The Master Ndlie-za and the Master Ndlie-bang.

Sung by Tao Zi-gai.


The ancient spirit worship of the Miao people took many forms. A major factor was the worship of the ancestors, and particularly the supreme spirit who had to be addressed as, "Yeu-su-mu", "First Ancestor". This worship took place only occasionally, and always at the family home. It was not conducted by the shaman-healer, but by certain, especially chosen members of the family, who, from their youth, had been trained in the appropriate rituals and incantations.

Another aspect of the spirit worship was the annual offering made by each village to "The Venerable and the Old", the title given to the local sacred rock or sacred tree. In the accounts of this worship and incantations that have survived, it seems clear that, in popular belief, the spirits addressed were actually those of the rocks or trees themselves, and no mention is made of the spirits of the Master Ndlie-za or the Master Ndlie-bang. This song, however, suggests that the spirits invoked were those of these two legendary figures, which had been called back from their "homes" to the sacred rock or the sacred tree respectively, by the power of the shaman-healer.

The song nowhere explains the meaning of the names of these two ancient folk heroes. The first two of the four syllables are titles, used in the songs for influential members of the community, such as heads of leading families, hence the translation, "Master". In the present song it is stated that they died young, but their spirits made their homes in a "kho za" and a "kho bang" respectively. Both these expressions mean "cave" or "cavern". The Miao word for "to hide" is, "ndlai", and it is just possible that the word "ndlie" which occurs in both names should be "ndlai". If so, then the names would mean, "the Master hidden in the cave" and "the Master hidden in the cavern". It was generally believed that spirits could dwell in short pieces of bamboo, and, if frightened, would take refuge there. In this song the shaman-healer prepared two pieces of bamboo, one shorter and one longer, and persuaded or enticed the spirits of the Master Ndlie-za and the Master Ndlie-bang to enter them so that they might be "drawn out" from their inaccessible caves to the sacred rock and the sacred tree respectively, where their power and wisdom would be available to those who offered the annual sacrifice. The same result was achieved by use of the "curving stick" mentioned at a later point in the song.

The reference to "Next year, thirteen years", is an example of a practice, common in the conduct of marriage negotiations and similar discussions, and in the arranging of the rituals of spirit worship, whereby "code words" were used instead of the actual names of the objects concerned. Thus when the shaman-healer had determined that the ancestors were growing restless and demanding that sacrifices should be offered, the family concerned would ask, "Must it be in thirteen years time?" to which the shaman-healer would reply, "Yes, next year." For some unexplained reason, though the shaman-healer might speak directly, the family were at pains to avoid doing so.

What exactly was intended by, "Chinese mouths and tongues" is not clear. A similar expression is found in the incantations used in the worship of the spirits, where in one place the word "tongue" is used, while in another, identical passage, the word is "sword". It is possible, therefore, that "Chinese tongues" is a "code word" for "Chinese swords", in which case "mouths" would be a "code word" for "scabbards". However this may be, the general meaning of the passage is not in doubt. It is an invocation to the spirits that, should the Chinese approach with hostile intent, they should be turned back at the sacred tree, or deflected to one side, that is away from the village.

Literal Transcription

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