Told by Yang Xiu-gong.
Fantasy is not required to conform to the constraints of normal life, but the opening paragraph of this story requires a comment. It was not unusual, in a bad year, for a Miao family to be without sufficient food, but it would have been most unlikely, in those circumstances, for them to add to their difficulties by undertaking a marriage. The idea that a bride and her young bridesmaid should arrive at her husbandís home and find nothing to eat is very odd, but that she should simply walk out and proceed to marry someone else is even harder to believe. Possibly, if we had the original song, we might find a more probable opening.
There is also confusion in the story as it stands. It concerns the identity of the woman who received the younger sisterís appeals for help. In the messages brought by the bee, the crow and the magpie, and in the womanís response, it is clear that she was the mother of the girl, and the mother-in-law of the man whom the tiger devoured. It follows that she was also the mother of the younger sister, and not her mother-in-law as the Miao text suggests. In recording the text no correction has been made, but the error has been rectified in the English translation.
The girdle, which was worn by both men and women, was made from a full length of cloth. That would be a piece of material fifteen to eighteen inches wide and six or seven feet long. The sides were joined to make it into a tube, but not by simply folding along the middle line. A corner would be attached some nine inches along the opposite side, and the seam joining the edges would proceed from there. The resulting girdle, being on the cross of the material, did not slip when wound tightly around the body. A brideís trousseau would include several such girdles. In this story the girls unpicked the seam,
and from the resultant lengths of cloth made a simple gown and trousers which they presented to Ndrao-dyu on a stick, the Miao equivalent of a clothes hanger. The trouble was that, in their hurry, their stitching was not secure, and the garments fell apart when Ndrao-dyu tried to put them on.
One of the daily tasks in a Miao home, which normally fell to the lot of the women and girls, though not exclusively so, was to carry water from a stream or a spring. This was usually done using a wooden tub carried on the back. The spring might be some distance away, but when building houses the availability of a reliable water supply was of paramount importance. The idea of a spring of water under the bed inside the house is, however, fanciful.
The implication in the second half of the story, although it does not actually say so, is that the tiger changed its form to impersonate the young man whom he had just eaten, and only the sharp eyes of the younger sister penetrated the disguise. During the night, presumably, he resumed his tiger mode while devouring the older sister. Now the next day when the relations arrived the tiger must have been away. In and around Miao homes and villages there were often small gardens for growing vegetables. These had to be fenced with stakes and interlaced brushwood to keep cattle and sheep out. It was this fencing that the visitors moved, to make the path between so narrow that the tiger could only just get by and could not throw the water tub aside when it suddenly became
too heavy for him. This happened when extra water and a stone were added surreptitiously to his load, by persons concealed behind the fencing on either side. All the preparations required for this complicated scheme to work, the repositioning of the stakes, the remaking if the fences and so forth, would have required considerable time and could not possibly have been done had the tiger been about. When he returned he no doubt resumed his human disguise in the presence of the visitors, but how he was persuaded to go and fetch water when there was a spring under the bed in the house, is not explained. We are not told either how the tiger was inveigled into setting out to fetch water, not with a clean, empty tub, but with one already so full of mud that he could hardly lift it. Moreover, the elaborate trap set to kill him could only work if, having left the house and before passing between the fences, he reverted to his tiger mode again. How did the relatives insure that this would happen? Fantasy provides no answers.
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