Old Miao songs about marriage. 12.

Transcribed by Yang Yung-xin.


An explanatory note at the beginning of the manuscript reads, "A girl went as a bride to a family where she suffered much hardship, hence this song". This statement is not quite correct inasmuch as the girl was not yet a bride. Throughout the song she is never given the usual title accorded to brides, "nggu nie lao", "the adult young woman", that is one of marriageable age, but is described as "the girl, the child", that is she was still too young to be married.

What seems to have happened was that this young girl was betrothed to a boy of about her own age, and was taken to live in his home. Her parents received gifts of food and wine in exchange for their daughter, whose position in her new home was, however, little better than that of a slave. She was required to undertake tasks, which were simply beyond her strength. An adult could carry sufficient water at one time to keep the water butt in the house topped up, but that was more than the child could manage. Likewise the pounding of millet, which was carried out in a mortar carved out of a block of stone, using an iron pestle, much too heavy for a child to handle effectively.

The advantages of this arrangement to the prospective parents-in-law in terms of a source of cheap labour in the home, are obvious. However, when the actual marriage took place there would still be a marriage settlement to be paid. Until that time the girl remained a member of her own family, and the parents in law were responsible to them for her well-being. This explains why, when the child committed suicide because of the ill treatment she had received, the in-laws were liable for a payment to her family in lieu of the marriage settlement, which would not now be forthcoming. The girl’s family came, therefore, not simply to view the grave, but to collect their dues, and they drove away a young animal, which, apart from his fully trained ploughing ox, was probably the most valuable asset the farmer possessed.

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