Songs remembering the old folk. 4.

Sung by Wang Shu-xing.


As set out in the Miao manuscript the first five lines of this song read,

Why were the old folk calling the children?
They were calling the children to come and drink wine,
So the children came after.
Why were the old folk calling the children?
They were calling the children to come and eat meat.

Though their meaning is perfectly clear, these lines pose a problem. In songs and stories, in accounts of the old spirit worship and in the incantations that were used, there are numerous references to "the children" inviting "the old folk" to a feast that had been prepared for them. Then, after the sacrifice had been offered and the libations poured, petitions were presented imploring the ancestors for protection against attack, for health and for increase within the family, for fertility of the soil and fecundity of the flocks and herds. Nowhere, however, is it suggested that "the old folk" ever invited the children to eat and drink. When the dead did communicate with the living it was invariably by a visitation of sickness or some disaster. This was a sharp reminder, according to the shaman-healer who would have been called, that a sacrifice to the ancestors was overdue.

Now Wang Shu-xing, who recorded this song was a Christian preacher, and was probably writing what he remembered from distant childhood. It is possible, therefore, even likely, that in writing it down he got "the old folk" and "the children" interchanged. The more so because neither expression was still in common use, and the general worship of the ancestors had ceased many years before. It will also be noted that this section of the song is incomplete. A sixth line, parallel to line 3 has, at some point, been lost .

These considerations have prompted a decision to amend the text by transposing "the old folk" and "the children" in lines 1 to 5, and by supplying the missing line 6. This brings the song into complete harmony with all other songs and stories which have to do with ancestor worship.

Literal Transcription

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Word97 Translation
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