The song of Nzhai-jio-shi-du.
Sung by Zhang Ming.
Behind this song lies the conception of two parallel races, "earth-people" and "sky-people". The latter were more powerful and sophisticated than the former, but both communities ran on similar lines. Normally there was no intercommunication between them, though, at the very edge of the earth where the vault of the sky rested upon it, there was a "pass" by which it was possible to climb up into the sky.
The expression translated "the Master" is common in the songs. It is a title accorded to a person of importance in the local community. In this song, being also a sky person, the Master is even more elevated, and is portrayed as living in a castle with fine buildings and a walled garden, in the manner of the wealthy Yi landlords. Like his earthly counterparts, he had, from time to time, to engage in worship of the spirits. For this a good performer on the pipes was required, and the Master chose Nzhai-jio-shi-du, an earth-man, for the office. When his services were required he lay on the bed in a trance while his "a-dli", his soul or spirit, ascended to perform in the sky.
Just inside the door of a Miao house stood a wooden butt containing water for the use of the household. The supply had to be replenished daily, and carrying water from the spring was a task that usually fell to the women.
During Nzhai-jio-shi-du's absence in the sky, the house had to be kept spotlessly clean and the water butt full. No intruder might be allowed in. On the day when his spirit was due to return, at mid-day there would be a warning sound of pipes from the sky, at which his wife had to remove her set of pipes which had been in the room where Nzhai-jio-shi-du's body lay in a trance, and place them on the water butt by the door. When the spirit arrived back these pipes would sound, and immediately his wife had to return them to the room where Nzhai-jio-shi-du was lying. At this he would come out of his trance and back to life.
Neither in the text of the song nor in the footnotes that follow is there any explanation why this elaborate procedure was necessary. The intrusion of the young sister-in-law somehow broke the sequence. The body now "lay still", presumably having died, so the spirit could not return, and the pipes on the water butt remained silent.
At several other points in the narrative some further explanation is needed.
- Traditionally marriages among the Miao were arranged between families through middlemen, but occasionally young people might flout the conventions and run away together. A young man or a young woman who behaved in this manner was called "ndrao fang" or "ngao fang" respectively. The fact that the young wife in this song is constantly so designated, indicates that her marriage to Nzhai-jio-shi-du was of her own choosing and not her family's, and may explain why she went to such lengths to try and win him back. In the translation "ngao fang" has been rendered "the run-away".
- In the stanza beginning at line 102, we are told that Nzhai-jio-shi-du released something called the "sheu ndu" and let it hang down until it rested at Ngao-rang's toes. By this means she was able to climb up into the sky. "Sheu" means "to stand up" or "to rise up" and "ndu" is "the sky". The expression therefore means "rise up into the sky". A footnote says that it was the name of a track or a path up through the snow by which one could climb into the sky. However, there is nothing in the song about snow, and it is not easy to see how a path could be "released" or allowed "to hang down". Rather the "sheu ndu" would appear to have been something more like a rope or a rope ladder which could be unrolled to mark the way by which to climb from the earth to the sky. Since the precise nature of the object is unclear, it is not possible to translate the expression. Accordingly it has been simply transliterated, "sheu-ndu".
- In the section beginning at line 108, we hear of the young sister-in-law of the Master's two swine-herds who was missing and eventually turned out to be the coloured butterfly which Ngao-rang had caught on her journey. Why the girl was missing, how she had turned into a butterfly, and how, presumably, she was turned back again into a person, these are all unanswered questions raised by the text and un-addressed in the footnotes. It is also not clear by what sign the swine-herds recognised this particular butterfly as their young sister-in- law. The impression is given that Ngao-rang had no idea that her captive was other than an ordinary butterfly, though if that were indeed the case, why did she bother to catch it in the first place? However all this may be, the fact that she had been able to bring home the missing young sister-in-law meant that she got a direct and positive answer to her question about Nzhai-jio-shi-du, and so knew where next to pursue her search.
- In line 125 and at several points later in the song, Ngao-rang refers to Nzhai-jio-shi-du as my "gha yeu su fe". Although in the copious footnotes that follow this song the couple are regularly called "niang" and "vao", that is "wife" and "husband", in common speech these two words are avoided as a rule. A man will not speak of "my wife", but of "the child's mother". Likewise a woman will not say, "my husband", but "the child's father". My "gha yeu su fe" appears to be a similar kind of circumlocution. "Gha-yeu" simply means "the man", "su" is "first", and "fe" means "to leave", and hence "to proceed from", and the word is used in expressions meaning "progeny" or "descendants". Thus my "gha yeu su fe" seems to mean, "my man the begetter of the offspring". "The Father of the children" is a fair paraphrase.
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