Song of the Master Hmao-sao’s daughter Nggu-bang-nzeu.

Recorded by Wang Jian-guo.


This song, like many others, was probably collected by Wang Jian-guo’s father Wang Ming-ji. It is a straightforward story, but at a number of points requires some further explanation.

First there is the matter of names and titles. The young man in the song bears a double name, the significance of which is nowhere explained. Occasionally, and particularly towards the end of the piece, the Miao text of Document N misses out one or other of the names. These omissions may not go back to the original singer, but are more likely lapses in concentration on the part of some scribe during the process of transmission. Their restoration not only preserves consistency in the song, but generally helps to maintain balance in the length of the lines.

The full name of the young woman in the story is,

Hmaob saod gib niaot ncail nggus bangx nzeul
Hmao-sao master daughter young woman blossom youngest

That is "the youngest daughter, Blossom, of the Master Hmao-sao". Today Chinese personal names are commonly used, but traditionally in a Miao family children were known by their position in the family, "eldest", "middle" or "youngest" brother or sister. Occasionally the name "Bang", meaning "flower" or "blossom", might be given to a small girl. Probably the young lady in this story, as a child, was called "La-bang-nzeu", and when she grew up, became "Nggu-bang-nzeu", where "nggu" means "young woman". Her clan name was Hmao-sao, and her father, a man held in some respect in the community, is accorded the title "gi-niao", "Master". After line32 the clan name is dropped out. On the other hand, although it is implied throughout the song, the word "ncai", "daughter", actually occurs only in lines 91 and 92. In the English translation the simplest solution is to treat "Nggu-bang-nzeu" as a proper name.

In lines 101 to 121 we meet another individual who is known only by his title, "nzyu-gi-niao". In other songs this title is used interchangeably with "gi-niao", "Master". However this individual appears to have been somewhat better off than his neighbours, and in a position such that his request for the services of a piper could not be refused. In translation he is differentiated from the "Master" with the title "Overlord", which, for want of a better, will serve, but is possibly rather too grand.

Miao pipes were constructed using lengths of bamboo. To obtain a true resonance, it was necessary that the insides of these pipes should be pierced through and then scraped and rubbed down until they were perfectly smooth. It is this process which is described in lines 22 to 26.

Traditionally young Miao women wore their hair in plaits wound around the head, with wooden combs inserted to keep the arrangement in place Often black wool was plaited in with the hair to make the plaits longer and thicker. See lines 37 and 38.

The conversation recorded in lines 45 to73 was simply light-hearted banter. Each of the young people knew well enough who the other was.

That the young people had met and were attracted to one another was no guarantee that their respective families would approve. The elaborate description of the welcome extended to the young man by the girl’s family, in particular in receiving and hanging up his musical pipes, is balanced by the men folk from his family coming around playing their pipes. This was a propitious beginning, but there remained all the marriage negotiations, usually conducted through middlemen, central to which was the fixing of the marriage settlement. In Miao society, this had to be paid by the bridegroom’s family to the bride’s family. On the bride’s side there was also much to be done. She not only had to make her own bridal outfit by hand, having first actually woven the cloth, but tradition required that she also make a special embroidered gown as a wedding present for her husband. The song mentions none of these matters, but any Miao listener would be fully aware of the situation.

Matters were further complicated by the young man’s enforced absence, probably for several months, attending the Overlord while he was away on an extended visit. They were rendered even more difficult by the fact that the young woman had been abducted by a person called "a controller of the Hmong", presumably some kind of petty official. The Hmong in this case was another branch of the Miao race living on the Sichuan border. It appears that there was no way of getting the young woman back except by force, and this was beyond the capability of her family, if indeed they actually knew what had become of her.

The hostile reception that the young man received from the young woman’s family when he returned, may have been due to wounded family pride, because they had "lost" their talented young daughter, and did not like to admit the fact. More likely it was because the marriage settlement offered by his family did not come up to their expectations. Again we are not told, but when the young man, having rescued their daughter, returned and confronted the family, they apparently had no option but to let her go, presumably without paying the customary marriage dues.

Literal Transcription

You can see the original documents for this song.

You can also see these pages as Word97 documents

Word97 Introduction
Word97 Translation
Word97 Transcription
Word97 Notes

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