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ETHNONYMS: Ahni, Aini, Akha, Baihong, Biyue, Ekaw, Eoni, Haoni, Heman, Heni, Heyi, Kaduo, Kaw, Woni


Identification. The Chinese government now refers to this ethnic group as "Hani." The Hani refer to themselves as the "Kaduo," the "Aini," the "Haoni," the "Biyue," and the "Baihong." In Han Chinese historical texts they have been called "Heyi," "Heman," "Heni," "Woni," "Ahni," and "Hani." The Hani in Thailand refer to themselves as "Akha" and other Tai groups call them "Kaw" or "Ekaw."

Location. Most Hani live in the area between the Red and the Lancang rivers, which is also the valley between the Mengle and Ailao mountains. The Hani population is concentrated in the Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which includes the counties of Honghe, Luchun, Jinping, and Yuanyang. Other Hani also live in Simao Prefecture and Xishuangbanna and northern Yunnan. Some Hani speakers inhabit parts of Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and Thailand. The environment in which the Hani live is characterized by high mountains, a moderate climate, abundant rainfall, and rich soil.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Hani language is of the Yi Subbranch of the Tibeto-Burmese Branch of the Sino-Tibetan Language Family. Hani embraces three regional dialects: Ha-Ai, Bi-Ka, and Hao-Bai, which are further subdivided into ten local dialects. The Hani had no written language, but after 1949 the Chinese government developed a pinyin romanization system.

Demography. According to the 1982 Chinese government census there were 1,058,836 Hani living in Yunnan Province, southwestern China, with over 700,000 or 76 percent in the Mount Aiqian area. By 1990, the Hani population had increased to 1,253,952.

History and Cultural Relations

The Hani have a legend that tells of their ancestors as nomads from a faraway northern river plain who gradually migrated south. Some Chinese sources consider that the Hani might have migrated south from the present Yunnan-Sichuan border area. During the Sui and Tang dynasties, the Chinese referred to the Hani as wu man, a general term for other southern peoples. In the eighth century a.d. they were called heni and were part of Yunnan's Nanzhao Kingdom. During the Mongol Yuan dynasty the people of the area were referred to as hezi, and the Henilu Administrative District was established. In the Ming dynasty, the Chinese changed the name of this district to Henifu and established a hereditary system (tusi ) of local Hani leaders. During this period Chinese military colonizers came to the region, influencing the Hani and other local groups. In the Qing dynasty, a system of rotating Chinese officials replaced the tusi system. From the turn of the century on, the area was not at peace. The Hani, along with the Yi, demonstrated against the Qing government by participating in the Taiping Rebellion. In 1917, a woman named Lu Meibei led an uprising against the hereditary local leaders. Between 1895 and 1935 the Hani resisted French incursion into the region, and during World War II they resisted the Japanese. In 1947 the Chinese Communist party formed a working group in the area and carried out guerrilla warfare. In 1950 the Chinese Communist party declared the area "liberated" and made it part of the People's Republic of China.


The Hani have traditionally lived in forested mountain areas. Settlements have ranged in size from just a few households to 400 households. The most prevalent settlement size has been 30 to 40 households. Settlements would be close to a water source and close to one another, yet clearly demarcated by village gates. In Honghe, homes are sometimes two-storied, of wattle and daub construction, with stone foundations and thatch roofs. In Xishuangbanna homes are of bamboo construction, sometimes two-storied, and sometimes built on the ground. The Hani keep animals on the first floor and reside on the second floor. They used the eaves as a storage area. In eastern Xishuangbanna storage rooms lie adjacent to the main house. In some Hani areas, each home is divided into a women's section and a men's section.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The main food staples of the Hani are rice and maize. Other crops include beans, buckwheat, and millet. In Xishuangbanna and Lancang, the Hani practice slash-and-burn agriculture. In the Honghe area, rice is grown in narrow terraced fields. Peanuts, sugarcane, cotton, chili peppers, ginger, and indigo are important cash crops. The area is known for tea and shellac. Most families also raise pigs and grow vegetables and tobacco. The mountain forests provide rich lumber resourcespalm, rattan, tung oil, camphor, pine, cypress, maple, and bambooas well as a diversity of wild animalstigers, leopards, bears, deer, monkeys, and flying squirrelswhich can be used for traditional medicines. The region abounds in mineral resources: bronze, gold, silver, lead, and nickel. Since the 1950s, roads, mines, smelters, and chemical, concrete, and plastics factories have been constructed. The economic reforms initiated in 1978 have encouraged the development of forestry, animal husbandry, fishing, and sideline industries.

Industrial Arts. Traditionally, each Hani village had a blacksmith, a silver- or goldsmith, and a stonemason. Hani women wove and dyed their own cotton cloth for clothes. Old men wove bamboo/rattan baskets, curtains, and mats.

Trade. Prior to 1949, Hani men engaged in trade of tea, animals, wild meat products, and grains with Han Chinese, Yi, Dai, and others at weekly markets. They also traded gold and tobacco for salt and cotton from Laos merchants. A wealthy merchant could employ mule teams to transport his goods.

Division of Labor. Traditionally, men have been responsible for agricultural production, making tools and baskets, and constructing and repairing homes. Women have managed the household chores, children, animals, vegetable plots, weaving, sewing, and collection of firewood. In the past, women were often prohibited from participating in certain religious ceremonies and sacrifices.

Land Tenure. Before 1952, in Xishuangbanna and Lancang (Simao Prefecture), except for a few paddies and tea fields that belonged to individuals, the village owned the land but individuals were free to cultivate it. There was no sale or lease of land. In the Honghe area, the local tusi leader extracted a "fee" of 6-20 percent of the people's produce and could own over 65 hectares in personal fields. In 1952 the Chinese Communist government enacted land reform in the area, and in 1958 people's communes were established. In the late 1970s the land-tenure system was changed to that of the responsibility system, where farmers could manage private plots.


Kin Groups and Descent. Hani descent is patrilineal and kin groups are organized into patrilineal clans. Clans trace their ancestry back forty to fifty generations, although the first twenty generations might be a combination of spirits and mythical ancestors. A clan is composed of thirty to forty households with an elderly male clan head.

Kinship Terminology. The Hani refer to a clan as a gu. The Hani adopted Han Chinese-style surnames during the Ming dynasty.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. In Xishuangbanna, Hani marriage was traditionally monogamous. Taking a second wife incurred public condemnation and punishment by fine, as well as the obligation to return the first wife's dowry to her family. In the Honghe area, Hani marriage was polygamous, especially for the local leaders and wealthy households. Men were allowed postmarital sexual freedom, whereas such behavior was strictly prohibited for women. However, in both areas the Hani permitted premarital sexual relations. In Xishuangbanna a young couple would usually meet with their parents' approval for marriage, and there would follow nine ceremonial events between engagement and marriage. In Honghe the parents arranged the marriage while the children involved were young. Marriage ceremonies varied from place to place. For example, in Lancang the people considered a couple wed when the groom passed through the village gate. In Xishuangbanna, a couple who wanted a divorce could simply pay the village headman a "processing" fee, and then both were free to find new spouses. In other areas, a husband could abandon his wife, but if a wife wanted a divorce, she would have to return the betrothal gifts to the groom's family; widows who remarried were objects of discrimination.

Domestic Unit. The preferred domestic unit is the nuclear family. After marriage, a couple moves to a new household, close to the groom's parents.

Inheritance. Among the Hani, the house and property are passed down through the male line. A woman can only inherit if her husband resides with her family.

Socialization. Parents typically treat children leniently until the age of 6 or 7, at which time they are expected to start helping with household chores. Prior to 1949, there was only one elementary school in the region. Children were educated by their parentsboys in agricultural and tool-making skills; girls in household management, weaving, and sewing. As of 1985 there were 503 elementary schools and 3 middle schools; 80 percent of Hani children attended school.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Hani society is both patrilineal and patriarchal. In a family, male children become part of their father's line, while females eventually become part of their husbands' lines. The oldest male is head of the household, and in general decision making women are subservient to men.

Political Organization. As noted earlier, during the Ming dynasty, the Hani were governed according to the tusi system, under which local Hani leaders received official titles from the Chinese emperor. In the Qing dynasty, this system was abolished in some areas and replaced by a system of rule by rotating Chinese officials. In Xishuangbanna, the Hani came under the control of Dai feudal lords. Each district encompassed several tens of villages. Some Hani leaders were also enfeoffed. In the 1950s the Chinese Communist party established the Xishuangbanna Gelang He Hani Autonomous District (1953) and the Honghe Hani Autonomous Prefecture (zhou ) People's Government (1952), the name of which was changed to the Honghe Hani, Yi, and Dai Autonomous Prefecture in 1957. Since the 1950s there have been Hani cadres at the commune, prefecture, and county levels.

Social Control. Under the tusi system there were no written laws, and a local leader had primary authority. A militia was used for control and offenders were imprisoned. The Hani now come under the Chinese civil and criminal code, although some kinship sanctions do prevail.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Traditional Hani beliefs were a combination of animism, polytheism, and ancestor worship, but these beliefs varied by region. Early Buddhist and later Christian missionaries had little impact on the Hani. In Xishuangbanna, ancestor worship and animism were important. In Honghe the people worshiped several spirits. The "Heavenly Spirit," a female deity called "Ao ma," was viewed as the creator of all things. The Hani worshiped trees in the "holy hills" as guardian spirits and offered annual sacrifices to them. The Hani viewed certain events as unluckyfor instance, a new family or wild beast coming into the village, a dog climbing onto the roof of a house, a tree knocking down the village gate, or a fire in a neighboring village. The Hani believed that the unluckiest event was the birth of twins or a handicapped child. The villagers would then kill the children, chase the parents out of the village, and burn their house and possessions. If the parents were wealthy, they could hire a beima to conduct nine days of great sacrificial rites, in which case they would be allowed to remain in the village. However, no one in the village would have relations with them for one year, and they would thenceforth be excluded from village religious activities. The Hani believed in spirits of heaven and earth, spirits of the hills, protective spirits of the village and home, and obscure supernatural forces of the netherworld.

Religious Practitioners. There existed among the Hani a group of religious practitioners. A zuima directed the religious activities of a village. A male from the oldest household in the village usually held the position, and it was passed down from father to son. Every year the zuima would perform planting and harvesting ceremonies, and in return the villagers would give him a day of free labor. There were male beima who performed incantations and exorcisms. Male and female nima were in charge of predictions and medicinal herbs. Both beima and nima were paid for their services with chicken, rice, wine, cloth, and money.

Ceremonies. Religious activities and agricultural activities were often linked. In the spring, the zuima would lead the people to a river to make sacrifices to the spirits, asking for the grains to be abundant. Before the harvest, a village would engage in a ceremony to chase out ghosts. The first day, the villagers would sacrifice chickens and repair the roads around the village to facilitate the ghosts' exit. On the following morning at dawn, the whole village would make as much noise as possible in order to dispel the ghosts. Every village would then place a strip of bamboo outside the village gate, symbolizing the ghosts' departure. In Honghe the Hani also celebrated the Chinese New Year and the Duan Wu and Mid-Autumn festivals.

Medicine. The Hani believed that disease was tied to certain spirits that could be controlled or exorcised through sacrifice and wizardry. Since the 1950s, the Chinese government has constructed county-level hospitals, disease-prevention clinics, and mother-infant health stations. At the district and village levels there are cooperative health services.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals differed from area to area. In Xishuangbanna, the whole village would stop work to attend and assist in a funeral. The head of the household of the deceased would sacrifice a pig for the spirit and invite all to a feast. If it was a poor household, the other villagers would contribute. The villagers buried their dead in the forest in graves without markers. In Honghe, upon the death of an elder, relatives and friends would bring chickens, pigs, rice, and wine as presents for a memorial ceremony. The son-in-law would be required to kill a cow in offering. Before the funeral, youths would gather in the room of the deceased and ask a beima to preside over placing the body in a coffin and sending the dead one's soul "on the road." To find an appropriate burial site, an egg was rolled until it broke. The family then buried the body in this spot. Some tusi leaders and wealthy families adopted the Han Chinese customs of hiring a geomancer to determine an auspicious site and using stone or brick tombs.

See also Akha in Volume 5, East and Southeast Asia.


Lewis, Paul W., and Elaine Lewis (1984). Peoples of the Golden Triangle. London: Thames & Hudson.

National Minorities Commission, ed. (1981). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu (China's national minorities). Beijing: Peoples Press.

National Minorities Commission, ed. (1985). Hanizu jianshi (A concise history of the Hani). Kunming: Yunnan Peoples Press.

National Minorities Commisssion, Yunnan Provincial Editorial Group, ed. (1982). Hanizu shehui lishi diaocha (Research on the society and history of the Hani). Kunming: Yunnan Peoples Press.

Syed Jamal Jaafar, and Anthony R. Walker (1986). "The Akha People: An Introduction." In Farmers in the Hills, edited by Anthony R. Walker, 169-181. Singapore: Suvarnabhumi Books.

Zhongguo da baike quanshu (Encyclopedia Sinica) (1986). Vol. 20, Minzu (Nationalities), 147-148. Beijing: Encyclopedia Sinica Press.