Old Miao songs about marriage. 11.

Transcribed by Yang Yung-xin.


In this song the mothers of the prospective bridegroom and bride are called respectively, "the woman, the aunt" and "the woman, the mother". The two fathers are not distinguished, both are "the man, the father", but since neither ever appears without his wife, there is no confusion.

Having arrived on his third visit, the middleman was entitled to an answer one way or the other. By failing to give one, the parents could expect to be put under some pressure. Their problem was that they did not want to lose their particularly talented daughter, but if they refused, would another suitor come forward, and would he be any more acceptable? Moreover, time was a significant factor. Families preferred their daughters-in-law to be younger rather than older.

There are a number of isolated points, which call for some comment.

  1. The Miao word "cha", which in common speech more often takes the form "cha-cha", has a range of meanings from a casual, "Oh dear, what a pity!" to a sincere expression of grief.
  2. The "gown of longing" was the bridegroom’s gown, made for him by the bride before the marriage, as tradition required.
  3. The "hlu-nza-nzyu" was the most highly regarded pattern of the Miao tribal costume. It was also the most difficult to make.
  4. The Yi-bang was the great river which flowed through the ancient homeland from which the Miao were driven by the Chinese.
  5. The claim that the young woman could write Chinese characters is remarkable. Before 1904 when the missionaries began to open schools in Miao villages, very few Miao boys had an opportunity to learn to read and write Chinese, while for a girl to be literate was virtually unheard of.
  6. The Miao did not use animal milk in their food, so that the complaint at the end of the song must mean that the gifts brought by the in-laws, lavish though they may have been, were incommensurate even with the milk of their daughter’s babyhood.

Literal Transcription

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