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Traditional Miao Stories in Our Childhood
Author:Admin / Update time:2020-10-02 18:03:00 / Hits:0

Many Chinese novels say, "If you get lost in a sea of mountains, you might see a Miao village among them."


My Hmong name is called Vai. I come from a Miao village, and I will go back to my village in the future when I get very old one day.

My earliest memory is of a fish in a clean river, which is just in fron of my village.

In my village, we did not have meat to cook and my family was poor.  Sometimes I was a naughty child and cried for meat and so my father would go fishing at night using only his hands and the light of a fire made from the resin of a pine tree.  It is not difficult to catch fish at night because the fish are sleepy, and are attracted to the light.  Sometimes when you put the light over the water, the fish come close to you.  And sometimes some small fish hide below the stones in the river, and when you turn the stones over, you can pick up the fish.


When my father was not at home and we were hungry, my mother would open the iron rat catching cage and put it in front of the rat's hole.  Then at night we would try to go to sleep and wait for the rats.  Sometimes, in the middle of the night, we would hear a sound knocking on the wall, and hear a cry:  a rat!  We would all get up quickly and rush out to hold the iron to kill the rat.  Then we would take off its skin, cut off its head and throw it away, and take off the tail and throw it away.  People say we cannot touch rat tails so we never touched the rats' tails.  Then after cleaning the rats' meat, we would throw away all the rats' innards.  Then we put some salt and ginger and a little bit of vinegar on the rats' meat, and lit a fire. Some  friends from the neighborhood would smell the meat cooking and come to our house and try to share the meat with us.We were all like hungry wolves.  


But often after we ate the rats, we would drop the water because the meat was so deliciously good. The rats living in the villages are very clean and smart, they don't eat the trash and dirty food thrown by local people on the ground,but the rice and corn stolen by them.If you want to catch a rat or try to kill them,you guys cannot tell anybody else what you want to do,otherwise, you will fail.


We were so poor.  

I remember one year just before the New Year my parents wanted to buy some special food to celebrate the festival.  They didn't have money for meat, so they decided to buy a small piece of tofu.  They gave me a little bit of money - 2 jiao - at that time it was very cheap, and sent me to buy tofu.  And I bought it.  But on my way home, it was raining hard, and so the road became slippery.  I fell down in the mud, and the tofu dropped from my hands and broke.  I cried.  Using my two hands, I tried to put the tofu back together, but there was mud and gravel mixed in with it.

How could I face my parents?  I was afraid they would scold me.  But when I arrived back home, my parents only said - "Be careful next time."  

So that night we celebrated the New Year with broken tofu.

My father ever told me "If you don't study hard, you are going to come back home, and make friends with the water buffaloes.  Nobody else will be your friend.  Nobody will help you do anything because you will have nothing to offer them.  Only the water buffaloes will help you plow the fields.  But if you study hard, you can go to Kaili.  So, when I was 18 years old, I came to Kaili for the first time.  I was surprised by how high all the buildings were and how many people there were.  And I was shy to make friends with all the people here.  And I was shy to tell people I was a Hmong (pronounced Mung.)  I went to the Senior school in Kaili.  When people asked me if I was a Hmong or not, I didn't answer their question directly.  I pretended I didn't hear.  Only in the last year of University did I tell people I was a Hmong.  My first three years in University, I did not tell people I was a Hmong.  Even though 95 percent of my classmates were from minority groups, I didn't answer their questions and did not tell them about my family.  I still don't understand why.  Because now I am proud to tell people I am Hmong.  Actually, most Chinese use the word Miao instead of Hmong, but I prefer to identify myself as Hmong.  Miao is the name the Han Chinese use to identify my people, but we call ourselves Hmong.  Hmong in some way means Embroidery.



I began my education at the primary school in my little village.  My teacher was a farmer, too.  He was also a Hmong.  But he could speak some Chinese.  And this teacher wanted to teach us well, but he could not.  And in every busy season - like rice planting season and harvest season, the teacher was too busy working to have time to teach us.  

I remember one time when all the farmers were busy plowing the rice fields - and it was the same with my teacher.  He came to school with his water buffalo.  He had the plow balanced on his left shoulder, and in his right hand, he was holding a few books.  


Some of my classmates were very naughty.  They could not sit still, and were always talking with each other.  They did not listen to the teacher.  So, the teacher was angry, and told them to go take care of his water buffalo -- to go feed it.  

And they were happy to leave class.  

And then my teacher told them "Remember, at 12:00 you must drive the water buffalo back to school."  So, at 12 my classmates drove the water buffalo back to school, and the teacher was happy because his water buffalo had come back to the school full of food.  And so he praised those two classmates as great students.  

And then after 12:00, the teacher went back to the countryside to plow the fields.  He could not be a good teacher because he had had little education and he had to work as a farmer.  And also sometimes the teacher in my village wouldn't tell the parents the truth about their children because the teacher only wanted the parents to be pleased with him so they would give him some good food.  

So at the village primary school, it was so hard to learn anything, especially Chinese.  

I did not begin really learning Chinese until I was 8 and switched schools.  My new primary school was a twenty minute walk away from my home.  And each day, I had to walk there twice.  I would go early in the morning and then run back home for a small ball of rice to eat for lunch and then run back for afternoon lessons.  

And sometimes, there were night classes, and I had to run home to eat something and then go back to the school again for the night classes.  

Sometimes, my teacher came to school drunk.  Someone in the class would ask a question, and the teacher would say "Ask me tomorrow.  I can't answer now."  

None of the teachers were very good at teaching Chinese there either.  Mathematics, yes, but not Chinese. And I knew so little.  It was so hard for me to even get a 60 percent score at that time.

When I was a child, the winter was much colder than it is now.  There were more forests and more trees and more people.  Now, there are so many buildings and so much cement that it is a little warmer.  Every morning, my mother and my sisters had to make a fire and heat the charcoal for me so I could get ready for school.  And we had a small tin basin that we would swing round and round to get the air circulating through the charcoal to get it burning fast.  Sometimes, when I would swing the charcoal tin around, I would swing it too slowly, and some of the charcoal would slip out and fall down my shirt and burn me.  


I never had a real breakfast during primary school.  We never had money to buy bread or milk.  That was a big dream for me at that time -- to drink milk.  I wanted to know what it tasted like.  Few children in my village had ever tasted milk.

Fall was my favorite season because in fall we could have sweet potatoes.  We ate them in the morning, and it made us feel very happy.  We were stronger to play.  And at that time, we could listen to the teacher calmly.  

But sometimes we were very hungry so we were just waiting for school to be over.  I remember -- I had no watch so I used to ask my classmate the time, and he was not so patient.  So when I would look at him, he would say "Do you want to ask me what time it is?," and I would not reply.  I would just look out the window, and see someone's fire cooking and feel consumed by hunger.

My parents were very busy and only had time to cook once a day.  So my sisters and I could eat as we liked.  When we were hungry, we could eat.  So sometimes, I would eat five times in one day!  Some days, we could not count how many times we had eaten.


I have five sisters, but only my eldest sister went to school.  The others had to work to help me go to school, so now I am working to help their children go to school.  This makes me happy. In the photo above, one of my sisters was not there, she went to look after our buffalo when we took this photo.

You see, my family had to pay for all my schooling.  

In some parts of the countryside now, primary school is free.  It depends on the village.  Nearly all the children go to school now.  But the education quality of the schools in the villages is very different from that of the schools in the cities.  The good teachers go to the big cities, and the teachers who are good at drinking rice wine stay in the villages.

More and more minority people are leaving their villages to move to Kaili and other citiies.  In fact, the old people want to stay in their villages, and do not want to come to Kaili.  But they want to give their children a better opportunity to go to school and find some better education.  The old people prefer their own villages -- unlike the younger people.  

Maybe I am different from most of the other young people because I prefer my hometown to the cities.  Sometimes I am a little bit homesick because in my hometown, I can open the window and look at the moon.  I don't even have to leave my room.  And I can look at all the stars.  And think about all the different people who have seen the moon, all the many generations of people.


When I was in my village and looked at the moon, I felt that human beings are so tiny, so small.  

And sometimes when I see the moon, the moon reminds me of the old stories from my childhood.  

My mommy told us stories before we went to sleep.  

It is said that there was a boy, and he was too naughty.  He often cheated his mommy. One day, the boy's mommy wanted to have some vegetables to feed the pigs.  

People in the countryside often cut vegetables and put them in a pot to dry and after they have dried, use them to feed the pigs.  So the mommy asked the boy to help her gather vegetables for pig food.

The boy went to a garden that was a little bit far and he cut some vegetables and put them in the bucket.  But the boy was lazy, and so he got in to the bucket under the vegetables, and hid so that he could go to sleep.  When he felt somebody picking up the bucket, he woke up.  He thought he was being carried away by thieves, and so he stayed hidden because he imagined he could jump out to surprise the thieves and ask them for pork.  But the boy didn't know that his mother was worried and was looking for him.  So, his mother came to the garden.  And carried him back to the house, not realizing he was in the basket, just thinking -- this is so heavy!  Then he saw that in fact it was his mother and not the thieves, but he was so lazy he didn't want to walk, so he let his mother carry him.  He was so naughty!  A few days later -- the boy's mother asked him to cut down a pine tree for the family to burn.  So, the lazy went to cut down the closest pine tree.  He began sawing it down even though it was his bird tree.  He was too lazy to even move the birdcage to another tree.

The mother saw this, and thought "What a lazy boy I have!  I must do something to change him!"

But before the mother could do anything, the pine tree froze the lazy boy in place so that all the world could see what a very lazy boy he was -- cutting down a tree with a bird cage still in it's branches.

The boy could no longer move even a step.

So all his relatives came by the tree and sang a song to him.  "Oh boy, oh naughty boy.  You will die.  You are like a bean dried in the sun.  Oh boy, lazy boy, you will be like a corn dried on the matt.  Oh boy, you will be like meat hanging on the hook.  Ah, you will die, you must die.  You will be dry.  And dry to die."

Then the boy died.

And now, on sunny days and on clear nights, if we look at the moon, we can see a tree there and a birdcage hanging in the tree and the birdcage controlled by the tree there.  Now the boy is a prisoner in the birdcage and he will never again be free.

My mother told me that story and it scared me, but it helped me to learn to work harder.  

was surprsied by how high all the buildings were, and how many people there were.  And I was shy to make friends with all the people here.  And I was shy to tell people I was a Miao.  I went to the Senior school here.  When people asked me if I was a Miao or not, I didn't answer their question directly, I only pretended I didn't hear.  When I went to University -- only in the last year -- did  I tell people I was a Miao.  When I was a freshman and sophomore, I did not tell people I was a Miao.  Even though 95 percent of my classmates were minority groups, I

didn't answer their questions.  I don't understand why.  But after I graduate from the university, I am proud to tell people I am a Miao.  

Can you communicate with all the different Miao tribes?  I can communicate with Miao people in southeast Guizhou, but I can't communicate with all Miao people directly.  In Guizhou, there are three different Miao dialects:  the western dialect, the central dialect and the Eastern dialect.  

What are the physical attributes prized in a beautiful Miao woman?  And Miao man?  

Traditionally, the Miao people have desired their women to be fat and strong.  A strong woman can work hard, and a woman with a big bottom can have more babies.  Miao women and Miao men should not be too tall. Because if a person is too tall, a bigger house must be built and more trees must be cut.  Also, the Miao like big round faces because we think a big face looks as if it can hold more thoughts to help more people.  A handsome Miao man looks strong and friendly.  And honest.

In Guizhou, it is common for people not to pay on the busses because they do not have enough money.  Sometimes, the little kids stop a bus and say "Give us some money, and you will be lucky in the next year."  And so people on the bus give money.  We call this - the poor man's health insurance.  For just a few small coins, you will be granted luck in the next year.  

On the first day of the New Year, girls are forbidden to visit neighbor's homes because all the village people say that if a girl visits the neighbors, then the neighbors will not have good luck in the New Year.  So, only the boys go visit the neighbors, and the neighbors give each boy a red purse with money in it.  

Also, in the Dragon Boat Festival, the girls are not allowed to get on the Dragon Boat.  People say if a girl gets on the Dragon Boat, the Dragon Boat will sink or turn over.  So, they put a boy dressed up as a girl on the boat, and some people say they do that in order to cheat the dragon, but the real reason is to make sure the boat's journey is swift and smooth.  Also, if a village woman is going to give birth to a little baby or has a baby that is less than thirty days old, then neither the woman nor any of the woman's immediate family members can touch the boat.  All the villagers must make sure these customs are not violated because if it is discovered that any of these customs have been violated, the boat will not be allowed to participate in the race.

 

When a baby is born, the father plants a pine tree or a fir tree so that when the baby grows up and gets old and dies, his relatives and friends can cut down that tree to make a coffin.  Also, after a a man is buried, the man's friends and family plant a tree over the coffin.  So, in the village burial sites, all that can be seen are trees.  

In BaSha, the Mountain Miao have very special funerary customs.  At the end of the year, they celebrate a festival called the Ghosts Crying Festival in which all the women go to the forest to cry to wake up the ghosts.  Also in BaSha, the men customarily wear their hair in top knots as a sign of their manhood.  A man without a topknot can not be buried in a wooden coffin, only thrown in to a hole in a cave.  


In my hometown, we also have unique funeral customs.  For example, when a man  dies who has a daughter, his daughter must kill a pig and put the dead pig in front of the corpse of her father, and if the man has more than one daughter, then there should be more than one pig slaughtered in honor of the father; one given by each daughter.  Then the daughters must carry the slaughtered pigs and the corpse of their father up to the hill to be buried.  Then the village shaman comes carrying a chicken, and interrupts the burial asking -- "What are you doing?"  and the family responds "We're burying our father."  "Don't do that yet," says the shaman.  "I want to give him a chicken."  So, the shaman puts down the chicken.  Then some other family members present two pair of straw shoes they have prepared for the father because the road to paradise is long, and he will need good shoes in order to make the journey.  Then the shaman tells us that he will go to paradise, and that in paradise, the Miao people play drums and dance just as in life, but that the deceased can not like at one another like the living can; the deceased always look up to the sky.  

...And the shaman asked, "Why did you return to paradise so soon?"  And the child answered, "I hadn't wanted to leave the earth so soon, but my parents went outside to chat with others and left me at home by myself, and some of the smoking pork caught on fire, and so I died.  I didn't want to die.  But my parents were so foolish."

And so the shaman asked, "When will you come back?"  And the little boy replied, "I am waiting to find a mother and father who can give me red eggs to eat."


I am my parent's fifth child and only son.  After my four older sisters were born, my mom went to the woman shaman and asked the woman shaman to help the family.  My mother told me the woman shaman's eyes turned from black to white and rolled up in to the back of her head.  Then the woman shaman ate uncooked rice and planted a stick of burning incense in a mound of rice and started to move her knees and sing some secret songs.  My mom said the woman shaman made many strange sounds.  She sounded like a sick person and like a bird flying in the sky and like a river and like a waterwheel moving.  The woman shaman sang for about ten minutes.  Then she told my mom, "I cannot do much for you by myself.  So, I need to speak first to the spirit of your husband's dead father.  He should be able to help you."  Then, after a while, the spirit of my grandfather borrowed the mouth of the woman shaman and talked to my mom and said, "Hello, Daughter-in -Law.  You only come to visit me when you need help from me.  I know you want to have a son."  My mother was surprised to hear this because she hadn't told the woman shaman that she wanted help having a son, only that she wanted help. And the voice really did sound like my grandfathers; the dialect was the same!    Then the voice of my grandfather said, "If you want a son, you must take my advice.  You must come back here in one week and bring a cock and some money and a bamboo basket of steamed sticky rice.  And you must kill the chicken and cook it and eat it all.  If you do that, I will help you.  Just listen to me.  I will use this woman shaman's mouth to talk to you and tell you my advice."  So, one week later, my mom returned with the cock and money and steamed sticky rice.  It was a sunny day.  My mom cooked the cock and ate it all.  Then, the woman shaman covered her face with a white cloth, and my grandfather once again borrowed the mouth of the woman shaman and began speaking.  My grandfather said, "Now you must find something alive in the grass, and you must drink it.  After you drink it, you will be able to have a son."  So, the woman shaman took the cloth off of her face, and put it in to the rice wine.  Then my mother and the woman shaman began speaking to the spirits, saying "Oh, my baby, my son.  Where are you?  Come on.  Don't hide outside in the wild place.  It is too cold outside.  Don't stay outside.  We have a place for you.  You will be happy.  You will love it."  Then, they found two spiders who were running very fast, and the woman shaman used a wet chicken feather to catch those two spiders and put them in to a cup of rice wine.  Then she said to my mom, "If you drink this cup of rice wine with the two spiders in it, you will have two sons.  If you only drink one, you will have one son.  You need to think about it."  Then my mother looked at the two ugly spiders, and made her decision.  She said, "I already have four daughters.  I think one more child is enough.  Besides, I think it is better if I only have one son because then I can help him more."  So, my mother only drank one of the spiders.  And later that year, I was born.  


According to local tradition, whoever helps a family have a baby has the right to name the baby.  So, my mother took me to the woman shaman to be named.  The woman shaman gave me the name Ye which means stone.  But after I was named, I cried for a week.  So, my mother worried that I didn't like the name the woman shaman had given me, and she took me back to see the woman shaman.  This time, my grandfather spoke through the woman shaman.  He said, "Daughter - in - law, you would not have had your son without my help, but you didn't ask me to name him.  I am the one who should give your son a name.  Listen.  The name Ye means stone, but it means the kind of stone that is left in a toilet.  And has a bad smell.  The meaning is not good.  So, I must change it for you.  You must name my grandson Vy."  Vy is a Hmong word meaning sky or paradise.  "My grandson is not a stone that lives in the toilet, but a stone from paradise."  So, my mother returned thanked my grandfather's spirit, and returned home with me, and told all the neighbors that my new name was Vy.  After that, my crying stopped, and I slept peacefully.


My parents felt very happy to have a son.  When I was one year old, the woman shaman told my parents that my life was very delicate, and they must put a silver bracelet on my arm to help protect my life.  Since then, I have worn this bracelet.  Then when I was five or six years old, I dropped down from the trees in the paddy field, and came home with dirty clothes, and my mom was worried.  So, she went back out in to the paddy field and took two big stones and burned some money and dyed some eggs red and left them out in the paddy field.  And my mother called out, "Oh, my child's spirit.  Come back!  Don't leave my child alone.  Please return to him."  


A good woman shaman knows what's inside your suitcase.  She can guess.  She has special powers.  Sometimes, sickness and fever give the shaman their special powers.  Once , I went to a very good shaman who was just a girl, but she had strong powers because she had had a very high fever.  But sometimes, the shamans are cheats and will only say very general things that apply to everyone like "there is a stone in front of your house."  

When did the Miao begin to sell their beautiful treasures?  And how do the Miao feel when they no longer wear their own traditional clothing and jewelry?  Do they lose their sense of identity?  

The Miao began selling their textiles and jewelry in 1987 when the first group of foreigners, a group of Japanese tourists,  were granted permission to come through Guizhou.  Before then, Guizhou had been closed to foreigners.  The tourists chose to travel to Guizhou because they knew that the character for Gui meant expensive, and so they guessed that the province must be beautiful.  In fact, the name Guizhou means expensive sunshine.  It is often overcast in Guizhou, so sunshine is rare, or you could say, expensive.  


Guizhou is one of the poorest provinces in China today, and in the 1980's, Guizhou was very very poor.  The poverty of the province surprised the Japanese tourists.  But the Japanese tourists were impressed by the rich textiles and culture.  They bought many colorful jackets and textiles.  


Sometimes, I help a friend collect textiles.  We travel from village to village.  I find some women are sad to sell their beautiful old jackets.  But they must.  Because they are poor, and they need the money.  In Dan Zai county, my friend bought a jacket for about 4,000 yuan.  After buying the jacket, my friend asked the woman who had made the jacket to model the jacket for him so that she could wear it one last time and he could take a photograph of her in it.  But she declined.  And I could see she was about to cry.  As we left, she watched us out her window.  


Most families in the countryside are very poor.  They need money, and so they have to sell.  If they don't sell their handicrafts, they will not have money.  


But once their beautiful jackets and family treasures are sold, they never return.  And many family textiles have work on them from several generations of women in the family -- from the mother and the grandmother and the great-grandmother.  So, the colorful jackets and skirts are passed between many people, and have a lot of sentimental value.  A mother wants to give her daughter the jacket she wore when she got married.  She does not want to have to sell it.  But often, the money is more important.  

Because ShiDong is located on a river, its culture didn't develop in isolation.  The Han Chinese came to ShiDong and impressed the villagers with their elaborate paper cuttings.  The Shi Dong Miao village women imitated the paper cuttings in their embroidery; this is what makes ShiDong embroidery so unique.  Also, there are lions and dragons in ShiDong embroidery inspired by the Chinese celebrations.  

The Han Chinese Dragon Boat Festival falls on May 5, but that is a busy time for Miao people because it is the season for rice planting.  So, the Miao celebrate the Dragon Boat festival on May 25, and adorn themselves in water buffalo horns instead of in deer horns like the Han Chinese wear.  Also, the Miao have adapted the stories of the Dragon Boat festival.  Here is one popular story:  It is said that many years ago in a village around ShiDong, together lived a man and his son.  They were very poor, they had nothing, only a poor house and a water buffalo.  One day, the man went to the hill to work in the paddy fields.  He left his little son at home and asked him to take care of his water buffalo.  As it was summer, there were many mosquitoes biting the water buffalo.  So, the little boy drove the buffalo to the Qing Shui Jiang river to swim.  And when the water buffalo was swimming in the river, a dragon appeared in the water.  And that dragon wanted to eat the child.  The dragon took the child from the river bank, and pulled him under the water to his lair.  Unable to find the child, the water buffalo realized something terrible had happened.  So, the water buffalo stopped swimming, and went back home and cried.  The sad cries of the water buffalo resounded through the hills, and all the villagers heard the cries and wondered.  That evening, the little boy's father returned home, and the distraught water buffalo bit at the father's clothing and pushed him toward the river.  The father found it all very unusual, but after a little while, it occurred to him that something may have happened to his son.  He looked for his little son all round the village, but could not find him.  He returned home to the mournful cries of the water buffalo, and this time let the water buffalo lead him down to the river.  Once they got to the river bank, the water buffalo cried in the direction of where the boy had been pulled into the water, and the father understood.  He thought maybe his son had been killed by some wild animals or ghosts.  The father jumped into the river to search.  But it was already evening, and so it was too dark for the father to see under the water.  The father decided he would have to try again at the first light of dawn.  The next morning, the sun rose on a clear sky; it was a sunny day.  The father went down to the river bank, stripped off his clothes, and dove in to the water.  Under the water, the father found a cliff sheltering a dry cave.  Summoning up his courage, the father went in to the cave.  It was a dragon's lair.  Inside was a sleeping dragon.  And tucked under the neck of the dragon, the man saw the body of his little son.  Oh, the father felt a terrible pain!  His heart hurt.  He wanted to kill the dragon, but knew he could not slay the dragon with his bare hands.  He would have to wait.  So, the father slipped quietly out of the cave, back in to the water and returned home.  Once home, the father began preparing some materials:  dry straw, two stones of flint, cotton and chicken liver.  Chicken liver is oily and is flammable.  After getting all these materials together, the father returned to the river.  He wrapped the materials in an animal skin so they would stay dry, and dove in to the river and swam to the dragon's lair.  He found the dragon still fast asleep.  And the evil dragon was still using his poor little son's lifeless body as a pillow for his head.  The father wanted to take his son's body away, but he saw it was impossible.  He could not risk waking the dragon.  So, the father very quietly drizzled chicken liver on the straw and cotton, and scattered them around the lair and lit them on fire.  And then the father escaped from the burning cave.  For three whole days, the cave burned.  And after that, the dragon appeared floating dead on the river.  All the villagers gathered together, and shared what remained of the dragon's meat.  And ever since then, the people have held the Dragon Boat Festival each year to celebrate the death of that terrible dragon.    


I think I've done better than my classmates because I have a strong will, and I am responsible.  I can take good care of myself.  I supported myself all the way through university.  Before I went to university, my parents told me -- "If you work hard, you can take flights, but if you don't, you can only take buses and watch the planes fly off in to the distance."  I've never forgotten that.  Once in university, soldiers came to train us - to strengthen our will.  We were made to line up outside and were instructed not to move.  But when I heard a plane flying overhead in the sky, I looked up.  A soldier asked what I was doing, and I told him I was only trying to adjust my eyes.  But really I was thinking -- if only I could fly on an airplane!  A few years ago, I got to fly on an airplane for the first time.  My company flew me from Guiyang to Hainan Island, and since it was a business trip, I didn't have to pay for my ticket.  


It only snows here once a year, and so when it snows, everyone is set free!  The children don't go to school, and the teachers don't teach!  

About 150 years ago in Guizhou, there was an uprising against the Qing Dynasty.  Taxes for the minority people were too high; the people were being forced to give up too much of their rice.  So, the people revolted.  Empress Cixi dispatched military force to the Qin Shui Jiang River to repress the uprising.  The military killed many Miao people, and burned many villages.  Everyone in Langde was killed except for thirteen villagers who escaped to the woods.  Langde is just one example.  It was a horrific time.  


Here is a drinking game the villagers like to play at festival time:  A big group of people gather together to drink rice wine.  One red circle of rice wine is painted on to a person's face for each cup of wine that that person drinks.  At the end of the gathering, the hostess looks around the group, and if she sees one person who has fewer circles on his face than the others, then that person must drink three more cups of rice wine.  It is a fun game, and everyone ends up a little drunk.  Sometimes, the women are naughty, and use all five fingers to make a dot so that it becomes impossible to really keep track of how many cups of wine someone has had.  Also, the women like to mix color with the rice wine instead of water so that after the people will not be able to wash the dots off their faces for at least a week!  In the village we say, "If we didn't have rice wine, we wouldn't know how happy we are!"  


In the middle school in my hometown, the teachers teach some of the children to embroider.  But most of the young generation are not being taught how to embroider, and even those who are being taught, will probably never be able to embroider as beautifully as their grandmothers because such beautiful embroidery requires many years of practice and a huge amount of patience.  Today, life is too fast.  The traditional culture of the Miao people is changing.  More children are being sent to the cities to go to school, and more Miao families have televisions in their homes.  Mostly, it is the old Miao women who are keeping the tradition of embroidery alive.    


The average annual minority income in Guizhou is roughly 2,500 yuan per year, 320 dollars US.  However, the minority people live primarily off the land they work and do not have to pay taxes or pay for the land.  

The women are careful to wrap their textiles in paper and store them in wooden boxes.  They do not wear their embroidered clothing outside if it is too sunny for fear the colors will fade or if it is overcast or rainy for fear the silk threads will get wet and become coarse.

Once, I went to a little city called Tai Jiang with my water buffalo, and found my water buffalo was not interested in eating rice because he was so surprised by all the tall buildings.  He kept looking around.  So, that's how I felt when I first came to Kaili.  I arrived by myself with no one to meet me here, and I felt like the water buffalo looking up at the buildings.

In Guizhou, we have two kinds of rice:  normal rice and sticky rice.  We save the sticky rice for the festivals.  Its harvest is not so good, so it is expensive.  At the New Year, we make sticky rice balls and stamp them with red designs.  We get red powder from the market and take a flower or cut a design in a potato and make a stamp.  

About twenty years ago, there was a farmer who raised a fighting bird.  He loved the bird not only because the bird earned him money by winning fights, but also because he was a beautiful bird.  One day, the farmer came home, and found the bird dead after a struggle, the cat outside playing with some bloody feathers.  The man felt sure it must have been the cat who had killed his beloved bird.  So, the man doused the cat with fuel and set the cat on fire.  But the cat went running through the whole village, all built of wood, and set the whole village aflame.  The villagers did not know what had happened.  They explained the fire by saying, "A fire ghost came  to our village."  And the man kept quiet until he was on his death bed.  Then, finally, he told his terrible secret, and the villagers were furious and cursed him because he had turned them all in to beggars.    


Villagers have to be able to trust one another because so much of life in a village is communal.  So, before a man marries, he must ask his sisters to help him verify that both the woman he wants to marry and her family are of good character.  If it is discovered that the woman is a thief or has a thief in her family, then the man cannot marry her even if he loves her because she or her family might bring trouble to the village.

Miao people believe the song of the swallows helped guide them to their homes, and so they offer their homes to the birds.  Every Miao home has open - air windows and a birds nest in the rafters.  The birds are free to fly in and out of the Miao homes.  

Also, every Miao home has a piece of wood built in to the floor by the front door.  The piece of wood is intended as a bridge to help welcome in the ghost spirit.  According to Miao legend, there once was a woman who was very sad because she had been with her husband two years, but had never gotten pregnant.  One night, her husband had a dream.  He dreamt that the spirit could not cross in to their home because it could not cross the water gap, (the channel that runs through Miao villages to catch the rain water.) and so he dreamt he should build a bridge.  Upon awaking, he shared his dream with his wife, and his wife urged him to put on a jacket and go to the hill and cut down a pine tree to make a bridge.  So he went out, but before cutting down the tree he went to consult the woman shaman.  And the woman shaman said, "Yes, you must build a bridge.  But make sure the bridge you build has an odd number of planks."  The man returned home and built the bridge, and soon after, his wife got pregnant.  Now, nearly every Miao home has a wooden plank set in the ground by the front door, and the Miao people celebrate a festival called the Festival of Bridges.    

I do not know when my birthday is.  I can not remember.  And my parents cannot remember because I have five sisters, and my parents cannot write.  And the woman shaman cannot remember either.  But some neighbors say I was born in October.  Others say I was born in January.  Only one of my sisters knows her birthday.  


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