There was no sky in ancient Yunnan,
Then we build the sky.
There was no ground in ancient Yunnan,
Then we build the ground…
This is the beginning part of Meige, which is an epic of the Yi nationality in Yao’an, Yunnan. This epic is the true portrayal and ancient legend of the Yi people who are diligent and brave and with the stubborn wisdom to conquer nature, watch the spiritual home and pursue happiness and good life.
Meige, which is the transliteration of Yi. In Yi, “Mei” means “mouth”, “Ge” means “the past”, “Meige” means sing the past. “Meige” is composed of four parts: “Genesis”, “ Creation”, “Marriage and Love” and “Funeral”. The four parts represent “Old Meige”,”Mid-life Meige”,”Youth Meige” and “Baby Meige”. It has no written records, the spread of it relies on teaching orally. It has experienced thousands of years and has reflected history in a poetic way, which can been seen as the “root” of Yi.
In 2008,Meige was included in the second batch of national intangible cultural heritage list by the State Council. Chinese intellectual historian, Professor Shangsi Cai of Fudan University thinks, "Meige" can be comparable with the "Book of Songs".
Photo: Mayou Village in Yao’an,Yunann,which is the famous old haunt of Meige
Mayou village in Yao’an,Yunann,which is known as the famous old haunt of Meige
Most Yi people in here claim themselves as “Luoluopo”, a few part of them call themselves as “Lipo”. ”Luoluo”means tiger, “Luoluopo” is “tiger man”. They call themselves the descendants of the "tiger".In their ancient Meige song,the tiger is source of all things, the mountains and rivers, the trees and the meadows, the sun, the moon and the stars are all formed after the body of the tiger is disintegrated. “Lipo” means Lantana camara. In their ancient songs, human ancestors come from the chopped hanging-on-the-tree meat which are given birth by a brother and a sister. And the meat that hanging on the Lantana camara derives the ancestor of Yi people. Therefore, lantana camara is the flower of Yi people. As the Yi saying goes, the god bless the place lantana camara bloom.
In here, Yi people think “tiger” and “lantana camara” are totems, they reflect and spread totems in songs. The song they sing is Meige, which is the collective root of Luoluopo and Lipo.
They say: Luoluopa can sing Meige,Lipo also can sing Meige,while others cannot. Therefore, people who can sing Meige are people of their sides. In this sense, the ability of singing Meige is the cultural sign that differentiate Yi people under the leadership of chieftain Gao in Yao’an and other ethnic groups.
"Meige" national intangible cultural heritage protection heritage Guo Youzhen was born in here.
Guo Youzhen was born in 1941 in Mayou Village.She was in good shape and beautiful when she was young. People could hear her voice and watch her dancing not only in occasions of festival and happy event but also in dancing place. She is well known due to she is good at singing Meige.
Guo Youzhen often sings Meige with her grandchildren when chops foods for pigs. She is happy when the guests come, and she will put down the works she is doing and greet the guests. She hopes people listen she sings Meige so much, she will keep singing even standing up to dance as a result.
People who have met Guo Youzhen admire her singing and dancing, she just likes a little girl although she is over 70 years old, and she is definitely beautiful when she was young.
There are many ways to sing Meige, but there are some rules as well. Bimo is the only person who can sing Meige in the sacrificial and funeral occasions. Bimo, they are not only Yi’s traditional flamen but also the peservation, processing and disseminator of Yi’s folk oral literature, they are Yi’s intellectual.
The Meige that Bimo sings has slow, low and high melodies, like singing which is simple and desolate. The main content of Meige is fixed, which is about the creation of the world and the origin of mankind .Moreover, the Meige that Bimo sings is sacramental, it has the function of enlightenment, it is defined as the core component of the epic.
In the occasions of happy events, in addition to the important ceremony must be presided over and sung by Bimo ,the other songs are sung by a special singer who is hired by the host family. It is essential to clearly state the reason why build the house and why marriage is important. Professional singers sitting around the fireplace, drinking and singing in a melodious ancient tone. The songs they sing have the function of enlightenment as well, which are the external components of epic.
In the occasions of entertainment, the singing of Meige is more casual. Young boys and girls often sing to show their lovesickness in girls’ rooms. Men and women in middle age sing sadly when they have date. The songs singing in mountain and field are loud and clear, while the songs that children singing when they play are full of curiosity.
Besides, there are songs that especially for smoking, toasting, serving tea, etc.
Although, the original religious belief and the sacrifices and folk customs that derived from Meige are gradually fading out of people's lives, Meige is still so divine, so profound and lasting. Every sentence and every tune reflect the historic clues of an ancient ethnic group. We are able to save, protect, inherit and excavate the potential of Meige due to those historical clues.
At present, the Meige sung by Bimo and Meige sung by old singer are mix together. The Meige sung by old singer takes epic lyrics as the principal thing, but it is no longer complete as songs sung by Bimo. The parts like guide and requiem in funeral are removed, this type of inheritance is selective inheritance. For example, “all things come from tiger”, but when tiger disappear in daily life and cattle has practical use, the lyric of Meige becomes “all things come from cattle”.
The collection of Meige started from 1950s.In September,1959,four original materials were formed eventually through several Meige singers’ collection. After sorting out, a long Yi’s creation epic which had 5770 lines-“Meige”(Yunnan people’s publishing house) published.
Nowdays, when there are few old singers alive and already lost their singing platform, new generation singers take this version of Meige as model, which is Yi’s “Luozi”.
“The art of folk singing in Yunnan-Yi’s creation epic<Meige>,eleven oral singing art of nine ethnic groups in Yunnan” which was filmed, produced and published by Yunnan ethnic culture video and audio publishing house in 2013 faithfully reflects the true original appearance of minority literature, vigorously promotes the excellent traditional folk oral culture and art in Yunnan, which was awarded the third Chinese government publishing award. We have reasons to believe that perhaps Meige is condensed, adapted and become artistic, it still has the soul of poem, the light of divinity, the charm of ancient and the space of imagination.