Yi are an ethnic group of Austroasiatic origin living largely in the mountains of southwest China and speaking a Tibeto-Burman language. The Yi people numbered more than 9.8 million in 2020.¹ When the people of China were classified into fifty-six minzu (ethnicities) in the late 1950s, the term Yi, a previously seldom used term, replaced the formerly more common Luoluo, considered extremely pejorative.² They
mainly live in the provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, and in small numbers in Guangxi.³

彝族是一群主要居住在中国西南地区的历史悠久的土著民族。彝语属汉藏语系藏缅语族彝语支。至2020年,中国境内的彝族人口超过980万,为中国第七大少数民族。他们主要分布在中国滇、川、黔、桂四省(区),少数分布在越南,老挝等东南亚国家。

1 China Statistical Yearbook 2020, Beijing: China Statistics Press.

2 Harrel, Stevan. 1990. ‘Ethnicity, Local Interests, and the State: Yi Communities in Southwest China’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 32(3): 515-548.

3 Guoyu, Fang 1984. Draft history of the Yi. Kunming: Yunnan Minzu Press.


Mayou

Mayou village (马游村), Yao’an County (姚安县), Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture (楚雄州), Yunnan Province (云南省). Mayou has a population of 2,223, of whom 95% are Yi. Located among several high mountains, this village is home to two nationally recognized Yi intangible cultural heritage bearers in Meige (梅葛) and Hulusheng (葫芦笙) respectively. Meige is the general name for the Yi’s comprehensive music tradition, including folk songs, dance and oral literature, all of which may be sung to the Meige tune family. The Hulusheng is one of the oldest versions of the Asian free-reed mouth organ, and dates back c.2,500 years. The Yi language is one of very few ethnic languages preserved both in oral and written forms in China, this dating back to over 6,000 years.

马游村隶属于云南省楚雄彝族自治州的姚安县,全村共有2,223人,其中95%为彝族。马游村坐落于数座高山之间,村内有两位分别在梅葛和葫芦笙领域造诣颇深的国家级非物质文化遗产传承人。梅葛是彝族综合性音乐传统的通称,包括民歌、舞蹈和口头文学,所有关于彝族的史诗故事都可以通过‘梅葛’调吟唱出来。葫芦笙是亚洲自由簧口风琴最古老的版本之一,可追溯至约2,500年前。彝语是中国为数不多的在口头和书面两种形式上都得以保存的民族语言,其历史可追溯至6,000多年前。

Mayou village, Yao’an County, Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture (photo by Lijuan Qian)
Yi villagers in the wedding (photo by Lijuan Qian)

Meige

The “Meige” is a creation epic of the Yi people, passed down in Yao’an, Dayao, and other Yi areas in Chuxiong Prefecture of Yunnan Province. The term “Meige” originates from the Yi language, originally the name of a Yi folk tune. As this tune is used to sing the Yi creation history, people have thus named this creation epic “Meige”. The entire epic of “Meige” can be divided into four major parts according to its content: “Creation”, “Making of Things”, “Marriage and Love Songs”, and “Funerals”. The “Meige” tune is further divided into two categories: “Chi Meige” and “Fu Meige”. The melody of “Chi Meige” is comparatively sorrowful, melancholic, and deep, and the epic’s fourth part, “Funerals”, is sung in this tune; while “Fu Meige” has a more gentle and lyrical melody, and the rest of the epic is chanted in this tune. The “Meige” is categorized by the age of the performers into four types: “Elder Meige,” “Middle-aged Meige,” “Youth Meige,” and “Baby Meige.”

The Yi people revere “Meige” as the cultural ‘genealogy’ and ‘encyclopedia’. The content of “Meige” is all-encompassing. It not only reflects the Yi ancestors’ worldview and rich imagination of the universe in ancient times but also mirrors the evolution and development of the Yi people’s production and life; it reflects the Yi people’s customs of love, marriage, funerals, kinship, and farewells, as well as the close economic and cultural relationships between the Yi and other fraternal ethnic groups. The creation mythology of “Meige” is universal; it represents the ideology of humanity in the primitive era, possessing significant historical value and certain literary worth.

In July 2006, the Meige Cultural Protection Area of the Yi people in Mayou Village, Yao’an County, which is the birthplace of Meige, was included in the first batch of intangible cultural heritage protection list by the People’s Government of Yunnan Province. In June 2008, the Yi Meige was listed in the second batch of national intangible cultural heritage protection list by the State Council.

《梅葛》是彝族的一部长篇史诗,流传在云南省楚雄州的姚安、大姚等彝族地区。 “梅葛”一术语源于彝语,本为一种彝族歌调的名称,由于采用这种调子来唱彝族的创世史,因而人们将这部创世史诗称为《梅葛》。《梅葛》全诗按内容可分为“创世” 、 “造物” 、 “婚事和恋歌” 、“丧葬” 四大部分。“梅葛”调又分“赤梅葛”和“辅梅葛”两大类。“赤梅葛”的曲调比较悲楚、忧伤、低沉,史诗的第四部“丧葬”就采用这种曲调;“辅梅葛”的曲调较为婉转抒情,史诗的其他几部唱诵时就采用这种曲调。《梅葛》按照演唱者的年龄可分为”老年梅葛” “中年梅葛” “青年梅葛” “娃娃梅葛”四种类型。

《梅葛》被彝家人奉为彝族的文化“根谱”和“百科全书”。《梅葛》的内容包罗万象。它既反映了彝族先民在远古时代的世界观和对宇宙万物的丰富想象,也反映了彝族人民生产生活的演变与发展过程;既反映了彝族人民恋爱、婚姻、丧事、怀亲、送别等生活习俗,也反映了彝族与其他兄弟民族在经济、文化上的亲密关系。《梅葛》的创世神话具有世界性,它是人类原始时期的意识形态,具有重要的历史价值和一定的文学价值。

2006年7月,梅葛的发源地–姚安县马游村彝族梅葛文化保护区被云南省人民政府列入第一批非物质文化遗产保护名录,2008年6月彝族梅葛被国务院列入第二批国家级非物质文化遗产保护名录。

The stage performance of Yi villagers from Mayou village performing the Meige Guoshan tune (produced by Yi folk musician Xiaowei Guo)
Guo, Xiaowei. 2017. The Collection of Meige Tune, p. 308.
Guo, Xiaowei.& Zhuang, Zhaosheng. 2021. Yi Meige Epic.

ECura’s collaboration with Mayou village

In February 2023, Dr. Lijuan Qian, the PI of the ECura project, initiated a collaboration with two Meige musicians during her spring fieldwork trip to Yunnan. These two musicians, Rongxiu Luo and Xiaowei Guo, hold positions as the Head of the NGO Meige Studio and the Head of The Centre of Intangible Cultural Transmission, Preservation and Exhibition, Yao’an county, respectively. They have played significant roles in collaborating with ECura project. (Refer to the first group photo on the left: from the left to right, you can see Rongxiu Luo, Xiaowei Guo and Lijuan Qian). This collaboration led to the establishment of the UCC Meige Research Collaborative Work Base in Mayou village, Yao’an county, Chuxiong Yi autonomous prefecture, Yunnan province.

In response to the appeals from Meige Studio and Yi villagers for governmental aid in preserving invaluable intangible cultural heritage of music, Lijuan Qian utilised her social and academic networks. Her efforts successfully secured official collaborations across various governmental levels in Mayou village, Yao’an county, and facilitated academic collaborations with Yunnan Nationalist University. (Refer to the second group photo on the left: Xingfa Bai, Professor at the Yunnan Nationalist University and the President of the Yunnan Association of Yi Studies, came to the Work Base inauguration and jointly unveiled the plaque with Lijuan Qian).

The establishment of this Collaborative Work Base not only received strong support from Meige Studio, Yi musicians and the local villagers from Mayou Village, but also marked a momentous milestone as it signified the first formal collaboration between University College Cork and the academic communities in Yunnan.

2023年春季,ECura项目首席研究员钱丽娟博士在云南进行田野考察时与梅葛工作室这一非政府组织成功合作,共同推动了爱尔兰国立科克大学梅葛文化研究实践基地在云南省楚雄州姚安县马油村的建立。 钱丽娟博士依托她多年来在云南累积的丰富的田野经验和社会联系,主动与姚安县政府沟通,争取其对保护彝族非物质文化遗产音乐的支持。经过钱丽娟博士与云南音乐学者们的共同努力,姚安县政府分管文旅业务的部分领导和专家学者应邀出席了研究基地的揭牌仪式,并与ECura项目团队签署了关于彝族非物质文化遗产保护的深度合作协议。此研究基地的建立不仅获得了梅葛工作室、马游村彝族音乐家们以及村民们的大力支持,也标志着爱尔兰国立科克大学与云南学术界初次建立了正式的合作关系。

Lijuan Qian with two Meige musicians Rongxiu Luo and Xiaowe Guo (photo by Lijuan Qian)
Xingfa Bai at the inauguration (photo by Lijuan Qian)
A group photo with government officers from Yaoan County, Yi musicians from Mayou village, scholars from Yunnan Nationality University. (photo by Lijuan Qian)

Yi musical culture in Mayou

Mayou village – Meige singing performed by Yi musicians Luo Ying and Luo Zhijun (video shot by Lijuan Qian)

Mayou village – Hulusheng performance by Yi folk musicians Xiaowei Guo and Rongxiu Luo (video shot by Lijuan Qian)

Mayou village – Meige singing performed by Yi villager Wenhui Luo (video shot by Lijuan Qian)

Mayou village – Guo Zilin teaches the Hulusheng (video shot by Lijuan Qian)

Mayou Village – Local children bilingually sing a traditional song, called Breaking Lumpy Earth (敲垡子) — Courtesy of Guo xiaowei, January 2023
Mayou Village – Guo Xiaowei was teaching Hulusheng with 4 local students (Video shot by Lijuan Qian, January 2023)