A song of spirit worship.
Offering a chicken and a pig to the ancestors.

Collected by Wang Ming-ji.


Offerings to the ancestors were only made when the departed indicated that something was due. Normally the intimation came in the form of sickness visited on a member of the family, but in this song it was a bad dream, which the shaman-healer interpreted as ancestor-trouble. Worship of the ancestors could take place only at certain times in the year, and only the zu-mu, a kind of family priest, could officiate.

In this, and in two of the following songs (M383 and M384) the ancestors are referred to as "dlang-su-mu" and "dlang-su-nzi", which presumably mean "spirits of the first people" and "spirits of the first names" respectively. In a note in the Miao text Wang Ming-ji explained that the former name applied to spirits of the departed which no longer have any progeny on earth, while the latter name is for ancestors who do have descendants still living. This explanation may well be correct, and there may also be some correlation with the duality, described in the spirit worship document (M352 to M354), between the Spirit Zu-gi-za, who had always to be addressed as "Yeu-su-mu" and the immediate ancestors. However, in the present songs, though the names may be used separately they are often brought together as a compound appellation, or else appear in parallel lines where the meaning is virtually identical. Nowhere in the text is a distinction drawn between them.

The efficacy of hemp sandals as a protection against the "gang-nzhi", large caterpillars whose colourful hairs could inflict painful stings like a nettle, is described. However, we are not told whether those made for the ancestors were full size to fit a human foot or some miniature or token offerings. Sandals were usually made of straw, and hemp, though it made excellent sandals, was a valuable commodity, grown for making clothes. We are not told either how the sandals were offered. The ritual killing of an animal released its spirit, which the ancestral spirits could carry or lead away. The ritual scattering of a spoonful of rice with a few shreds of meat and a little wine poured on the top, became a feast in the spirit world. (The remainder of the food was shared by the family and their many guests.) In the Chinese tradition, imitation money and various articles made of paper, or of paper stuck on bamboo frames might be offered to the ancestors by burning, but there is no trace of sacrifice by burning in the accounts of Miao spirit worship, so how the ancestors took possession of their hemp sandals remains unexplained.

Literal Transcription

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