How a swallow and a toad went to the king’s country to see an elephant.

Singer not recorded.


In this song the knowledge which the swallow and the toad possessed is constantly contrasted with the ignorance of "the people". This device, not uncommon in the songs, is intended to highlight the achievements of the heroes.

The parallelism of various groups of lines is clear, but it will also be observed that the scheme is not carried through completely. With a little rearrangement, however, a balanced scheme could easily be produced in which the toad describes the walls of the elephant house and the swallow its roof; then the swallow describes the elephant itself and the toad what it eats.

There are no elephants in North Yunnan but the ancient caravan route to Burma passed right through the country where the Miao lived, and descriptions of an animal which they had, no doubt, heard have been faithfully reproduced, except that the elephant appears to have been presented with a tiger's tail! The animal’s "nose" was said to be as long as a "leg band". The bands worn wound around their legs by Miao women were five or six inches wide and four or five feet long.

Exactly who the Chinese king may have been is not clear. That the swallow should be the carrier of news from afar is not surprising. The toad is a less obvious messenger. However, the toad does appear in the stories as a clever, wily creature, and in one story, actually announced that he was on a journey to Sichuan, which, in Miao, is "Vao ti", that is "King’s country".

Literal Transcription

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Word97 Introduction
Word97 Translation
Word97 Transcription
Word97 Notes

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