The Yi people group is comprised of at least six separate linguistic subgroups spread primarily across enclaves of Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou provinces in southwest China. The Yi is the seventh largest of the fifty-five ethnic minority groups officially recognized by the People’s Republic of China.
Many Yi live in mountainous areas, often carving out their existence on the sides of steep mountain slopes far from China’s cities, although many have migrated to cities to find low-paying work. In addition to farming and hunting, most Yi in the countryside herd cattle, sheep and goats. The Yi play a number of traditional musical instruments, including wind instruments and large plucked and bowed string instruments.
Many Yi are animists, with elements of Taoism, shamanism and fetishism. Shamans are known as “bimo.” As animists, Yi worship the spirits of ancestors. Animal sacrifice is frequently used to appease spirits in the event of illness, death or any tragic event in life.
One of the Yi subgroups are the Luoluopo. Residing primarily in Chuxiong Prefecture in north-central Yunnan, the Luoluopo believe they are descended from tigers. In their own language, a dialect of the Yi tongue, the name Luoluopo means “tiger-dragon people.” Each year in the middle of the first lunar month they celebrate the Tiger Festival, which culminates in a ceremony where a costumed tiger figure travels atop a float to each home to deliver a blessing. They celebrate numerous additional festivals throughout the year, offering sacrifices to the dragons of the water and other spiritual beings for blessings and protection.
Though early in the 20th century some efforts were made by Catholic missionaries to reach the Luoluopo, little fruit was observed and all of their translated work has been lost. Today only a very small number of Luoluopo have been seen attending churches in local townships. The vast majority of the Luoluopo have never heard the gospel. The only current witness in their language is a handful of gospel recordings.