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Oral Literature (口头文学、史诗)

Under Threat: ‘Meige’ (梅葛), Creation Epic of the Yi People of Southwest China

In Fading Tones: The Slow Demise of Yunnan’s Epic Songs, Matthew Walsh does a fine job of introducing meige (梅葛), the creation tale of Yunnan’s Yi people (彝族), via on-the-ground research in Mayou village in Yao’an (姚安马游),  interviews with master storytellers, and several short but moving audio clips of the saga as it is still sung:

Passing on the tradition: A ‘meige’ class at a Yao’an primary school. (Photo: Daniel Holmes/Sixth Tone)

YUNNAN, Southwest China — Guo Youzhen takes a deep breath and starts singing about the origins of the universe.

She sings of Gezi, the Creator, who forged the earth and the sky from nothing. She sings of Ah Fu, whose three sons clung fast to the edge of the sky and hauled it downward to meet the earth below. She sings of the pythons that encircled the earth and divided it into uplands and lowlands, the ants that nibbled at the ground’s frayed edges until they all lay straight, and the menagerie of wild animals that applied the finishing touches.

Three pairs of boars, three pairs of elephants,
dug the soil for 77 days and nights.
They made the mountains; they made the hills.
They made the flats, and the beds that water fills.

Guo reaches the end of the verse and pauses for breath. “It’s a very long song,” she smiles. “You could sing for three days and nights, and still not reach the end.”

Big sky, small world — this is right.
Heaven and earth are well-aligned.

There are only a handful of people left who can sing the creation myths of the Yi people, one of China’s 55 official ethnic minorities, from start to finish. The myths form the centerpiece of meige, a style of sung storytelling that has been passed down among Yunnan province’s Yi communities for centuries.

Categories
China's Ethnic-themed Fiction in Translation (中国民族题材文学的外译)

Quick Guide to China’s Contemporary Ethnic-themed Literature in Translation

Categories
Chinese Fiction by & about Ethnic Minorities (中国少数民族文学) Oral Literature (口头文学、史诗)

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: