The times of the Man Li-byu.

Sung by Zhang Shu-wei.


Although it has a number of unique details, in general this song covers familiar ground, and conforms to well established patterns, tracing the expulsion of the Miao by the Chinese from their ancient homeland, called here the plain of Yi-bang, to their eventual settlement on the estates of a powerful Yi Landlord, who is not named. The Yi were divided into two social groups, the Black Yi who were landowners and yeoman farmers, and the White Yi who were slaves. Hence the title, "Black Yi Landlord" used in this narrative.

For each phase of the story a particular leader was responsible, shaping the course of events. First came the Man Li-byu who founded the race by establishing distinctive Miao customs of marriage and family relationships. The expressions translated "marriage-bond" and "marriage-union" in the opening lines of the song, are the Miao words "za-chao" and "za-go". They are virtually identical in meaning, except that the former refers to the bride's family and the latter to the bridegroom's family.

Next came the Man Li-dao who taught the people farming, and in particular, the cultivation of cotton which they harvested and sold to the Chinese. With the proceeds the man Li-dao established an unnamed town or settlement, and built there a square pool for storing water. Why such a pool was required is not explained. This is one feature peculiar to this song.

Attacks by the Chinese brought to the fore the Man Li-hxai, a military leader who, for a period was able to hold the Chinese at bay. However, his army was eventually tricked, and then wiped out by the Chinese, and the Man Li-hxai was himself captured and executed.

Finally the Miao fled from the homeland led by two individuals called "gha nji zhu Ya-shyu" and "gha nji zhu Fa-na". Ya-shyu and Fa-na are both place names, and "gha nji zhu" means "builder of pillars". This may simply be the name of the men's occupation, as in English one might say, "builder and carpenter", but it could be an honorific title. There is a Miao legend that at one point at the dawn of history the dome of the sky was thrown to one side and smashed. It was rebuilt and fixed back in place by a team of smiths who forged great pillars of copper and iron to support it, thereby saving the world for human occupation. Thus "pillar-builder" might well be a title for some benefactor of the people.

This song repeats the tradition that the distinctive patterns embroidered on the Miao tribal costume were designed as memorials of the homeland that was lost. In this connection lines 160 to 163 refer to articles of clothing called "eu", a word which has been rendered "aprons" in translation, for want of a better term. These were pieces of embroidered cloth about two and a half feet square. Photographs taken earlier in the Twentieth Century show that they were worn in pairs by young women, one in front and one behind, with the diagonals of the squares horizontal and the upper corners caught under the girdle which held the upper garment and the skirt in position. The present context says that they were also used for carrying a baby on the back. There are no pictures of these squares being worn by older women, and by the middle of the Century their use had disappeared altogether. It would seem likely that the eu was embroidered and worn only by young women expecting their first baby, to protect the unborn child from attacks of evil spirits both from before and behind. When the child had been born the eu continued to protect it as its mother carried it around on her back.

The end of the song reflects the tradition that the Miao managed to live for some time in the remote forests on the Yi Landlord's estates without being discovered, and that, even when their presence became known the reception they were accorded was not unfriendly. According to Miao legends about the Flood, of all the human race, only Ndrao-ya and his young sister survived. Having been given super-natural signs that this was the right thing to do, they were eventually persuaded to live as man and wife. They had three sons, the eldest was Miao, the second, Yi, and the youngest, Chinese, who contrived to gain ascendancy over his brothers by a combination of his cunning and their stupidity. In this song the Yi Landlord recognized these strange newcomers as descendants of that remote elder brother, and allowed them, for a time, to go on living there free of rent.

We are not told at what figure the rent was finally fixed, but the Landlord's somewhat cryptic remark is recorded.

"In a good year the Landlord will be good,
In a bad year the Landlord will not be good".

This presumably meant that the rent fixed, in normal times, would not seem excessive, but when the harvest was not so good there would be no special concessions. This was bad news for people already living at subsistence level, and the final line of the song foreshadows worse to follow.

Translation in verse
Literal Transcription

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Word97 Introduction
Word97 Translation
Word97 Transcription
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