Songs and Songfests of Zhuang Ethnic Group

Zhuang people are reputed for singing. Zhuang people, male or female, start to learn singing at the age of four or five. Usually the fathers teach the sons and the daughters learn from the mothers, thus forming such a custom: learning songs in childhood, singing in adulthood, teaching in old age. In the countryside, people sing at any time and any place, whether laboring in the field, cutting firewood in the mountains, or even courting, whether at the wedding, funeral or festivals. They have the songs to express their feelings. In some places, people even sing in their common talks or even quarrels among family members. Therefore, the vast place where Zhuang people live gets a nickname “the sea of songs,” as well as compared to “the land covered by the piano keys” in poetry. In the history, some famous singers were called Song Fairy or Song King, such as Liu Sanjie and Huang Sandi.

Zhuang songs are rich both in quantity and kinds. Based on the content and style, they can be classified into ancient songs, narrative long songs, life songs, labor songs, political songs, rite songs, love songs and kid songs and so on. However, when singing the Zhuang songs, people should follow certain established etiquettes and regulations, especially political songs, rite songs and love songs. For instance, the love songs are allowed to be sung freely in the wild songfests, but are forbidden at home or at the presence of parents. Different rite songs are sung on different occasions. Even different guests receive different welcome songs.

Zhuang people like singing. Besides singing casually, they have regular songfests, called Ge Wei or Ge Jie. March 3rd is the most important date for songfests. Besides, songfests can be held on the spring festival, April 8th, Mid-autumn day, wedding day, a baby’s one-month birthday, or a new house completion day. A provisional songfest can be held even on the road to the market fair. There are two kinds of songfests: daytime songfest and evening songfest. Daytime songfests are in the wild fields, mainly for young people to court. Evening songfests are inside the villages, mainly singing songs aiming at teaching production and life knowledge, such as season songs, questioning songs and history songs, etc.

Songfests have multi-functions. However, in history they mainly serve young people to court lovers through singing publicly. On songfest days, young people in their holiday best come to the songfest place. Through singing, they display their talent, reveal their feelings, exchange their thoughts and find their lovers. On the songfests, singing in antiphonal style is the major activity. In this one-to-one singing match, the two singers are often surrounded by their friends. Sometimes, the song masters stand beside to give a hand. The procedure of antiphonal singing is very complicated and strict. Generally speaking, from the start of antiphonal singing to the final confirmation of their love, they will experience the following steps: introductory songs, first meeting songs, self-boasting songs, first question songs, questioning songs, eulogizing songs, pursuit songs, first love songs, friend making songs, love confirmation songs, gift-presenting songs and parting songs and so on. Every link is relatively independent yet closely related. The songs in each link are rather long and rich in content. A good singer can keep on singing for several days and nights.

For instance:
First meeting songs:

      Female: A beginner in singing is like a sparrow learning to fly.
                  Fly to the twig, and look up to the highest place, yet afraid to fly.
      Male:     I sing well. You are an oriole and I am a throstle.
                  We live in the same wood, why not singing in pair?

Pursuit songs:

      Male:    Green willows on the roadside touch my heart. 
                  I ask the willow why she does not shield me from the sunheat?
      Female: White gourd has neither heart nor mouth, teapot has a mouth yet no heart.
                  Bottle gourd is always half in water, I am afraid you are of the three.

Parting songs:

      Male:    Sunset, birds are singing back to the mountains in pairs.
                  I want to stay longer with you, yet the sun envies me.
      Female: I accompany you back to sugarcane field, and sent you a sugarcane.
                 You eat one end and I the other, it breaks in the middle.
      Male:    Leave and return, telling my darling.
                  I give you the key, yet don’t open the garden for others.
      Female: Leave and return, telling my darling.
                  I will wait for you here for ten years, yet don’t plant your flower elsewhere. 

However, such a way of finding lovers through singing is not completed at one time, instead, singing plays the role of the matcher. After getting acquaintance on the songfests, young people still have a long way to go before getting married.  They need develop further contact, deepen mutual understanding and love, and ultimately confirm their courtship.