The song of Du-bw, the dull one.

Sung by Wang Shi-cong.


The title preferred for this song is that found in Document M. Document N has the heading, "How the Miao fled to Zhaotung", which is an entirely incorrect representation of the song. The migration described in the first half was the movement of a small group of Yi families, not Miao, and the couple who occupy the stage in the second half were not Miao either, they too were Yi.

Lord Gi-myu was one of the major Yi landlords, and it would appear that certain families belonging to his clan were discontented with the land they had inherited. The word used to describe these families is "ndrang", which means "middle", and it is used regularly for the second son in the family. Thus the expression translated "second ranking families", means families not in the direct line of descent, families of younger sons in the clan. Led by a "relative" of the Landlord, this group began a search for a better place to live. They investigated several localities, all described as "flat plains and wide". The word translated "plain" is used regularly for any piece of relatively level ground. The size varied enormously from many miles across, like the Zhaotung plain, to a few hundred yards of flood plain in the bottom of a narrow valley. For reasons not explained in the song these "plains" were rejected, and on at least one occasion there seems to have been some altercation with the local Chinese. Eventually they managed to secure land on the Zhaotung plain and settled there, not very far from the walled City itself.

The second half of the song concerns a young woman and her companion. The former is identified by a relationship only, "the cousin". She is given no other name. This implies that she was the cousin of someone important, perhaps that relative who led the group of Yi families to their new home in Zhaotung. Having just arrived, she was fascinated by all she saw and heard, the harvesting of the cotton, together with festivities connected with ancestor worship, and, hanging up for sale, the gold and silver nuggets made of paper to be burnt for the enrichment of the departed.

The young cousin's companion was called "Du bw du shi dao". "Du" means "the person", and "bw" is one of the old Miao names for the Yi, particularly those now living on the other side of the Golden Sands River, but who used, long ago, to control the whole of the Zhaotung area. "Shi dao" means "not able". It can be just physically weak, but more generally means, "not very clever", or "slow in the up-take", hence the translation "Du-bw, the dull one". It was important that the newly arrived Yi families should not cause offence to their Chinese neighbours, and young men flaunting cross- bows had to be discouraged. So, despite the tears of his companion, Du-bw, the dull one, was quickly spirited away after shooting a wild goose on the plain, even though the bird was actually eating the crops.

Some points of detail require comment. In lines 85 and following, the young cousin expressed surprise that the Chinese women left their babies at home when they went to pick cotton. Normally a young mother would not leave her baby, but carry it on her back when she was working in the fields. However it was not possible to do this and carry the large basket for the cotton at the same time, so babies had to be left wrapped up at home.

Lines 99 and 100, although identically recorded in both Document M and Document N, are, quite simply, wrong. Every Miao knew perfectly well that silk was not derived from cotton. In fact in some localities the Miao actually bred silk worms, and sold the cocoons to the Chinese for processing. There are two possible explanations for the error. The first, that these lines being spoken by Du-bw, the dull one, are merely a glaring example of his ignorance. The second, that it is possible that there has been a misunderstanding of the original text. The Chinese used cotton for making cloth, but also for padding, particularly the padded quilts, used as bedding, and called "pu-gai". The Miao for "pu-gai" is "a hlyu ba", and it could be that some copyist misread this as "a nzhu nba", meaning "silk". Written in Miao script the expressions are not dissimilar, or taken down in dictation, they sound alike. What is surprising is that later editors, knowing the error, have made no comment. Explanatory footnotes abound in both documents, but there is nothing on this point.

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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