2017/02/15

Larenbu and Jimensuo - A Love Epic of the Tu Minority


Larenbu and Jimensuo is a long folk poem of the Tu minority. It is the most popular and influential epic of the Tu minority, and can be compared to the Tu version of Butterfly Lovers (Liangshanbo and Zhuyingtai). With more than 300 lines, the epic tells a tragic love story. It is composed and sung in the Tu dialect, and has been orally passed down among the mass. It is still an active oral literature. The long poem, with deep and tragic tune as well as beautiful and touching lines, recounts the pure love of Larenbu and Jimensuo and their yearning for freedom and happiness.

This folk literature records the tragic love of the poor man Larenbu and the flock-master's sister Jimensuo with vivid images, moving language and a singing and storytelling form. As the story goes, a beautiful and kindhearted Tu lady named Jimensuo fell in love with Larenbu, a long-term hired shepherd of her brother while pasturing together. They worshiped Heaven and Earth and married each other. Jimensuo's brother and sister-in-law were greedy villains. Knowing about the relationship between Larenbu and Jimensuo, they tried every means to break the couple apart. They beat and accused Jimensuo, and locked her at home, not allowing her to meet Larenbu. To sever their relationship, Jimensuo's brother put on her clothes, and sneaked into their tent with a knife. In the evening, Larenbu returned from pasturing. As soon as he entered the tent, he was stabbed to death by Jimensuo's brother.

Then, the villagers wanted to cremate Larenbu according to customs of the Tu ethnic group, but his body was still unburned after three solid days. Hearing the news, Jimensuo made it to the crematory, and threw her earrings, bracelets and other jewelry into the fire, but the body would not burn still. Jimensuo was suddenly awakened. She sang with grief and indignation, "I know why you would not burn. You are waiting for me. I will go with you, and stay with you forever." Then, she plunged into the fire, and the fire immediately started burning. The bodies turned into ashes in a minute. The cruel-hearted brother buried their ashes on each bank of the Shahe River. Three years later, two silk trees grew on the banks. The brother chopped the trees into firewood and lighted the firewood. The fire turned into a rainbow, and a pair of gorgeous mandarin ducks flew out of the chimney. The mandarin ducks swooped down upon the venomous brother, ruined his eyes, and then flew wing to wing into the woods where they used to herd the flock.

The epic comprises eight chapters of narration and singing. It is the crystallization of collective wisdom of the Tu minority. It is one of the favorite narrative love songs of Tu people. The poem has different styles in different areas. The singing is mainly antiphonal between Larenbu and Jimensuo, but it is different from conventional question-and-answer antiphonal singing. The tune is unique, clearly structured, and well-bedded.

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