Heishui Tibetans Profile

Autonym: rmi

Other names: 黑水藏族

Heishui County has an intriguing complex mix of several people groups and their respective languages. There are Amdo Tibetan nomads on the high grasslands in the north, Qiang in the southeast, Jiarong in the southwest, and then another distinct group of around 12,000 in the central region. Linguists refer to these as “Heishui Tibetans”, since many of them reside along the banks of the Heishui River, their robust stone houses blending in with the craggy sides of the valley. 

Heishui Tibetans actually speak various dialects of the Qiang language. This is not to be confused with other Tibetan groups, such as the Jiarong or Muya, who speak Qiangic languages that are related linguistically but are mutually unintelligible. The Heishui Tibetans speak a form of the standard Qiang language that is spoken by the Qiang nationality itself. Hence, “Heishui” does not usually show up as a strand of Qiangic derived dialects in the classification of Qiangic languages, yet ethnically they are still firmly included with the Qiangic Speaking Tibetans.

It may be that the Heishui Tibetans are indeed descended from Qiang, but during a time when a Tibetan king held sway in that area they adopted Tibetan culture and religion. Whatever the case, they are certainly proud of their Tibetan heritage, and fiercely reject any notion that they should belong to the Qiang nationality now.