Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The Enger Yugur, who speak a Mongolian language, have been combined with the Turkic-speaking Saragh Yugur to form the official Yugur minority in China.
Most scholars believe the Yugur are descended from a nomadic tribe known as the Huiqu. The Huiqu were first recorded during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). In the mid-800s, "heavy snowfall, combined with an attack from the forest-dwelling Kirgiz from the north, forced the Yugurs to flee their Mongolian homeland." They moved to Gansu where they came under the control of the Tibetans. The Yugur region was largely unknown and cut off from the world for centuries until the completion of the Lanzhou- Urumqi railway line in 1963 which passes through the Yugur area.
The Yugur practice bird burials, similar to the Tibetans. Dead corpses are cut up into pieces and taken to a mountaintop where ravens and other birds of prey come and devour the flesh. Historically the Yugur were divided into nine separate clans. Each clan controlled its own herding area.
When the Yugur first arrived in the area in the ninth century, they believed in Manichaeanism. They were soon converted to Buddhism by the Tibetans. Today most Yugur remain followers of Tibetan Buddhism. In recent years there has been a revival of the ancient shamanistic religion and the cult of the "Emperor of Heaven," Han Tengri.
Although few Enger Yugur today have ever heard the name of Jesus Christ, the region had many Christians in the past. The Ongkuts developed a widespread Christian culture, witnessed to by the many Christian crosses found by archaeologists. The Yugur are thought to be the descendants of this tribe. When Marco Polo visited Dunhuang, near the Yugur's homeland, he reported, "It is true there are some Turks who hold to the religion of the Nestorian Christians." In 1992 the first Enger Yugur people believed in Christ. Today there are approximately 50 Christians.