this group. They do not call themselves Nosu or Yi. The Suodi have been included under the official Yi nationality by the Chinese authorities.
For centuries the Suodi have been caught up in violence, slavery, and warfare with their Nosu neighbors and between respective clans of Suodi. As Chinese influence expanded into the Suodi area, frequent clashes between the Suodi and Chinese soldiers erupted. In 1911 the Suodi took several hundred people into slavery to avenge a surprise Chinese attack near Huili a few weeks earlier. "Jubilant in victory, the Chinese loaded four ponies with Lolo [Suodi] heads to bring them to Ningyuanfu. Since this load was too heavy, the Chinese cut off the ears and brought them into the city to be presented to their commander."
The Suodi are engaged in a wide variety of occupations, including traders, farmers, and herders. In the past many Suodi were opium addicts - a vice that is slowly resurfacing among Suodi youth.
A complex form of polytheism is practiced by the Suodi. They worship a host of deities and spirits, hoping their devotion will prevent disaster coming upon their families and villages. They also believe in Yasomu, an all-powerful deity, and they keep ancestral tablets.
Catholic missionaries first reached out to the Suodi in Huili in 1802. In 1809, "Monsieur Hamel sent Thomas Tsin into this area, and he founded five stations, baptized seventy-four adults, and registered the names of thirty-six catechumens." American and Australian Baptist missionaries were also stationed at Huili before 1949. Little longterm work actually survived in the area. Numerous obstacles were placed before the missionaries by Chinese officials. "The desire of the missionaries was to plant a strong church among the savages in the mountains, but the opposition from both the [Suodi] and the Han Chinese was too great. They had to settle for spreading the faith among the Chinese." Today there are no more than a few hundred Catholic believers among the Suodi. Most members of this group have yet to hear the gospel for the first time.