M461
Nggu-nos mother and father.

Told by Yang Xiu-gong.

Introduction.

The title of this story is a little misleading since the main theme concerns not Nggu-nos parents, but the rivalry between Nggu-no and her step sister, Nggu-ntrw, aided and abetted by their respective mothers. Although the story moves in the realm of fantasy, with people changing into animals, birds and the like, the setting is that of a typical Miao village, which requires some explanation.

First there were the constant tasks of gathering firewood, normally, though not always, undertaken by the men folk, and that of carrying water from the stream, which usually fell to the women and girls. Then there were the regular duties performed by the older children of taking the sheep and cattle out daily to graze on the hillsides. Both men and women shared the work of planting, tending and harvesting the crops. Then for the women and girls there was, in addition, the endless task of joining hemp for making clothes. When the hemp had been stripped from the stalks it was tied up into bundles. The strands were pulled out one by one, and joined together with a special twist, not a knot, and as each length was attached it was wound around the left hand to form a ball. These balls were then made into skeins by winding on to a frame consisting of a cross made of two pieces of flat wood, each about two feet long and joined together at right angles. At the end of each arm was a peg, and the whole was pivoted in the centre so that it would revolve horizontally. The skeins of hemp were made into yarn ready for weaving, by steeping in water with wood ashes. Several skeins would be required to thread up the handloom. Before weaving, some also had to be wound on the bobbin in the shuttle. To do this a skein of yarn was replaced on the pegs of the winding frame, and the bobbin was wound by hand. The frame rotated slowly on its pivot as the yarn was pulled off, and often made a characteristic squeaking noise.

The story assumes familiarity with the layout of a Miao house. It was rectangular in shape with a single door in the middle of the long side by which both people and cattle entered. The latter were penned in a compartment at one end of the house, with no access from outside. Thus "the door of the cow house" was in fact in the main living room where the people were assembled. Under the thatched roof was a loft, reached by a rough ladder. The floor of the loft was usually plaited bamboo. This space was used for the storage of grain, and also might be used for sleeping.

From time to time the Miao held festivals at which gathered the young people from surrounding villages. These were not religious occasions but were more like carnivals with singing, pipe playing and dancing, accompanied by the drinking of much wine made from maize or millet.

It was not uncommon, when a girl got married for a younger sister to go with her as a companion, but she usually returned before or as soon as the first baby was born. After the birth of a child, a Miao mother had soon to be back at work in the home and on the farm, but her baby had to go with her, strapped on her back. It gave the mother some respite if some one else would take the baby for a time. The business of pinching the child and making it cry was a ruse by the younger sister to get the older sister to change clothes with her.

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