A song of spirit worship.
The Hmao-dang clan’s song of offering an ox to the ancestors.

Collected by Wang Ming-ji.


This song tells how the ancestors of the whole of the Hmao-dang clan, including all seven sub-clans, were disturbed from their rest by large black ants gnawing at their bones. Accordingly they arose and demanded the offering of an ox. The Man Li-dang, presumably the head of the clan, supported by the seven sub-clans, acceded to their demand, and the ancestral spirits were escorted back to their dwelling, satisfied. The problem with this sequence of events is to determine how it accords with the normal pattern of rituals as they are described in M382 to M384.

The Hmao-dang clan was traditionally divided into seven sub-groups the names of which are listed at the end of the song. Ordinary Miao people who were questioned were well aware of the existence of these sub-groups, and that "the old people" took note of them, but for exactly what purpose was not clear. No information was forthcoming about sub-groups in other clans, beyond the fact that they certainly existed.

The ritual described in the song was that of "the great sacrifice", that is the offering of an ox to the ancestors. Normally this ritual would have been performed by a particular family. It was an extreme and very costly procedure, only undertaken when there was a real danger of the family actually dying out. However, it is possible that just occasionally it was carried out, as a kind of insurance, on behalf of the whole clan, with each of the sub-clans contributing.

It seems that the clan was alerted to the need for a sacrifice by the appearance of large black ants swarming among the graves. This was something that could be observed, but starting from this point, someone deduced, first that the ancestors were being pestered and were unhappy, second that they had risen up from their abode and were demanding a sacrifice, and third that it must be "the great sacrifice", the offering of an ox. The person who alone was in a position to make these pronouncements would have been the shaman-healer, and although the song makes no mention of it, it is certain that such a consultation with a shaman-healer must have taken place.

Literal Transcription

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