The belongings of the Miao old folk.

Sung by Yang Zhi.


This song divides into two parts. As far as line 47 it is concerned with the weapons and articles of clothing which the Chinese are said to have seized and put on public display. From line 48 the song describes the caged animals and birds which were also there on display in the Chinese Leader's "nga rang" or "nga ndeu rang". "Nga" means house, "ndeu" means books or papers, and "rang" is a pattern or a plan, a picture, a drawing or an illustration. "House of records" is a fair translation.

The description in the song goes round in a circle. First the decorations on the tribal costumes are likened to the markings on the fur and feathers of the wild creatures, and then the plumage and the coats of the birds and beasts are said to resemble the patterns of the Miao embroidery.

The Miao distinguished four different motifs in the design of the "cho-hlu", that is the upper garment of their tribal costume. These were in order, beginning with the most highly regarded, "hlu-nza-nzyu", "hlu-a-niang-sa", "hlu-dlang-nba", and "hlu-a-ji". The name of the first may be something to do with bamboo, the second means "bracken", the third means "pig", though the reference is probably to the pig's eye, while the fourth means "branches", probably crossing branches.

In this song lines 18 to 22 describe garments of the first pattern, while lines 28 to 32 concern garments of the third pattern. The intervening lines, which are strictly parallel to lines 28 to 32 are obviously describing another pattern of costume which, however, is called "dlang-li-yi". The meaning of this name is "hoopoe", but coming as it does between the first and third designs, this is very likely an alternative name for "hlu-a-niang-sa". Nothing is said about the fourth design.

Attached to the back of the tribal costume was a kind of collar, an oblong piece of material often bearing some embroidered decoration, and hanging from it were spindle- like tassels a foot long with tiny bells, beads or even old Chinese copper cash at the end, which tinkled as the wearer moved about. The sleeves were very full and much longer than the wearer's arms. They had to be held up above the hands by a length of hand-woven braid with a large loop at each end. One loop went around the sleeve which was rolled and bunched back on to the fore arm, then the braid was passed up over the shoulders, under the collar and down to hold the other sleeve similarly in the second loop.

In days gone by one of the requirements of a proper marriage settlement was that the bride had to demonstrate her skill and industry by presenting the bridegroom with a "cho-hlu" which she had made herself. This, in addition to the actual needlework required in making up and embroidering the garment, involved actually growing the hemp, making it into yarn and weaving it into cloth, and also spinning and dyeing the wool used in the decoration work. It was a daunting task which took many months. If it was not completed by the time of the wedding, the bride would have to return from time to time to her parents home to get it done. She might not bring it with her to finish in her new home. This "bride-groom's gown" was also called "cho-nbw-sie", "the garment of longing", mentioned in line 73 of this song.

The women's skirts were like kilts, very full around the bottom and tightly gathered for several inches down from the top. The hemp cloth was dyed with a geometric pattern in indigo, in some localities quite heavily, in others, only very lightly. However the characteristic feature of the decoration were the two-coloured strips of cotton material applied in an irregular pattern over the skirt. Again there were regional variations. Three continuous bands, near the top, the middle, and around the hem were occasionally seen, but normally there were separate strips eight to ten inches long and an inch to an inch and a half wide. These strips were traditionally red and blue, but might be blue and brown, red and brown, or even red and black, but they were always sewn on parallel to the bottom hem.

The Miao had a word for "unicorn", "nao-li-jiang". This creature must therefore have figured in various songs or stories, yet, strangely, no one was able to offer any kind of information except that, "it had a single horn upon its head which resembled a woman's hair cone". It was agreed, however, that the "nao-li-jiang" was the same thing as the Chinese "qi-lin", a mythical beast, a bizarre mixture of various animals, having, in particular, a single fleshy horn on its forehead.

Literal Transcription

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