Millennia-old Creation Epic of Yi Meige Performed on “China in the Intangible Cultural Heritage”
In May 2023, the second season of the TV program “China in the Intangible Cultural Heritage” (非遗里的中国), produced by China Central Television (CCTV), embarked on an exploration in Yunnan Province. The journey began in Yao’an County, located in the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture, aiming to uncover the enchanting intangible cultural heritage of the region. Among the featured highlights was Meige (梅葛), a creation epic deeply cherished by the Yi people. Highlighting the unique charm of Meige, the program invited viewers to delve into its historical tales, listen to the Meige nursery rhymes merged with the allure of international music, and witness the treasured performances of its inheritors, echoing the millennia-old stories of the Yi people.
A cultural fusion: Meige Children Class and Shanren Band Performed the Meige Song “Wa-Mula”
Seven child members from the Meige Children Class from Mayou collaborated with a Yunnan-based band, Shanren Band (山人乐队), and foreign music performing artists to complete a Yi’s baby Meige song titled “Wa-Mula” (挖木啦).
This “Wa-Mula” takes inspiration from the Yi’s baby Meige (娃娃梅葛), which is Yi people’s nursery rhyme. It is generally sung in groups by Yi adolescents and children. It is catchy and easy to memorize, performed with joy and laughter, and the lyrics have a strong storytelling element. In this performance, children sing while dancing the traditional Yi left-foot dance (彝族左脚舞) accompanied by symphonic music, exemplifying an innovative cultural fusion that breathes new life into the traditional Meige nursery rhymes. “Wa-Mula” originates from the Yi language. “Mula” refers to “a wooden bowl or basin”, generally referring to “a wooden round-mouthed container”. In this context, “Wa-Mula” means “to carve a wooden trough”. The lyrics of this song form a dialogue that tells the story of a grandfather carving a wooden trough in the courtyard. When his grandson sees this, he asks what the grandfather is doing.
The “Living Fossils”: Meige Inheritors Performed a Selection of Meige Epic ‘The God Gezi Creates the Sky and the Earth’.
When a Yi elder passes away, an epic of Meige is taken away.
Meige is closely connected to the daily production and life of the Yi people, reflecting their diligence and wisdom. It should be well-preserved and disseminated by generations. However, Meige is under threat. There are only a handful of elder people left who can sing the creation epic. Since Meige has been recognized as a form of national intangible cultural heritage in 2008, the government of Yao’an county receives funding from the local branch of the publicity department and the tourism bureau, with the goal of preserving the tradition. Meige singers are classified into county-level, prefectural-level, provincial-level, and national-level “inheritors” of the tradition, depending on how many songs they have mastered and how many students they can teach. The crew of “China in the Intangible Cultural Heritage” then invited two Meige inheritors from Yao’an, one is Luo Ying (罗英), a provincial-level Meige inheritor, and Luo Zhijun (罗志军), a county-level Meige inheritor, who both are the “living fossils” of Meige culture. Luo Ying and Luo Zhijun interacted with guests on-site, showcasing the depth of Meige culture by performing a selection from the Meige epic, “The God Gezi Creates the Sky and the Earth” (格滋天神造天地).
The Folk Inheritors: Broadening the Path of Dissemination
It is a melody as much as it is poem,
Belonging to the nation, yet embracing the world.—Guo Xiaowei
Following that, Guo Xiaowei (郭晓炜), a principal member of the compilation team working on the collection and recording of the Meige series, brought five volumes of the series to the program. Since 2009, Guo Xiaowei has conducted numerous in-depth research through fieldworks in Chuxiong, extensively collecting original materials and revising the drafts multiple times, ultimately completing the compilation task with other Yi scholars. The series comprises five volumes: “The Origin of Meige” (梅葛本源), “Meige Love Songs” (梅葛恋歌), “Meige Sorrow” (梅葛悲情), “Meige Rituals” (梅葛祭), and “Meige Song Collection” (梅葛曲集). Guo Xiaowei used a comprehensive notation method, including text, illustrations, staff notation, and numbered musical notation, to record Meige, employing the International Phonetic Alphabet to compile the textual content in the Yi language. This work is of great significance for the rescue, protection, and inheritance of Meige culture, further enabling Meige culture to achieve significant international dissemination.