The work of setting sky and earth in order.

Sung by Yang Zhi.


The understanding of this song depends on the interpretation of the word "nzha". Its basic meaning is "to measure", but its significance is rather wider. "Nzha" can also be used, for example, of a carpenter or a tailor "setting, or laying out" his work, before actually cutting into the timber or the cloth, and that is the meaning of the word in this song. So in translation "nzha" is best rendered, not as "measured", but as "set in order". The legendary brother and sister were not embarked on a fact-finding mission, simply measuring up what already existed, but were engaged in setting out and regulating the whole course of nature including the movements of the heavenly bodies. Thus the book that they produced, was not the record of a survey, written up at the end of their travelling, but a scheme and a plan prepared before they started, a scheme which they put into effect as they journeyed.

Despite legends to the contrary, the Miao had no written language until the introduction of the Pollard script in the early years of the Twentieth Century. Other peoples among whom they lived, notably the Chinese and the Yi, had writing which, in Miao eyes, resembled the patterns embroidered or dyed on their tribal costumes. In this song the writing is described using exactly the same metaphors as those employed for the decorations on clothing. When it was completed the book was rolled, and wrapped in a cloth, ready for the journeys ahead.

The names of the brother and sister in this song mean respectively, "sky set-in-order earth water" and "earth young-woman wheat bunch". These are, however, always used as proper nouns in the Miao text. For the English version a partial translation has been adopted, "Heaven's Nzha-di-ao" and "Earth's Nggu-nzai-shao". ("Nzai-shao" means a bundle, consisting of a double handful, of wheat stalks. Ten such bundles make a sheaf.)

Miao folk-tradition held that the variations in the length of day, as between summer and winter, were directly related to the distance that Sun-maid had to travel each day. In summer her road was long, so the days were long, in winter it was short, and so were the days. It was also explained that when Sun-maid's journeys were long, Moon-youth's journeys were short and vice-versa, thus summer nights were short and winter nights long. At six-monthly intervals, in Snake-month or Horse-month, and again in Ox-month or Rat-month, Sun-maid and Moon-youth were said to "separate their roads". That is, the one who had been on the longer route now took the shorter, and the other whose journey had been shorter had now to go the longer way. The dates for "separating their roads" correspond to the spring and autumn equinoxes. This song explains how these ordered itineraries came into being.

Having established the Nine Lakes of Gi-nzyu, sister and brother travelled to the dwelling (the place of arriving) of Sun-maid and Moon-youth, to the extreme limit of earth and sky, and established there a fine town. Sun-maid, probably out of curiosity, and possibly accompanied by Moon-youth, though it does not say so, rose up to see what was going on, and came near to destroying the town with her burning heat as she hung motionless in the sky. To remedy the situation Heaven's Nzha-di-ao and Earth's Nggu-nzai-shao despatched the heavenly bodies on their daily journeys through the sky, and at the same time inaugurated the sequence of the seasons.

In lines 74 and 75 there are two adjectives used to describe the flow of the great River Hmao-shi. They are translated "interweaving" and "side by side" or "parallel". The first reference is to the appearance of the surface of the water in a river as it flows along, resembling the criss-crossing of strands in the pattern of some woven fabric. The second is to the effect produced when a tributary of clear water joins the main river where the water is muddy. The two do not mix together at once, but for some little distance flow along together with a clear line of demarcation between the fresh green strips of clear water and the red-brown of the muddy water. This was said to resemble the parallel strips of different coloured cloth sewn as decoration on the skirts worn by Miao women.

Like the Chinese, the Miao used the lunar calendar. The months were known by the same sequence of animal names:

1. Snake

2. Horse

3. Sheep

4. Monkey

5. Cockerel

6. Dog

7. Pig

8. Rat

9. Ox

10. Tiger

11. Rabbit

12. Dragon

Twelve lunar months are approximately ten days shorter than one solar year, so that, if the two are to be kept in step, every fourth year it is necessary to add an intercalary month. Thus dates fixed in the solar calendar move from one month to the next in the lunar calendar and then jump back again. So, for instance, mid-summer's day may fall in Dog-month for a year or two, then it will pass into Pig month until the addition of the extra month brings it back again into Dog month. The same is true of all the seasons which, of course, are governed by the solar year. This explains why, in Miao songs, seasons are always dated by reference to two adjacent months. These are usually named in the order of the calendar, but, for no obvious reason, sometimes the later month is mentioned first.

The expression, "yiu vang di ndu", which occurs several times in this song from line 71 onwards, is difficult to translate. "Yiu" means "to give birth" or "to rear", as a child or an animal; "to tend" or "to pasture", as cattle or sheep; "to maintain", as an army; "to germinate" or "to spring up", as crops. In the present context, it is used of an area of land, and means, "actively to promote the well-being of the country and the welfare of its people". The rest of the expression, "vang di ndu" means "environs". It is the land around a village, which comes under the general control of that village. It is the country around and about, over which a city exercises its authority. Although it does not say so specifically, the reference here is to the area around the town of Hmao-shi. This country was called, "Ndlo-hlang-dleu-di", and in the songs is depicted as the ancient home-land of the Miao people. In order to make good sense, what is implicit in the Miao text has had to be made explicit in the English translation, so that the whole expression becomes, "to promote the well-being of the homeland".

Literal Transcription

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Word97 Translation
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