Yi Creation Epic Published in Korean, Based on “Reconstructed” Mandarin Version

The creation epic of the Yi people, Meige (梅葛), was translated and published in Korean in 2014 by Seoul-based 民俗苑, according to a news item from the bimonthly Forum on Folk Culture (彝族创世史诗《梅葛》在韩国出版). There are some 8 million Yi (彝族) living in China, Vietnam and Thailand, of which over 4.5 million reside in Yunnan Province.

As is so often the case in news relating to literature in the non-Han languages of China, the item neglects to mention salient details of the “original” text. It appears — I cannot confirm — that the Meige source text used for translation was in fact one published in Chinese in 1959 by Yunnan People’s Publishing House.

Given that there are two Yi scripts, one classical and one 20th century using the Latin alphabet, this begs the question: Why use a monolingual Chinese text to tell a primordial Yi tale?

The synopsis of a piece of scholarly research by National Chengchi University Dept. of Ethnology lecturer Huang Chi-ping (黃季平), Memories from Meige, the Epic Poem of Creation: Traditional Songs of Chuxiong Yi and Their Re-presentations, appears to explain the choice of Chinese, and points to its usefulness in promoting tourism:

During the Cultural Revolution, Meige had been banned and nearly died out. After the Cultural Revolution, Meige had again regained significant status. To save and preserve Meige, the State Council of China listed Meige in its second batch of intangible cultural heritage [items] in 2008.

Meige, before and after the revival, carries two different kinds of memories. Traditionally, Meige was a type of melody that accompanies the customs of Lipo and Lolopo. On the occasions of life rituals, Meige was recited during the rituals, or sung as a duet in everyday life. There were also Meige gathering, where people sang in celebration joyously. This is the traditional memory of Meige. With the passing of time, the native language and traditional society of Lipo and Lolopo gradually disappeared.

Currently, the only thing that can summon Lipo’s and Lolopo’s memory is a Meige compilation published in mandarin in 1959. Although a significant publication in Yi folk literature, this reconstructed version is not a rigorous verbatim documentation. On the contrary, it was a new creation, published in mandarin. Meige, reconstructed this way, can neither be recited nor sung in duets. However, the reconstructed Meige has become a performance act on stage. To promote tourism, the public sector recreates a Meige culture atmosphere. This is the new memory of reconstructed Meige.

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