The Pumi

5 Sep 2016

Though officially Tibetan Buddhists, the Pumi have a culture steeped in ancestor worship and fear of the spirit world.  They believe in gods who live in their fireplace, the cupboard in the corner of their house, and in the mountains surrounding their villages. The Pumi’s remote location and strong cultural identity has kept them apart from the good news of Jesus.

According to Pumi legends and historical records, the ancestors of the Pumi were a nomadic tribe who roamed areas hundreds of kilometers farther north of their present location. They were forcibly moved to Yunnan in China by the Mongolians in the 1300s.

Once a year all Pumi, clad in their holiday best, go camping on mountain slopes and celebrate around bonfires. The holidays are devoted to sacrifices to the ‘god of the kitchen’. They celebrate with wild feasting, horse racing, shooting contests and wrestling. At the age of 13, Pumi youth are considered adults. Hospitality is big for Pumi people, and they serve food and alcohol liberally to welcome guests. Men of the house eat with guests before the women of the house, who eat later around a lower fireplace. When a Pumi dies, a conch (large shell) is blown three times to beckon villagers. The Pumi believe a sheep will lead the spirit of the deceased into the land of their ancestors.

To be Pumi is to be Buddhist – which means that in their mind it is impossible to adopt another religion. The Pumi live in fear of the spirit world. If offended, the deities can release a deluge of fierce, predatory beasts against their livestock. All Pumi worship the powerful spirit Suoguonaba, the god of the mountains. Ancestor worship is practiced, and spirits are believed to dwell in their homes. These gods seem to display real spiritual power – for example one young Pumi man who heard the gospel and believed said that in the month following eight sheep and two pigs belonging to his household died unexpectedly, causing him to question his new faith.

Because they have a variety of languages, and live in isolated communities, the Pumi have had very little opportunity to hear the gospel.  Although there is no organized church among the Pumi today, visitors report that they are a people “ripe unto harvest.” There are some significant ‘pointers’ to the gospel in their culture. A young Pumi man was asked about his gods and He said, “as well as the gods of the mountains and in our houses there are also gods in heaven.”  He was asked: “Is there a highest God in heaven?”. He said, “Yes, there is. I can’t remember its name. But the old people in the village might know its name.” Here is an opportunity to introduce the Pumi to the King of Kings.

Would you commit to pray with us for the Pumi for the next 7 days? 

Prayer Points:

  • The Pumi have a word “hee-day” which means literally “the Highest Lord”. Pray that they will come to understand that there is a creator God who is the Highest God above all the other gods that they worship.
  • That the unique and precious culture of the Pumi people will not be lost, but be transformed into an expression of their culture where Jesus reigns supreme.
  • For ‘message bearers’ to take the good news to these remote villages and the share the gospel clearly and sensitively.
  • Pray for those Pumi that believe the gospel, that God would give them courage in the face of community opposition, and spiritual wisdom and strength to face spiritual attack from the dark forces that would oppose their new faith.

Note: some information for this blog was resourced from the Joshua Project.

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