How Ya-ya shot the suns and moons.

Sung by a grandmother from Hmao-zu-mu.


This song does not mention that the cock crowing each morning is a daily reassurance to the sun that it is safe to rise, but it does suggest that here can be found the origin of the cock’s red comb.

Miao combs used to be carved from pieces of wood four or five inches long and two or three inches wide. One or more were often worn, teeth downwards, in the hair at the back of the head by young women. The comb presented to the cockerel by the grateful sun was rather special being finished in red lacquer. We are told that the cockerel could use it but could not wear it properly. That is, when preening himself the cockerel appeared to be combing his feathers, but he wore his comb with the teeth pointing upwards instead of down, and also upon the top of his head.

In this version of the story, Ya-ya, armed with his new crossbow and arrows had to travel far before he could shoot the surplus suns and moons. Unable to shoot them directly, for they were far out of range up in the sky, he chose to shoot at their reflections in the water of a shallow lake, since these could not possibly be further away than the mud at the bottom of the lake. Presumably that chosen was one of legendary nine lakes of Gi-nzyu, though the song does not mention the name. What we are not told is why or how on each occasion, the shooting of a sun resulted in the elimination of a moon as well.

The opening lines of this song go back to another old tradition enshrined in several songs, that the fashioning of the wrinkled surface of the earth and the smooth sky above was the handy work of a group of cosmic smiths. In this song there were seven of them and each carried in his belt a dagger, emblazoned with a golden sun and a golden moon. Now Ya-ya’s arrow, aimed at a particular sun, was bound to hit the wearer of the dagger bearing that sun. When the owner of the dagger was laid low, the dagger bearing both the sun and the moon would also fall with him

The difficulty of this explanation of the problem is that the cosmic smiths are not mentioned at all in the main part of the story. In fact lines 1 to 14 could be removed altogether, and the song would still appear complete in itself. Moreover at line 15 the imagery changes. Suns and moons are no longer golden inlay work, but the familiar young couple Sun-maid and Moon-youth, found in many other songs.

Literal Transcription

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