How the ancients passed their time.

Narrated by Wang Jian-guo.


This short piece is placed by the compiler of Document N between the story about people changing their skins in order to renew their youth and that of the dog fetching seed from the sky for mankind, though it bears little resemblance to either.

The Miao loved to tell stories to explain the origin of common customs and words, and these could be as amusing as they were fanciful. The present piece is a case in point, purporting to explain the etymology of the Miao words for "mother" and "father" as plays upon the verbs "to cry" and "to hide".

Wang Jian-guo derived this story from Yang Ya-go. It is the first in a group of a number of stories and songs which Yang called "A bundle of Miao traditions", and which is reproduced in Document D at a later stage, where of course the present story is repeated. Wang Jian-guo's two versions are not identical, and both vary a little from Yang Ya-go's original manuscript which Wang obviously had before him as he wrote.

In the English translation an attempt has been made, by employing square brackets, to explain the play on the Miao words, which, in the nature of things, it is not possible to translate, and which is further complicated by the changes in the tones.

Wang Jian-guo chose, in the first line, to use an archaic phrase, borrowed from another song-story, which means, "It was a time of adversity/trouble/evil/difficulty", and which simply does not fit the context. Yang Ya-go's "long ago" was perfectly adequate. There is also a reference to "blowing leaves". Miao children and young people would pick certain kinds of leaf which, held in a special way and blown upon, functioned as reeds. The pitch of the sound could be varied together with the rhythm of the notes in such a way as to convey messages. The piercing sound was loud enough to be heard over considerable distances.

Literal Transcription

You can see the original documents for this song.

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Word97 Introduction
Word97 Translation
Word97 Transcription
Word97 Notes

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