The Long Poem “Ashima” of Sani People

The Long Poem “Ashima” of Sani People
The Long Poem “Ashima” of Sani People

 

The long poem Ashima adopts romantic poetic technique and rich figures of speech to highlight the kindness and beauty, wisdom and power, diligence and braveness of the character. It is affectionately called by the Sani people as "the song of our ethics", and Ashima even becomes the antonomasia of the women of the Yi ethics. It demonstrates the human ideal that light will final substitute darkness, and kindness and beauty will eventually triumph over infamy. It reflects the national character and spirit of pursuing freedom of the Sani people of the Yi ethnics. At present, the story of Ashima has been translated into more than 20 languages and issued at home and abroad. In addition, the story was adopted and shot into Ashima, the first color film of the People's Republic of China.
 
Ashima, whose name literally means “more precious than gold”, is a poem about a Sani girl named Ashima. ethnographer Wang Wei transcribed it from a Sani elder in 1813 and published it with other folk tales in a scroll called "Tales from the Mountains". It spread in the Shilin Yi Autonomous County in, Shilin of Yunnan Province. It is a long narrative poem of the Sani people who are a tributary of the Yi ethnic group. Generation after generation of the Sani people[who?] narrate or sing the story of Ashima with oral poem language.The long poem Ashima adopts romantic poetic technique and rich figures of speech to highlight the kindness, beauty, wisdom, power, diligence, and braveness of the character. It is affectionately called by the Sani people as "the song of our ethics", and Ashima even becomes the antonomasia of the women of the Yi ethics. It demonstrates the human ideal that light will final substitute darkness, and kindness and beauty will eventually triumph over infamy. It reflects the national character and spirit of pursuing freedom of the Sani people of the Yi ethnics. At present, the story of Ashima has been translated into more than 20 languages and issued at home and abroad. In addition, the story was adopted and shot into Ashima, the first color film of the People's Republic of China year 1964.
 
The story goes like this:
Ashima, a clever, kind, beautiful and diligent farmhouse girl falls in love with a brave and good-natured sheepherder who is called Ahei. Azhi, the son of a headman also admires Ashima, but was resolutely refused by the latter. Then, Azhi sent someone to compel Ashima into marriage with him, however, again refused firmly. So Azhi sent some people to rob Ashima when Ahei was away from home. Later, Ahei heard of the news and rushed home and saved Ashima. Azhi proposed to hold a song competition with Ahei, thereby, determines who the winner is. The result turns out that Azhi failed out. But he was still not willing to admit the failure. Taking advantage of the chance when Ashima and Ahei were resting by the side of a stream, he raised the floodgate and drowned Ashima. Ahei sadly called the name of Ashima, but she had become a lofty stone statue. Now, the legend has become a part of the daily life, wedding and funeral ceremonies and other customs of the Sani people, thus, sang from generation to generation among the people.
Here are some parts of Ashima Long Poems:
Ashima Part 1
As bamboo strips we lengthwise split, 
Their numbers grow, the work grow fine, 
Our tales are slit like slender strips, 
The weaving of each strand takes time. 
  
Yi folk’s melons grow big and round, 
The Han folk like to raise them too; 
The vine which strethes out of bound, 
Bears melons, all alike and new; 
From ancient times this has been true. 
  
Yi descendants! If you don’t learn 
Wisdom our forefathers once taught 
It will be missed, and all forgot. 
Children at play today, growing, 
Become adults of tomorrow; 
Their daily deeds, like seeds, 
Sowing future tales of joy and sorrow. 
  
The bitter buckwheat has no barbs, 
Sweet buckwheat, though, has three. 
Come here to our Jiaojiang Mountain, 
Climb to the top and sing with me. 
Together friends and brothers free 
We must discuss it carefully, 
Consider which song it shall be, 
And how to sing it to agree. 
  
Songs are sung in ways more than one, 
Come forward, no need to hold back! 
The threshing ground our stage—stand here; 
Sing for all to hear, far and near! 
Let’s teach and learn in all regards, 
Then pass it on to future bards. 
  
Some know just the right thing to wear, 
To look their best they take great care, 
Some are gifted with a fine voice, 
Their songs are a pleasure to hear; 
Others can barely croak a tune, 
Sing out boldly like a buffoon; 
One who takes pleasure in music 
Hears it, transfixed like a nit-wit. 
  
Chestnut shells that on the fields lie, 
Do not know a good melody; 
Plum bolssoms drop helter-skelter, 
Cannot enjoy a fine songster, 
A crooked tree makes worthless wood, 
I, though unaccustomed to wine, 
Take the seat of honor and dine, 
Though I cannot carry a tune, on stage I’m a singer of note. 
  
The Azhe folk are singers all— 
Who knows if this is really ture? 
They pipe tunes on wheaten whistles, 
Who cares whether I’m right or wrong 
If today I open my mouth 
And strike up a casual song, 
A well-known ditty, not too long? 
On, on, in the sky, wild geese fly, 
We see no tail as they go by 
But stretched–out feet keep them on high. 
  
Fringing the lake’s deep waters, pines 
Rising high and thick, line the shore; 
Hear our folk-tale, sad yet sublime, 
From long-forgotten days of yore. 
Sani folk live in Azhodi, 
And there, high up in Azhodi, 
Lay fertile land, untilled by man. 
Up there lived a loving couple, 
Gelu Riming and his sweet wife. 
The trees they tended day by day 
Bore no fruit in Fall, strange to say; 
Flowers they reared, no bees came near, 
A family without children 
Passs the days in deep sorrow, 
This loving couple kept up hope, 
Arranged a sacred sacrifices, 
At the shrine prayed not twice but thrice. 
Lo! Bees then came to sip nectar 
And Gelu Riming’s wife gave birth! 
  
We Sani live in Azhodi, 
And down below in Azhodi 
Stretch fertile lands untilled by man. 
Here lived the rich and powerful 
Rebu Bala and family. 
This family — we know not why – 
Grew trees which bloomed but bore no fruit; 
Raised flowers, but no bees came by. 
The couple with no children nigh 
Could only long for them and sigh. 
The Rebu Bala family 
Held ancestral sacrifice 
With rich of offerings made thrice. 
The bees came to the flowers then 
To sip nectar; a son was born 
To Rebu Bala’s joyful wife. 
Lovingly they named him Azhi; 
But Azhi looked just like an ape— 
An ape one could for Azhi take. 
  
To Gelu Rimingma in time 
Was born a daughter sweet and fine, 
When baby opened up her eyes, 
Her gaze gave Mother a surprise; 
Mother’s first joy was realized! 
  
When her daughter was one year old, 
Her cry was like a melody, 
Her laugh, a humming honey-bee, 
When Ma spoke, she was attentive, 
’T was time for her a name to give. 
Ah, when the occasion was set, 
Near ones, dear ones, each and all, met. 
Naught was spared for serving the guests, 
The tubs of flour reached ninety-nine, 
And tables of guests, ninety-nine. 
Like the stone forest, huge and tall, 
Stood the wine-jugs outside the hall 
Fixed to them, running streams of wine, 
Were many pipes, interlocking 
Like a wild boar’s fangs, criss-crossing. 
  
How bountiful the name-day feast! 
Rice sacrificed to ancestors 
Lay on the ground banked high in piles; 
The meat of offered as sacrifice 
Equaled the weight of a huge ox. 
The libations of wine poured out 
Filled a cask the size of a sheep. 
From burning incense smoke billows— 
The ash formed a mountain of snows. 
“Elders shall we call our dear daughter? 
Please help us to choose her a name!” 
“The child is more precious htan gold!! 
Let us all call her Ashima” 
  
Passing time saw Ashima grow! 
The days as counted reached three months. 
Bright her smile like a bursing bud; 
One day Mother combed the child’s hair, 
Made it gleam a dark sheen so fair, 
Joy filled her heart a second time. 
  
Reaching seven months, the daughter 
Could sit up and look about her, 
At eight months old the little girl 
Could crawl as if to rake the soil. 
Joyful was her Ma the third time. 
  
Daughter at the age of one year 
Could stand without help and toddle 
Swaying like a round roll of yarn. 
Joy filled her Ma’s heart the fourth time. 
In time, reaching the age of three, 
She went to mingle with her kin. 
Sitting on the sunny threshold 
She helped at winding Mother’s thread. 
“Was she pretty? Was she a prize?” 
“On her head a dazzling turban, 
From her ears flashed brilliant earrings, 
Her face was like a glowing moon, 
Her form, graceful as a bamboo. 
There was a ring on her left hand, 
On her wrist a bright bracelet, 
A lambskin covered her shoulders. 
  
Around her waist a woven belt, 
The tassels waving like a beard, 
Strand after strand, strand after strand, 
Swinging to and fro in the back. 
On her feet, as white as turnips, 
She was wearing embroidered shoes. 
In blue jacket and black trousers— 
Oh: She was fair beyond compare. 
Tip to toe, I easily saw 
She was perfect without a flaw! 
Her beauty was without blemish! 
As for me, I really love her; 
I want to have her for myself! 
I must… I want to, marry her!” 
  
At the gateway of Bala’s house, 
His horse stood waiting, his dog crouched. 
Nearby old man Rebu Bala, 
Bending over washing his face, 
Spotted a Bimo passing by. 
His face dripping, he called to her: 
“My only son who’s still unwed 
Would like some help to find a wife. 
Surly you must know – quick tell me – 
Where I can find a go-between.” 
In a few words the Bimo said: 
“I do know someone… let me see, 
It is a Haire of Gedi. 
He is just the one, really.” 
  
Shouting out, Bala called his son: 
“Listen Azhi, my only son, 
Mount the horse, be seift on your way’ 
Go the Gedi, no time to stay – 
Ask Haire to come right away!” 
  
Swift his horse, Azhi reached Gedi, 
Paid a visit at Haire’s home; 
Talked in circles, his tongue went dry; 
Rambling on until hunger gnawed, 
At last asked Haire to come by. 
  
Agreeing, Haire of Gedi 
Came to visit Rebu Bala: 
“Rebu Bala, my good friend, 
How are you? Has something gone wrong? 
What is it you would like to say?” 
Rebu Bala came to the point, 
Told Haire what was on his mind: 
“I have heard in High Azhodi 
In Gelu Riming’s family 
There is an excellent young girl 
Known by the name of Ashima. 
My only son is Azhi here, 
His only thought to marry her. 
Now Haire, could I trouble you 
To act as go-between? Please do!” 
  
“Me? Stiff, uncommunicative? 
Ask someone else mor talkative” 
“What? You’re glibber than a parrot! 
You do little, but talk a lot! 
Flowery words, polite nothings, 
Good at empty formalities, 
You can speak so people listen, 
Can draw them out and take then in!” 
  
“One thing I say with conviction, 
None but a fool would play the role, 
Only for greed would one agree. 
Go fetch water with no ladle, 
Cup your hands, try to scoop it up; 
Three ladles full in one day’s work, 
And three day’s time makes ladles grime. 
Long after the water’s all gone, 
Harsh words and scolding still go on. 
A good deed ofter turns out bad, 
And kindness only bring down wrath. 
A match-maker? The aftermath: 
A jeer, a curse, I could not bear; 
I will not act as match-maker!” 
  
“What is there to be afraid of? 
Just make the match with Ashma 
For one hundred full taels of gold; 
And this, not your only reward, 
I’ll add on horses and oxen. 
What’s more, during Spring Festival 
I’ll call every year to greet you. ” 
  
Haire then answered him, saying: 
“With due respect for your feelings, 
Though I find this job unhinging, 
To win success I’ll do my best!”
Ashima Part2
A wine-bottle under his arm, 
Haire of Gedi, leaving home, 
Started out from Low Azhodi, 
Made his way to High Azhodi. 
  
There, Haire had never once been. 
The place, entirely new to him, 
He had little trouble finding! 
Haire, drawing near Gelu’s home, 
Was driven away by the dog. 
Stumbling, he called out in panic: 
“Help! Hurry! Call off this hell-hound! 
Quick! Open the door! Let me in!” 
Gelu Riming heard the shouting, 
Opened the door a crack and said: 
“Old man, what can I do for you? 
What is it you would like to say?” 
  
“A personage of high esteem 
Has sent me as a go-between. 
His proposal is so very fine 
A better match you could not find. 
Ah, Gelu Riming! As is known, 
There’s a fine daughter in your home; 
In Rebu Bala’s family, 
A son, the right age, luckily! 
This young chap is strong and handsome; 
And your daughter fair and winsome. 
Kind fate has made them a pair; 
Consent – and we’ll seal the affair!” 
  
Gelu Rimingpa, his words straight 
And simple, did not hesitate: 
“The poor do not marry the rich.” 
“Our daughter will not be married. 
She is our very own dear child. 
Were she to marry and leave us 
She would then belong to others. 
She’s her mother’s precious flower, 
Her father’s helper in all ways, 
She’s devoted to her parents; 
We will never give her away!” 
  
“Beneath the azure skies above, 
Throughout the boundless earth below, 
Whose son has a life with no wife? 
Whose daughter a fate with no mate? 
As you know, kings get married too, 
And ministers do, it is true; 
A girl at the age of fifteen 
May refuse to become a queen 
And turn away a minister; 
When she arrives at twenty years 
No one seeks her for all her tears!” 
  
In reply to the match-maker, 
The father, Gelu Riming, said: 
“Fathers marry off their daughters 
For only a bottle of wine 
Lasting for only a short time. 
The father is with nothing left 
But a life-time of deep regret.” 
“Mothers marry off their daughters 
To receive a basket of rice. 
This gift of a basket of rice, 
Which before long will be gone, 
Must for the bride’s mother suffice 
Who made a life-long sacrifice.” 
  
“If elder brother marries off 
His sister, he receives an os. 
It cannot last him all his life, 
It cannot replace the young girl; 
He will regret it all his life 
A sister for only an ox – 
The ox could not feel affronted, 
Only the sister, insulted. 
The only ox sleeps in his pen, 
Sister only weeps without end. 
If brother only wants an ox, 
His sister cannot stay at home, 
But brother, like an umbrella, 
Protects and watches over her. 
His sister is like a flower 
Which opens up in brother’s heart. 
No! She can’t marry and depart, 
Her brother will never waver.” 
  
“The wife, about to marry off 
Her husband’s sister, is offered 
As a gift, a small sheaf of flax; 
It cannot last her life-time. 
She’s expected to be gladdened 
But is dejected and saddened. 
Flatly rejected is the deal – 
It’s off! There’s no further appeal!” 
  
“Far off in a place called Mile 
Axi folk have lived for ages. 
They toil at raising animals, 
Leading them year-round out to graze. 
They tend them three long years, and then 
Sooner or later must sell them.” 
  
“Luliang County borders nearby 
Where Hei Yi folk are living nigh; 
Here they, too, raise farm animals. 
In their childhood years, for they raise sheep, 
Graze them, feed them, for three long years; 
Cannot keep, but have to sell them.” 
“Peasant families raise livestock, 
Cultivate the land, harvest crops. 
Take Adu an aristocrat – 
How sad! When young, he toiled, raising, 
Feeding, herding a single ox, 
After three years he sold the ox, 
His only care. The stall was bare, 
But the yoke, not sold, still hung there 
Unused and silent. Adu despaired 
As at the yoke he started and stared.” 
  
“The shepherd tends a fold of sheep 
Their wool for clothes against the cold. 
Take Ato who works all year round— 
When young he tended flocks of sheep, 
Cared for them, watched them grow, three years, 
Day, nights, all seasons, hten sold them! 
Bare the pen, its gate swung open. 
The pair of shears, he had not sold. 
At home, to see them lying there 
Idle, filled him with grief untold.” 
  
“A family with good children 
Give the parents great happiness. 
A son at home is dear to them, 
A daughter there is like a flower, 
She lightens every household task, 
Cooking meals and fetching water. 
If the daughter is married off, 
The water buckets still remain, 
The sight of them lying empty 
At home brings her parents great pain.” 
  
“She must marry, so why tarry? 
Marry her off, why put it off? 
If you delay it very long, 
Then look for trouble later on. 
Gelu Riming, you as father, 
Think it over, do not falter.” 
  
  
“I don’t agree! I don’t agree! 
The decision is up to me! 
If and when she is to marry, 
It will not to a rich man be!” 
  
Haire, the go-between, replied: 
“Sheep and goats in the same place graze, 
At pasture together are raised; 
Then goats in one herd are controlled, 
While sheep are kept in their own fold. 
Chickens and pigs, as you well know, 
Together in one barnyard grow, 
But later the chickens are sold, 
The pigs left at home as of old. 
Growing up, a son and daughter 
Love the same mother and father; 
The son always at home must stay, 
The girl must wed and go away.” 
  
“I don’t agree that she marry 
Into another family. 
She might be sent to firewood, 
Without an ax, without a tool, 
To use her hands to break the wood. 
Thus, in three loads of firewood, 
One turns out all damp and decayed; 
Long after it has burned away 
She’ll hear curses and threads all day, 
With looks and words of the harshest; 
Her future only the darkest!” 
  
“To pick wild herbs she might be asked, 
But not be given a basket; 
She must put them in her apron. 
After three aprons full are picked, 
She picks one full of withered plants; 
When the withered plants are finished 
The scoldings have not diminished. 
Hearing complaints day after day 
Makes her life too dreary to say.” 
  
“She may be sent to fetch water, 
But given no ladle to dip, 
Must cup it quick with hands that drip 
Scooping, she fills three vessels large 
And one more with turgid water. 
Long after there’s no water left 
She’s still cursed in language foulest, 
Life in such a cruel atmosphere 
Is more painful than she could bear. 
She must not, may not, will not wed! 
To this we will never be led!” 
  
“Gelu Riming, it must be said, 
Is Ashima not to be wed, 
To stay at home ’til she’s aged? 
Old trees upon the mountain high 
Know nothing about being shy, 
Stand there content and ask not why; 
Girls once grown, if they stay at home, 
Are ridiculed by passers-by, 
They feel shamed, embarrassed and shy.” 
Her mind made up, in answer said: 
“If it must be, then I agree; 
Given in marriage she shalle be. 
Hard it is, when one bears a child; 
To raise her, a much harder trial; 
Hold up the sky is as much toil, 
Toilsome as to make the brown soil. 
Rice, if half-cooked in a hurry, 
Is but a meal, not a worry. 
My girl, if wed unsuitably, 
Her life will be a misery. 
If we can find a kindly man, 
I will marry her off to him. 
As for a man bad and bitter, 
Him, we would never consider.” 
  
Gedi Haire interrupted 
To brag about Bala’s homestead. 
“At Bala’s house,” he said, 
“All door-posts are of silver made, 
The lintels bright with gold inlaid, 
Thresholds, of bronze arrayed; front doors, 
With dragon and phoenix portrayed.” 
“Gold! Like a horse’s hoof each bar – 
Silver! Each piece bigger by far! 
All pieces are weighed by the dou 
Used for making beds to sleep in!” 
  
“Livestock! Enough to fill four barns! 
The cattle roam nine mountain sides; 
The sheep, they cover seven slopes; 
Rambling nine wooded steeps, his goats. 
This just suggests how rich he is; 
I can’t begin to recount it!” 
  
Sweet Ashima, hearing it all, 
Stirred to wrath, she gave her answer: 
“A girl is not to be taken 
As an animal to barter; 
A girl is not just so much grain 
To sell for monetary gain. 
Your first words, spoken at the start, 
I, a young girl, could see your part, 
Your next words, a provocation, 
My calm turned to indignation, 
Your third remarks, they sounded worse, 
The high-up and rich, I seek not, 
For them all, I care not a jot! 
With a rich man cast my poor lot? 
No! I say, ninety-nine times not!” 
  
Haire now humiliated, 
Giving vent to his anger, said, 
“When sought in marriage, you must wed, 
Wish or not, it’s decided!” 
  
“She’ll be married if you agree, 
If not, she still will married be!” 
Bested throughtout the contention, 
He left in exasperation. 
Go-beteeen Haire of Gedi 
Went back to the home of Bala. 
He led five-score and twenty men, 
Brought kins that numbered ninety-nine 
To offer as betrothal gifts. 
Ninety-nine bolts of silk there were 
To offer up as presents rare. 
Countless bracelets and rings were said 
To belong to the newly-wed. 
  
Five-score and twenty men drew near, 
With bows and arrows on their back, 
Each shouldering an iron spear, 
On horse-back, approaching on track. 
Ding-dong! Ding-dong! The horsebells chimed. 
As the band from Low Azhodi 
Up-hill to High Azhodi climbed. 
  
In the lead, Haire of Gedi 
Now dashing forward from afar, 
Shouted out: “Gelu Rimingpa! 
Come out here quick and drink with us 
This wedding toast if you turn down, 
You will be laughted at, like a clown. 
I’ll pour wine, we’ll drink to you, 
Don’t decline the toast – it won’t do! 
Don’t withhold your consent again, 
When the celebrations begin.” 
Gelu Rimingpa stood his ground, 
Repeated before all round; 
“The toast you offer, I decline; 
I won’t give this daughter of mine! 
To her marriage I draw the line!” 
At this, Haire dropped all veneer, 
And ranted with a loathsome leer: 
“If agreed, the watch will proceed, 
If not, no one can intercede!” 
  
Pitiful helpless Ashima! 
Her brave defiance all in vain, 
Was dragged out by a ruffian. 
Her safety who could guarantee? 
She struggled but could not break free. 
The kinsmen of Rebu Bala 
Like monsters in search of their prey 
Kidnapped sweet Ashima that day 
And by force carried her away. 
Gelu Rimingma, so bereft, 
Inconsolable, wept and wept. 
Wild strawberries are full of juice 
Which trickles away before long, 
But the mother’s tears were endless; 
Heartbroken, she wept on and on. 
  
Bright on the brambles wet dew gleams 
And drops off when the warm sun beams; 
But the mother, so overcome, 
Wipe as she may, ber tears still run. 
  
Oh darlilng of your mother’s heart! 
Your birth brought high hopes from the start. 
Poor was our home, but rich in joy, 
Which need or want could not alloy. 
We went to the mountains each morn, 
Reaching the forest before dawn; 
Daily up in the highlands steep 
We worked ’til the sun went to sleep. 
Busy early, for breakfast fare, 
Busy late, for our super bare. 
Like a hen watching her chicks grow 
I fed and raised you until now. 
  
Yes, darling of your moter’s heart, 
Could twist hempen thread and spin yarn; 
At age of seven you could weave cloth 
Cut it to make clothes for your Dad, 
From tody, and for years to come, 
Your Dad will still need new clothing, 
Now who is here to sew for him? 
  
Oh darling of your mother’s heart, 
My kitchen helper from the start, 
Misfortune has torn us apart! 
As I stand here stirring the pot 
Your place gapes empty at the hearth; 
Pain like a knife twists in my heart. 
  
The room where she sat as a child, 
By the gate where she often strolled, 
Gone are all the sights we knew of old, 
Her face we no longer behold! 
Her shadow gone from the threshold 
My sadness cannot be controlled. 
  
The moon is full on the fifteenth, 
It is waning on the sixteenth, 
Sets, rises, does not disappear. 
But once gone, my daughter so dear, 
Will not appear again, I fear. 
  
Birds twitter and chirp in the Spring, 
In bright weather together, sing. 
The cuckoo’s song goes on and on 
For days while grass grows green and long; 
Spring birds with cuckoos join the throng 
To loose a symphony of song. 
But who keeps Mother company? 
Her daughter’s gone—what a pity! 
  
When Winter’s past, the Spring comes round; 
The sun is up, the moon is down; 
Oh, in what season, on what day, 
Can Ma meet daughter—who can say?
Ashima Part3
Sani folk live in Azhodi; 
Among them in the highlands free 
The Gelu Riming family 
Had a fine son, a shepherd boy, 
Whose name, known to all, was Ahei. 
The lad had led his flocks away 
To roam the pastures in Nanmi. 
  
By the Nanmi riverside vias, 
His flocks had been grazing three years. 
Meanwhile he learned to shoot arrows, 
And how to sing joys and sorrows. 
A golden song he learned to sing, 
A silver melody as well, 
A copper tune that rose and fell, 
A tin song, tinkling like bell, 
A song of lead with sad appeal, 
A song of strength, struck up from steel, 
An iron song ringing with zeal, 
Add twelve more of ancestral tune. 
Nine household rites he learned in turn, 
Nine household rites were his concern, 
The twelve rites to ancestors due, 
How observe them all, Ahei knew. 
  
The shepherd Ahei calmed his sheep, 
Lay down at eve and went to sleep. 
At midnight racked by fearful dreams, 
He saw his home and heard some screams. 
Before the gate a monstrous snake 
Lay curling round into a mound, 
Like swirling black mud from the lake. 
In the nightmare rose his homestead; 
On green, pin-needle carpetrs, spread 
Heaps of betrothal gifts bright red. 
Ten skinny, snarling, pale-faced curs, 
Were snatching fiercely at ten bones. 
Awakended by the dream so dire. 
Ahei sprang up, his thoughts on fire. 
Without delay, Brother Ahei, 
At the riverbank, in dismay, 
Urged on his flocks and struck the trail, 
For three days and nights to prevail 
Until he reached his home at last. 
  
The sight he met left him aghast: 
Green pine needles coverd the ground, 
But trampled on, were turning brown. 
Buckwheat stalks set in a corner, 
Trampled on, had turned to manure. 
For bones strewn over the front yard 
Hungry mongrel’s were fighting hard. 
  
Ahei turned to ask his mother: 
“Why are pine needles on the ground? 
Why are these bones strewn all around? 
What people have been here? What guests? 
Why is this place in such a mess” 
  
Gelu Rimingma, home alone, 
Tearfully in quavering tone 
So heart-broken, could only moan: 
“A bite by a dog can be healed, 
Harm by a man can be concealed; 
I have not heard it said outright 
Not have been at her wedding feast 
But the clan of Bala, the beast, 
Sent hired riff-raff to kidnap her. 
In their clutches she’s been three days 
And three nights, along strange pathways.” 
  
Ready for action, Ahei asked: 
“Where is my sorrel – my swift roan: 
Is it at pasture or at home:” 
His mother answered him saying: 
“Fresh and ready in the stable; 
Hanging in your room, the saddle.” 
  
Brother Ahei, the shepherd lad, 
His sorrel from the stall he led, 
Behind his back a bow he slung, 
His hand to arrows tightly clung; 
He mounted his horse with a dash, 
Whipped it to a start with lash, 
Cleaving the air they bounded off; 
They crossed two lofty mountain tops, 
Met an aged shepherd and stopped. 
  
“Please tell me, Grandpa, I’m in haste! 
Lately near here your sheep have grazed – 
A big gang, have you see or missed? 
It passed here from a wedding feast; 
Have you heard if a horde arrived 
And rushed by with a kidnapped bride?” 
  
“Bitsy yellow wasps in the air 
Fly by – I little note nor care – 
When buzzing off I know not where. 
Your younger sister Ashima, 
I know not if she was the one – 
Her fine new gown of silk was made, 
Bound at the waist with bright brocade; 
On her head, a kerchief of red. 
In a crowd passed the bridegroom’s men 
In number five-score and twice ten. 
It’s now three whole days since they passed, 
Three nights ageo I saw them last.” 
“Please tell me, Oh shepherd Grandpa, 
What hope to reach them, gone to far?” 
“Your steed, if strong and swift enough, 
You’ll succeed, but the going’s rough; 
Your steed, if neither swift nor strong, 
You’ll fail, for they’re so far along.” 
  
Thanking the old man in a flash, 
Ahei forged ahead with a dash, 
The swift roan cleft the air so free, 
Catching sight of an old cowherd, 
They stopped again and asked: “Grandpa, 
While pasturing your cattle here, 
Did you see a big crowd appear, 
A wedding party with the bride? 
Did you notice a gang draw near, 
Some rogues who had kidnapped the bride?” 
Said the old man, as if aside: 
“Sweeping by like an ocean tide, 
The crowd turned round a corner wide. 
I know not if the bride I saw 
Was your young sister Ashima; 
She was dressed in a silken gown, 
Her head a red cloth wrapped around, 
The bridegroom’ men were all well armed, 
In number five-score and twenty, 
Each with sword and spear, diappeared, 
But three days and three nights ago” 
“Fast have three days and three nights passed,” 
Said Ahei to Grandpa Cowherd; 
“Do you think it is possible 
For me to catch up with them still?” 
“If your strong horse is swift enough, 
You can catch them up with a will. 
If your steed is not strong enough, 
Do what you will you can’t catch up.” 
  
Ashima, young and beautiful, 
Was hemmed in by a crowd of men; 
They entered a deep forest dim 
Of dark green pine trees straight and grim. 
Impressed, Haire started bragging; 
“Bala owns this whole forest wide, 
It’s where his guards and horses hide.” 
  
Sweet Ashima was not afraid; 
Countering Haire’s boast she said: 
“Bala, high in rank and power, 
Rich in treasure, can hide his troops 
And horses deep in this forest.] 
Wait: In thirty years, poor and weak, 
You’ll see him go down in defeat! 
Here, folk will yam and taro reap!” 
  
Soon they sighted a lake-shore bright, 
With waters gleaming in the light; 
Haire spoke up, bragging again: 
“Bala’s men at this lake so clear 
Ofter clean gold and silverware.” 
  
Sweet Ashima was unimpressed; 
She said to him and all the rest: 
“So long, for thirty years gone by, 
When Bala reigned in power so high, 
When he was strong and prosperous, 
This was a lake where gold was washed, 
A lake for washing silverware. 
Wait! In the thirty years to come, 
When Bala weak and helpless grows, 
This lake will be for washing clothes!” 
  
The Twelfth Grotto appeared at last, 
It had a dark and gloomy cast. 
Haire bragged: “Bala’s property!” 
  
Sweet Ashima answered Haire: 
“Bala has ruled for three decades; 
Strong his power and full his coffees; 
He possesses these grottos deep 
Where the memorial tablets 
Of his ancestors he does keep. 
But in the coming three decades, 
You will see is power decay; 
This grotto, which he cannot save, 
A tiger’s lair, a leopard’s cave!” 
  
When their trail began to level, 
The land spread out full flat and wide, 
Haire in administration cried; 
“Bala’s is this whole plain enclosed – 
A sunny place for airing clothes!” 
  
At this, Ashima unafraid, 
Replied again to what he said: 
“Past are the last three decades drear, 
When Bala wielded his power; 
How firm he seemed in wealth and might, 
When clothes were aired in sun so brigh. 
But in the coming three decades, 
You’ll see: When Bala’s fortunes fade, 
His growing debts cannot be paid, 
Here, will wild herbs to dry be laid!” 
  
Meanwhile elder brother Ahei 
Was forging full gallop ahead 
When he came to an old shepherd. 
Reining in his horse, Ahei said: 
“Pleasd, may I ask you, old shepherd, 
Lately while grazing your sheep here, 
Did you chance to see my sister, 
Ashima, pass by with others? 
Did you by chance hear word of her 
Passing by through this area?” 
  
“At pasture I stay with my sheep, 
On them alone my eyes I keep, 
Hear only my sheep call and bleat. 
Your younger sister Ashima, 
I do not know that she passed by, 
Nor know that she did not pass by; 
I wonder if it was or not, 
Your younger sister Ashima… 
A red kerchief tied on her head, 
At her waist an embroidered belt. 
Five-score and twenty bridegroom’s men, 
Like a massive, drifting black cloud 
Passed bty here in a motley crowd. 
It’s there three days since I saw them pass, 
It’s three nights since I heard them last!” 
  
Once more Ahei asked the greybeard: 
“Please tell me, good grandpa shepherd! 
Please calculate and estimate 
If this band I could overtake!” 
“If your sorrel is up to it, 
Surely you can still catch them up; 
If your horse is not up to it, 
I’m sorry to say, you cannot!” 
  
Ah, good elder brother Ahei, 
Thanked the shepherd with all his heart, 
And with a bound, straddled his mount 
Snapped his whip to get a quick start 
And flew like the wind in swift rout. 
  
He reached a forest of white pine. 
Tired out, elder brother Ahei 
Stopped there for a rest and a meal; 
He unsaddled his trusty steed 
And led him out to graze his fill. 
Ahei, his hunger satisfied, 
With a bound he straddled his horse, 
Flourished his whip to urge him on; 
The steed, with a neigh and whinny, 
Took off, its four hooves flying free. 
  
They reached a forest of black pine; 
Brother Ahei stopped and took time 
To call out to his dear sister; 
His voice reached in all directions. 
His voice echoed o’er hills and steams, 
Reaching regions far, far ahead; 
Beautiful sister Ashima 
Heard the echo calling to her, 
“It’s the sound of my brother’s voice! 
Elder brother is calling me!” 
  
Rebu Bals’s men lost no time 
In answering her with a lie. 
“No. It was not your brother’s voice 
But the sound of a cicada 
Crying far off at the hill-top.” 
  
Ah! Brave elder brother Ahei, 
Then spurred his steed to flying speed, 
Crossing mountains, topping ridges; 
High at the twelfth turn in the trail 
He called out “Ashima” three times. 
His voice shook the surrounding hills; 
Silence, the answer, held them still. 
  
Ah, dear elder brother Ahei, 
Urged on his steed to greater speed; 
Circling mountains, crossing ridges 
Came at last to Bala’s mansion. 
  
Ahei, drawing up, dismounted; 
Head raised, called out in a loud shout: 
“Hear me, men of Rebu Bala; 
Before you, thirteen broad highways, 
Aslo ahead stretch twelve by-ways; 
Do you choose to take the highway – 
Or would you prefer the by-way?” 
  
Bala had a ready answer: 
“The gray thrush is perched in the brush 
Bursting to warble his gurgles. 
Ahei, hailing from far away, 
Dare you sing responsive verses?” 
  
“Straight ahead stretch thirteen highways 
Also ahead are twelve by-ways, 
You may follow any highway – 
Take your pick of any by-way!” 
  
Ahei, raising his voice, sang: 
“When happy Spring is still unsure, 
What singal calls open the door?” 
Bala sang in antiphony: 
“Cold winds sweep up in chilly gusts, 
Spring breezes blow, softly wafting, 
The cuckoo’s song rings like a bell, 
At Spirng’s door, the opening spell. 
I ask of you, can you reply, 
When Summer’s warm days draw nearer, 
What opens the door of Summer?” 
  
Ahei, in the same style, answered: 
“In Summer when dark clouds gather, 
Thunder rumbles, lightening flashes, 
Like muffed drums pattering rain 
Falls all around like kernels of grain, 
Muddy streams formed by the rainfall 
Trickle into ponds ‘til nightfall; 
Then , the croaking of frogs, wide-eyed, 
Opens the door of Summer wide. 
In retun, I have a question: 
“what unlocks the door, can you say, 
When the autumn is on its way?” 
Azhi countered in local style: 
“In the sky the wasps fly buzzing, 
On the ground black bees sound humming, 
Buzzing of the wasps fills the breeze 
Humming of black bees tops the trees, 
In the sky the flied circle round, 
Until they fall to the ground; 
When the time of Autumn is nigh, 
Its door is opened by the fly.” 
  
Ahei posd another question: 
“When Winter is round the corner, 
What opens the door of Winter?” 
At this, Azhi become tongue-tied; 
As is dumb, nothing he replied. 
  
The household of Rebu Bala, 
Losing the antiphonal match, 
Prososed a race in wood-cutting. 
Three men of Bala’s family 
Together cut one tract of trees; 
As for elder brother Ahei— 
See! He single-handed cut three. 
Losing out, the Rebu Balas 
Proposed a match in buring grass. 
Three of their men joined together 
To burn one hilly tract of grass; 
But ah, elder brother Ahei, 
Alone burnt up three hill-side tracts. 
  
Bested again, Rebu Bala 
Proposed a contest sowing rice. 
Three of Rebu Bala’s men joined 
Together to cover one shang. 
Ahei working fast at his task 
Covered three shang with seed, alone. 
Rebu Bala’s men lost again; 
He tried hard to find an excuse; 
“This year is cold for rice to grow, 
The month not suitable, I know, 
And most unfit of all, the day. 
We must pick up and put away 
All the rice seeds which we have sowed.” 
  
Three men of Rebu Bala’s band, 
One by one, gleaned one shang all clean. 
But Ahei, bending o’er his task, 
Alone gleaned three shang, working fast. 
Ahei picked rice seeds from three shang, 
But three grains of rice were missing! 
Yet, Brother Ahei could not bear 
To declear defeat so unclear; 
Pondered the race from start to end, 
Searched in every crack and bend, 
Uttered three shouts to the hill-top, 
Three more at the foot of the hill. 
The three seeds were not to be found. 
Not far off he spotted a tree; 
It had large, spreading branched\s three; 
In it turtle-doves had lighted; 
Perching there, three could be sighted. 
  
Promptly elder brother Ahei 
Fixed his arrow, drew the bowstring, 
Did not glance at the dove nearest, 
Did not pay heed to the farthest, 
But targeted the middle one. 
Twang! Snapped the bow, down went the dove; 
In its crop, when they searched around, 
The three lost seeds of rice were found, 
All had been picked up, safe and sound. 
  
Rebu Bala and his henchmen, 
Again failing to supervene, 
Retreated home to plot and scheme. 
He planned to set three tigers free, 
Let them seize and devour Ahei. 
This cabal of Rebu Bala 
Was overheard by Ashima. 
Cleverly she took quick action, 
Played her musical stringed mouth-piece, 
The tune relayed a message clear, 
Warning her brother to take care: 
“I heard them scheming secretly, 
They plan to set three tigers free! 
Before they kill you, you must flee!” 
  
Her intrepid brother Ahei 
Took from his waistband a reed flute; 
His tune conveyed a soothing lilt: 
“Younger sister Ashima dear, 
All is well, you need have no fear, 
My trusty bow is at my back, 
A sheaf of arrows in my grasp; 
All is well, you need have no fear.” 
On guard, elder brother Ahei 
Glanced across to Bala’s homestead. 
Outside the gate crouched three tigers 
Set to spring up and attack him. 
  
  
Ahei, drawing taut his bowstring, 
Aimed and sent his arrows whizzing. 
Three fierce tigers hounging ahead 
Were stopped in mid-air and shot dead. 
Ahei approached the tigers prone, 
And skinned them each throughout the night, 
Like taking off a winter coat; 
Then placed the skins back on again. 
Ahei, with his own artful plan, 
Slung one tiger one each under his arm. 
He carried the three dead tigers 
Away to his sleeping quarters. 
He went to sleep amidst the beasts, 
Used their carcasses as cover; 
Wagging their tails with both his feet 
’til dawn he lay as if asleep. 
At daybreak Rebu Bala came 
To pay Ahei a moring call. 
He saw the tigers gaping jaws, 
In glee, their slowly switching tails. 
Bala shouted for all to hear: 
“Wake up! It’s dawn! No time to waste! 
Here’s some water to wash your face!” 
  
To this, Ahei made no reply. 
Bala, beside himself with joy, 
Turning around shouted aloud: 
“Ahei’s been attacked by tigers 
They rushed in at night, devoured him!” 
  
Turning back for a closer look, 
Only thendid he realize, 
The tigers had not killed Ahei, 
But on the contrary, Ahei 
Himself had killed the three tigers. 
As for all these three tigers dread, 
Each and every one was quite dead. 
  
Rebu Bala switching tactics 
Hastily rushed over and said: 
“Sani customs and etiquette 
Give wife’s brother highest status. 
Now when we skin the tigers, 
It’s your due to take the biggest; 
Let’s see who can skin the fastest!” 
Ahei without a word to say 
Grasped fast the biggest tiger’s tail, 
Gave a loud shout: “Tiger come out!” 
The tiger came out of his skin! 
Bala’s men working together 
Took over the two small tigers. 
One whole moring peeling, skinning, 
Panting, with not one pelt to show. 
  
Rebu Bala and family, 
Anxious to vie in ev’ry way, 
Yet in no way were they willing 
To give Ashima her freedom. 
  
Ahei angry, denied his claim, 
Facing Bala’s home, he took aim, 
Drew his bowstring, shot the arrow, 
Flying straight, the first swift arrow 
Pierced the base of the eastern wall. 
Ahei shot the second arrow, 
And pierced the base of the south wall. 
Out whizzed the third arrow; it lodged 
At the foot of the western wall. 
The last one entered the main hall 
And shattered the ancestral shrine. 
  
Bala’s kinsfolk came together 
To help pull out the last arrow. 
They tried but could not pry it free; 
They tugged and tugged – it did not budge. 
They wrenched – it did not move an inch. 
  
Rebu Bala and kinsfolk 
Mouths gaping in astonishment, 
Could not but set Ashima free 
To go back with brother Ahei. 
Sister and brother meeting, shed 
Tears of joy in each other’s arms. 
As on the fence cicadas creak, 
And beneath it mosquitos wheeze, 
The brother spoke with heartfelt grief, 
Sister told him her tale so bleak.
Ashima Part4
Kind-hearted brother Ahei 
Mounted his horse, galloped away, 
With Ashima riding in back, 
Made for home on the straightest track. 
The horse’s bell tinkled, ting-ling! 
The birds twittered to welcome Spring. 
Ashima, gentle and lovely, 
Sang out in notes of happiness: 
“Rebu Bala and family, 
Your clan’s position ranks so high 
It rivals the throne of a king! 
Who aspires to any such thing: 
The spacious rooms of your mansion, 
Your front hall, however awesome, 
I do not admire at all; 
However vast your herds of sheep, 
Strong your oxen, as made of stone, 
Who cares? Keep them; they’re all your own. 
You have plenty of grain to mill, 
The reserves stacked high as a hill; 
The impression on me is nil!” 
  
Ashima and Ahei soon came 
To the bank of the wide river. 
Walking ahead older brother 
Led the way for younger sister. 
Before them opened wide a cave; 
Out o its depths a hornet cane 
And said with a buzz, “I invite 
You to stay here with me tonight. 
This is where I’ve lived all my life.” 
The two thought it would be all right, 
And following it, went inside. 
  
The cave’s slimy sides were sticky; 
Ashima, careful not to fall, 
Put out her hand, leaned on the wall; 
Alas! Her whole body stuck fast! 
Held there a prisoner, aghast, 
She called to her brother, steadfast 
And brave: “Dearest brother Ahei, 
Please try your best to rescue me, 
Go out and fetch a pig all white, 
Then catch a white pigeon in flight, 
And bring a white sheep big and broad 
To sacrifice to the Cliff God!” 
  
Brother setting out full of care, 
Searching here and there with a flare, 
Caught a white pigeon in the air; 
Soon he found a sheep, white and big, 
But where, where, was there a white pig? 
He chose a black one is despair, 
And plastered it with thick white mud – 
Sacrifices to the Cliff God. 
  
Clear and bright shone the azure sky 
When a stunning balst from on high 
Rent the air; black clouds rose rmpant, 
Swelled, burst in heavy torrent; 
Down billowed thick curtains of spray, 
The “white” pig stood in the spillway 
His white clay soaked off right away. 
Back was the pig, black as always! 
The “white” pig had gone, one might say. 
  
Poor Ashima! Her earrings bright 
Which tinkled away all the day 
Were now silent, glued to the wall. 
She, so like the golden bamboo, 
Was now stuck to the cave wall too. 
This was too much for brave Ahei; 
To take her home, he had no way. 
  
“Nature’s ageless rock so strong, 
Rising steep and sheer on earth’s base, 
Bright yellow gleams its stony face; 
This is my home, where I belong. 
The sun may sink, but I stay on, 
The moon goes down, but I stay here. 
Elders and fellow villagers! 
My dear friends and happy playmates! 
Hear me, dear friends, I Ashima, 
Will be by your side together, 
To remain with you forever.” 
  
“Ah dear elder brother Ahei, 
When you miss me and long for me, 
Stand on the hill-top near a tree, 
And call me – just give a loud shout; 
Your younger sister Ashima 
Will answer you from the canyon. 
A loud shout from elder brother 
Will bring a prompt answering call.” 
  
Many are the carckling cone-seeds 
Of the pine-torch; many more are 
The old songs our ancestors sang; 
These strains are all I remember. 
  
Among the songs of our Sani 
This ballad is counted the best; 
Among our Sani melodies, 
This one is counted the saddest. 
  
Trees when full-grown bear many fruits, 
Their seeds are used to plant saplings; 
Full-grown bamboo trees spread their roots 
To give rise to Spring bamboo shoots. 
For our children and grandchildren, 
I wrote down this ballad so long; 
To preserve the ancient legend, 
I have sung this heart-rending song 
For them from beginning to end.
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  6. Ashima of the Sani people

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  9. The Long Poem “Ashima” of Sani People

    The long poem Ashima adopts romantic poetic technique and rich figures of speech to highlight the kindness and beauty, wisdom and power, diligence and braveness of the character. It is affectionately called by the Sani people as "the song of our ethics", and Ashima even becomes the antonomasia of the women of the Yi ethics.

  10. Characteristic Traditional Festival of Sani People

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  11. Fire Festival---The Torch Festival of Sani People

    On 24th June of lunar calendar, it is the traditional torch festival of Yi people. Dining, wrestling, bullfighting, dance or song, all of which add to the fun of ceremony. At night, thousands of torches symbolizing as happiness and sunshine illuminated like a fire dragon met the summit of ceremony.