Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The Zuoke are a distinct ethnic group. They are proud of their unique ethnicity and history as a people and do not see themselves to be the same as any other people group. Despite these facts, the Chinese authorities have placed the Zuoke under the large and all-embracing Yi nationality which contains 120 different groups. Jamin Pelkey notes, "The Zuoke consider themselves different from the Poluo around them, and certainly do not consider themselves to be Yi." Some of the alternate names for the Zuoke include Niuweiba (Cowtail), Changpu (Long Pu) and Baipu (White Pu). These are probably names given to them by other ethnic groups and are not used by the Zuoke themselves.
According to Zuoke oral history, they originally lived in the Dali area of west central Yunnan and migrated to Wenshan around the time of the Nanzhao Kingdom (possibly about AD 900).
Chinese anthropologist Lu Jinyu visited the Zuoke extensively in the early 1990s. He studied Zuoke culture in all 16 of their villages and published a 30-page paper in Chinese. Lu found that the Zuoke culture and language are thriving. The Zuoke practice a number of special customs and festivals throughout the year, when they dress up in their traditional attire.
The Zuoke are polytheistic animists. Their worldview is shaped by their belief in the spirit world. The Zuoke live in simple houses near streams or some other water source. Traditionally, they do not dig wells, for fear of "striking the veins of the dragon" that they believe lives in the water underneath the earth.
The Zuoke have no known Christians in their midst. Their close-knit communities and strong desire to maintain their culture possibly mean they will view Christianity as a threat to their way of life. To date, few Zuoke have ever heard of Jesus Christ.