M481
Concerning Hmao-chiís youngest daughter and Ndrao-ntlai.

Told ny Yang Xiu-gong.

Introduction.

Though a wide variety of animals and birds figure in the Miao songs and stories, there is a particular fascination with tigers. Alone among all the wild creatures, tigers were credited with the ability of enticing young women away and then carrying them off to be their wives. Once under the influence of the tiger the victim was torn between wanting to stay and wanting to escape, but she could never just run away. Someone had to kill the tiger and so break the spell and rescue her. The present story is a classical example, but at a number of points further comment and clarification are required.

We are told that it was the coloured designs of the Miao tribal costume which first attracted the tigerís attention. The suggestion seems to be that the tiger claimed tribal kinship, and therefore the right to take and marry a Miao woman because of the similarities between the patterns on her gown and those of the tigerís coat. It should be noted that though this idea occurs occasionally in the songs, far more often the costume patterns are regarded as a representation, and therefore as a perpetual reminder, of the ancient homeland which had been lost. Another tradition connects them with the legendary Miao writing which had also been lost.

Like every Miao bride leaving home, Hmao-chiís youngest daughter carried with her all the garments she had been making for her marriage. The parting gifts, which she gave to her mother, were taken from her "bottom drawer". They were new and the result of months of work, in making the yarn, weaving the cloth, making dying and embroidering the garments. They were her most valued possessions.

Certain leaves held tightly between the thumbs can function as reeds, and emit a loud piercing sound when blown correctly. It is possible to play tunes, but Miao youths and girls use leaf blowing as a means of communication when they are out on the hillsides. This is done by reproducing the speech rhythms and tone patterns of simple sentences. Such messages can be heard over very considerable distances, but the uninitiated, for instance the tiger in this story, would not understand.

In common with the Chinese the Miao used the sequence of twelve animals for reckoning years, months and days. "Tiger day" occurred every twelve days, but Yang Xiu-gong explained that it was only on Tiger day in Tiger month that the tigers all slept, so Ndrao-ntlai had some time to wait before returning. It is possible that the couplet about oxen lying prostrate and tigers sleeping is part of a twelve line verse covering all the animals in the cycle, but enquiries brought no further information.

The average Miao house was a single storey building erected on a small flat area cut out of the hillside. This meant that the ground behind rose sharply up, and that in front fell away. For the testing of the sword, the ox is pictured as galloping down the slope and jumping clean over the house. Killing the ox and cutting the skirt in half, in addition to being a test of the sword and of the young manís swordsmanship, may also have been a sacrifice made by the family to ensure the success of his dangerous mission.

There were four tigers in the family, "grandfather" and his three sons, the eldest of which had abducted Hmao-chiís youngest daughter. It is strange that no mention is made here, or in the other tiger stories, of any female tigers.

The process of giving birth to the two tiger cubs involved Hmao-chiís youngest daughter in burial and decay before final return to life. This may have been necessary, on the one hand to break the spell of infatuation that the tiger had cast, and on the other to expiate the contamination resulting from consorting with the tiger, a process only completed when the cubs also had been killed. While all this was happening Ndrao-ntlai remained waiting in the valley and living on the "a-va" which grew there. This was described as a plant, the root of which was edible and resembled potatoes.

Miao singers and story-tellers seem to have an insatiable appetite for aetiological explanations of natural phenomenon and traditional practices. They continue to be included even when, as in the last few sentences of this story which concern the dental arrangements of cattle, sheep and goats, they are not only quite incredible and utterly irrelevant, but come as a complete anticlimax to the narrative.

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