A bundle of Miao traditions.

Written by Yang Ya-go.


This piece differs from most of the other Miao material, not only because it includes both prose writing and songs, but also because it is an attempt to trace the history of the people from the earliest times, before they had learned to build houses or cultivate the land, through to the present day. It is based on traditions and old songs and was compiled by Yang Ya-go, the most outstanding of the early Christian preachers. The prose passages are presumably his composition, and the verse, songs that he had learned as a boy.

An aetiological interest, common in the Miao songs, is a major factor in Yang Ya-go's choice of material. Though the fanciful derivation of the Miao words for "mother" and "father" could not have been intended to be taken seriously, the origin of the use of millet, the discovery of rice, of cotton and of hemp, and the growing of buckwheat were matters of utmost importance to the Miao. It is strange, however, that no mention is made of maize which, when Yang Ya-go was writing, was the staple food.

The Miao custom of burying the dead with the least possible delay is noted because of its contrast with the tradition of the Chinese who used to postpone burial for weeks, months or even years, waiting for a propitious day.

Yang Ya-go's narrative falls into nine stages which may be summarized:

Stage 1

In prose. People dwelling in caves and living by hunting and food-gathering.

Stage 2

In prose. Led by the Elder Gi-zi, the people reached "Millet Plain" and discovered the use of millet.

Stage 3

In verse. Driven by famine and led by the Elder Gi-zi, the people reached the Great Eastern River, living on wild bamboo seed and herbs until the discovery of rice.

Stage 4

In prose. The death of the Elder Gi-zi and the establishment of Miao burial customs.

Stage 5

In verse. Chinese pressure successfully resisted by the Elder Gi-myu until he was eventually captured.

Stage 6

In verse. Under renewed Chinese attack, and led by the Man Jio-bi-khao, the people crossed the Red Mud River and, settled by the Ndu-na-yi-mo, discovered the use of cotton, and here built fine houses.

Stage 7

In verse. Under further Chinese pressure, led by the Man Jio-bi-khao, the people fled across the Ndu-na-yi-mo and settled in Di-njiang-na, living on rice and growing cotton and hemp.

Stage 8

In verse. Forced by Chinese pressure and led by the Man Jio-bi-khao, the people fled and settled for a time on the plain of Be-yi. This being high, cold country, the people had to live on buckwheat.

Stage 9

In verse. The people left the plain of Be-yi seeking a better living, and led by the Man Jio-bi-khao reached the forests in Yi (Mang-li-no) country. Here they remained but were reduced to serfdom by the Yi.

Putting songs together in this way has its pitfalls. Three great rivers are mentioned, the Great Eastern River, the Red Mud River and the Ndu-na-yi-mo, but it is possible, even likely, that these are names for the same river coming from different songs. Twice the people are described as fording rivers by clinging to water buffaloes, but again these may well be two accounts of the same incident. The most obvious problem lies in the double name "the Elder Gi-zi, the Man Jio-bi-khao". At stage 4 we learn that this individual grew old, died, and was accorded burial in the manner he had requested. His place was taken by the Elder Gi-myu who was eventually tricked and captured by the Chinese, and then the leadership passed to the Man Jio-bi-khao, but he, being the same person as the Elder Gi-zi, was already dead and buried. Yang Ya-go solved the difficulty by saying that the Elder Gi-zi and the Man Jio-bi-khao were two different people. In editing Yang's manuscript for inclusion in Document N, Wang Jian-guo, quite rightly, corrected this suggestion, and he eased, but could not remove the difficulty, by leaving the short paragraph describing the Elder Gi-zi's death to an explanatory note at the end of the piece.

It seems likely that while "the Elder Gi-zi" and "the Elder Gi-myu" are proper names of individual leaders, "the Man Jio-bi-khao" is a descriptive title which was given in succession to a number of different leaders who, over the generations, arose and conducted the people on the next stage of their migration.

The suggestion made in Document N that "the Man Jio-bi-khao" means "the man using iron shod military boots" must be rejected. (See note on line 45 of the Miao text.) "Jio" means "to carry", and by extension "to use". "Bi khao" is the name given to a certain kind of tree, the bark of which is used as a dye stuff. It is just conceivable that the name of a tree might appear in the title given to leaders of the migratory movements of the Miao people, but there seems to be no cogent reason for so doing. The word "khao", pronounced in the high tone in which it appears in Document F, is also the word used for food intended to be eaten on a journey. If this were the meaning of the word "khao" in the song, then "the Man Jio-bi-khao" would mean, "the man bearing rations for the journey". Such a title would not be inappropriate for the one who, in the course of their travels, discovered millet for the use of the people, led them, in time of necessity, to eat wild bamboo seed and herbs, who recognized the food value of rice, and in more austere circumstances, of buckwheat, and who finally led the folk in clearing the forest for cultivation.

There is another song which tells of the activities of the Elder Gi-zi and the Elder Gi-myu, and describes them, not as Yang Ya-go does in the present piece as "father and son" (line 95), but as "comrades and friends" and as "good companions". This tradition from the old song is preferable to Yang Ya-go's suggestion which is based simply on the fact that, on the death of the Elder Gi-zi, the Elder Gi-myu took over the leadership. "Gi-zi" and "Gi-myu" represent different clans, not different generations in the same clan.

Literal Transcription

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