The Flood, Section three.

Sung by Zhu Zhi.


The story recorded in this song is made up of three loosely linked parts. Presumably it began with the Flood narrative, but this was discarded by the compiler of Document N. We may assume that that narrative was substantially the same as in the other accounts. However, we are left to guess who it was that warned of the deluge to come and directed the boat-building exercise. We do not know either what the relationship may have been between that individual and the "Master". It is clear that there was no mention of Ndrao-ya’s young sister, since in this song Ndrao-ya chose a wife from among the "sky people". The present text begins with the second part of the song, the story of Ndrao-ya and the Master, followed, at line 80, by the story of Ndrao-ya and Thunder. The first part was set on the earth, the second in the sky, and the third, apparently, back on earth. The real link between parts one and two was Ndrao-ya's need to find a wife, and between parts two and three it was Thunder's search for his betrothed, who was now married to Ndrao-ya. Beyond this the parts of the song are virtually independent stories.

The Master, who figures only in part two, is portrayed as a powerful landlord, with soldiers and retainers, a fine castle and gardens, and large estates. He was capable of meting out harsh treatment to anyone who offended him, and was powerful enough to break off his daughter’s betrothal to Thunder in favour of Ndrao-ya. He had in his entourage a piper who, as in another song by Zhang Ming, held a position of some influence. See The song of Nzhai-jio-shi-du, sung by Zhzng Ming (M119). The Master, nevertheless, was in duty bound to offer propitiatory sacrifices to his ancestors, especially as he had no son and heir.

In part two, certain votive objects belonging to the Master had been stolen and secreted in holes made by the mouse under the steps at the entrance to the cattle enclosure and the main entrance gate. These objects were not idols or images for which the Miao word would have been "bvy", but are called "dlang", a word meaning "spirit", but widely used for all kinds of spirit manifestations, in connection with the craft of the shaman healer and in ancestor worship. To carry out the ancestral rites was "to make dlang", and the Master referred to the missing objects as "my family dlang". That is to say, whatever they were, they were considered to be inhabited by, or at least to represent, the ancestors, and were therefore the focus for ancestral worship. The Miao, indeed, used to worship the ancestors but possessed no such votive objects. If the Master was thought of as a Chinese landlord, then his "dlang" would have been the ancestral tablets which used to occupy a place of honour in the main living room of Chinese homes. If, as seems more likely, the Master was thought of as an Yi landlord, then his "family dlang" would have been the "lo-lo", small baskets containing short sections of bamboo cane into which small pieces of cloth or paper had been inserted. These dwelling places of the spirits were fixed to the rafters of the ceiling of the living room of the house. Since it is not possible to be sure whether "family dlang" were Chinese ancestral tablets or Yi spirit baskets, throughout the translation they are referred to as "ancestral tokens".

The theft of the ancestral tokens was a very serious loss for the Master. Without them, the ancestral rites were, as he put it, "only pretence". It was always essential to keep the ancestors happy and contented by performing the recognised rituals, and even more so when there was a danger of the line dying out because there was no son and heir. The vindictive mouse had chosen the hiding place for the ancestral tokens with care. It was degrading for the ancestors to be placed under the feet of the cattle or to be trampled on by all passers by, and there was every prospect that they would wreak vengeance on the animals or any one who happened to tread on the stone step of the gate. For the same reason it was necessary for Ndrao-ya to protect himself and the servant who did the digging by spraying the area with wine first. This was either to appease the ire of the spirits or to stupefy them while the work was in progress.

In response to the question asked by the mouse, Ndrao-ya explained that he was going to the sky to attend a special ancestral sacrifice called a "zi", which was being arranged by the Master. This word is used of a series of rites only undertaken when, through lack of male offspring, there was a danger that the family might die out. The cost of the ceremonies and the lavish hospitality involved, was very great, so that this was always a last resort. The ideal solution to the problem was, of course, to have sons born into the family, but if age or other circumstances made this unlikely, it was possible to adopt an heir. If adoption were contemplated, the approval of the ancestors would still have to be secured. With the help of the mouse, possibly at the suggestion of the mouse, though the song does not say so specifically, Ndrao-ya not only succeeded in ingratiating himself with the Master, but could legitimately claim that he knew all about the ancestors, having rescued the missing ancestral tokens. Nor were the actions of the mouse entirely altruistic. By helping Ndrao-ya to become the Master's heir, the mouse could look forward to favours to come. Ndrao-ya further secured his position by choosing the Master's daughter for his wife.

In the third part of the song, the Master and his menage have disappeared from the story altogether, and the scene reverts to a typical Miao setting on earth. Thunder is no longer portrayed as a personage, an eligible suitor for the Master's daughter, but is more like a great beast which could be snared and tethered as he appears in other songs and stories.

Having caught Thunder and tied him securely to the beams which supported the loft, Ndrao-ya ordered the children out of doors, bade them be quiet, and not to come dashing back into the house for drinks of water. The reason for this appears to be that Thunder would remain quiet and docile only provided he was not frightened by sudden movement or noise. In every Miao house there was a large tub which was daily replenished with water carried from a spring or stream. Anyone who was thirsty might dip up a little water and drink from the wooden dipper supplied.

The "gi-za" plant, mentioned in line 100 is a creeper like ivy, growing on the ground and over banks and rocks. Its leaves are oval and pointed and it produces a flat, round fruit, sweet to the taste and whitish in colour, but not easy to find under the thick carpet of leaves. The suggestion in the song is that this plant once was a tree until it was laid flat by Thunder landing upon it. The nature of the "shi-lu" tree is not known. It is just possible that the name should be "shi-lyu", in which case it was a willow. Whatever it was, when it was pressed down by Thunder landing on its top branch, it sprang back, catapulting Thunder up into the sky, where he has been ever since.

Translation in verse
Literal Transcription

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