Miao love songs.

Collected by Wang Ming-ji.


Among the songs sung by the Miao there was a considerable number which concerned love and sex. When the people embraced Christianity these were classified as "the devilís songs", no longer to be sung. Other Christian singing took its place, but there is no doubt that many of the old songs continued, although frowned upon by the leaders.

In conversation with a Miao friend, I pointed out that every people had its love songs, and since by no means all of these are evil, surely many of the Miao love songs were likewise good. Why consign to the devil that which is good? The present little collection was the result. These songs were written down by Wang Ming-ji, but unfortunately he did not indicate when or where or by whom they might have been sung.

Song of a youth and a maiden

In this song the maiden was not prepared to respond to the youthís amorous advances, and she employed two devices to discourage him. The one made reference to the old cosmology songs where the sun is always personified as "The Sun-maid", and the moon as "The Moon-youth". Each had its appointed course to travel, and these courses did not coincide. So she tells him that she will "go round and about to her home", and bids him likewise return to his place. The second metaphor also concerns travelling, but this time it is following a track through wooded countryside, a track which can be easily hidden by fallen leaves and plants. So she urges the youth not to obscure her destined path with his attentions.

A womanís song

In Miao society there were originally strict rules governing which families could intermarry. The rules were known and understood by elders within the community who would be consulted before a union took place. In this song the names that had to be checked were not personal names but the names of the clans and sub-clans to which the couple belonged. Illegitimate relationships could result in the parties concerned, and their offspring, being excluded from the ancestral rites of their clan, which, in turn, might incur dire retribution from the offended ancestors. So this young woman, though perfectly happy with her young man, was also keen that their marriage should be within the rules.

Song of a woman and a man

The economy of a Miao household was such that it required both partners in a marriage to be fully committed. If either proved to be lazy or incompetent, the family would quickly be reduced to poverty. The chief qualities, therefore, that were looked for in a prospective daughter or son-in-law were skill and the willingness to work hard on the farm and in the home. This explains the foreboding of both the young woman and the young man in this song at the prospect of meeting the otherís parents. The young woman was fearful that she would be expected to be able to produce the most difficult designs of the tribal costume, while the young man was afraid of being challenged with a ploughing ox which would be beyond his strength and skill to control.

For some reason, unexplained, the two prospective mothers-in-law are simply called "your mother", but the two fathers-in-law are given the respectful title, "the man, the father" by both of the young people.

A cautionary song

The Miao word "kao" in the title of this song has no exact equivalent in English. According to the context it can mean "to reason with", "to persuade", "to coax", "to encourage", " to rebuke", "to warn" or "to exhort". In the present song, with its slightly cynical view of marriage relationships, "cautionary" is an appropriate translation.

In common conversation, there is a reticence among Miao people to use the words "wife" and "husband". A man, with reference to his wife, will much prefer to say "the childís mother", and likewise, a woman will speak of "the childís father", and everyone will know that she means her husband. The same circumlocution occurs in this song. The Miao text reads, "father" and "mother" where the actual meaning is "husband" and "wife".

Busy bees

In the Miao text each or the four lines of this song comprises just five words. Sadly, such succinctness cannot be reproduced in English translation.

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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