Deng Ethnic People

The Deng is an ethnic group that is not officially recognised by the government of People’s Republic of China. They are also known as the Dengba. The Deng are one of the smallest peoples inhabiting inside Chinese borders. They live in Tibet’s Zayu County and virgin forest areas between the Himalayas and the Hengduan Mountains at an elevation of 1000 meters. Currently, there are 9 Deng villages. They are divided at least in two groups: Darang and Geman, and they have their own spoken language, derived from the Tibeto-Burman language branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. one of the smallest peoples inhabiting inside Chinese borders. Isolated in the southeast border of Tibet, are divided at least in two groups: Darang and Geman, that the experts say are related with the Mishmi-Miju peoples living in Arunachal Pradesh province in India.


Little is known of the Deng people and their origins. It is interesting that the Jingpo minority – who now live in western China and northern Myanmar – claim to have originated in Tibet. Considering the similarities between the two languages, it could be speculated that the Jingpo are descended from the Deng. In 1985, the Chinese government tried to have some expert study on Deng and recognize them, but 10th Panchen lama says “All the people in Tibet should be Tibetans” and “To recognize any new ethnic groups is to split our Tibetans.” and as a result the project has been abolished (according to Chinese National Geographic).


In spite of their small population the Deng people have their own spiritual practices that clearly differentiate them from their neighboring peoples. For them, all things that exist in the world have their own spirit, even the dead. These spirits are everywhere; they can affect the people in diverse ways, particularly by provoking illness. Their most important deity is a goddess who lives high in the mountains. Deng people respect her above all else, because they believe that she can bring them misfortune.

The Deng people ask the soul to depart as soon as possible after the death of a person, and they try to forget him/her as soon as possible. They believe if the soul stays among the living people, it can cause them damage. When a man dies his relatives don’t work for 11 days, if a woman dies, they stop work for only one day.


The Deng, who always go barefoot, have their own set of distinctive customs. “It is a common custom for them to swap a few head of cattle and several chickens for a woman as wife. Their dead are cremated, the corpse being burned together with the house he formerly owned.” ox skulls are a traditional symbol of wealth. They can only be kept when the owner kills the bulls to share the meat with other villagers. It’s a Deng tradition for men to carry a knife. Both Deng men and women have an affinity for tobacco and wine.


According to Alusung, Deng people used to lead a primitive life on the mountains. They grew simple crops such as corn. When food was short, they would go hunting or dig for wild vegetables. Since the 1950s, most Deng people have moved from the mountains to open ground. Over the years, they have connected with the rest of the world. Today, they enjoys many of the amenities of modern life. Most houses are well built and equipped with tap water, solar heaters, and TV sets. There is even a village library.