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    2006-03-28 14:33:52
 Today we bring you a prose version of a famous narrative poem of the Sani minority. The Sani are an ethnic group that lives in southern Yunnan province, southwest China. There is a famous story, which tells of a beautiful girl named "Ashma".   

Long ago!the Sani says!a flower fell to earth, and Ashma was born. Her face was as white as the moon and her skin as smooth as an egg shell.   

The infant's cry was soft and plaintive, her laugh was as gay as that of a cricket, and when her mother combed her hair, it gleamed like twilight in the sky. From day to day, sweet Ashma grew until she was sixteen.  

Young and fair Ashma was as fresh as a buckwheat leaf; untouched by sorrow and never having known care or grief. Eventually, the rich and influential Rabubalor heard of her beauty and swore that Ashma must wed his son Aji, a surly spe-like creature.
Rabubalor summoned a powerful official by the name of Hajow to act as the go-between. Hajow tried every way he could to convince Ashma's parents, to consent to the match. "Rabubalor's house is tiled with gold and framed in silver." He said. "His barns are stacked high with grain and his cattle can seen all over the hillside. You will not find such a rich family anywhere in the world."   

"Our Ashma will only wed a trusty lad", replied her parents, "I will not wed his son!" Ashma said angrily to the go-between. But, alas, one day when her brother Ahay was away herding sheep, wicked men sent by Rabubalor came to snatch Ashma away. Holding her tears back, she told her parents, "Quickly call my brother Ahay back, for only he can rescue me."

Ahay came back hom. Seizing his bow and arrows. He mounted his chestnut horse and gave chase. Aji barred he iron gate of his house to shut Ahay outside. "If you can out-sing me, you can come in. Ahay", he shouted, "But if you cannot win, you must go away." And so Ahay began to sing. And when he sang, the thrush flew to join him in his melody; when he played his flute, the deer in the forest paused to listen. They sang for one whole day and a night. Ahay was still smiling and at ease but Aji had exhausted his repertoire. Unable to continue, Aji had to open the gate and let Ahay in.  
Still, Rabubalor refused to release Ashma. Angered, Ahay quickly shot two arrows. The first struck the gate and the second a pillar of Rabubalor's house.   

Dismayed, Rabubalor and his whole family gripped the arrows and wrenched at them with all their might, tugging and pulling. All in vain, for they could not be dislodged. Finally they went to seek help from Ashma. "I you pull out the arrows, we will send you home with Ahay," they pleaded. Calling her brother's name, Ashma pulled out the arrows as easily as she might have plucked a flower. This time Rabubalor had no alternative but to open his gate. With his horse's bell ringing and the birds singing, brave Ahay rode home with Ashma.   

Rabubalor was not content and swore to wreak his revenge. He remembered that a large ravine lay on the road, the brother and sister have to ride home. In that ravine, between twelve steep crags, there was a brook. He begged the God of the Crags to flood the ravine.Suddenly, the brook turned into a great whirlpool.  
While Ahay was battling the waves, lovely Ashma was caught up and borne off by the current.   

"Ashma! Ashma! Ashma dear!" Ahay called her name three times. Above the twelve great crags a clear answer floated back in the same accent as his own "Ashma! Ashma! Ashma dear!" High on the tallest crag Ahay saw a lovely girl, gleaming like a pretty flower. There she was! Ashma spoke to Ahay, "Oh, brother, do you see this ancient rock? Heaven has given it to me a refuge, my new home is here. Tell our parents and all my good friends that whenever they come to call me. I will answer at their call. The sun might fade one day and clouds will scatter, but my soul will never be silenced."   

And so it has been ever since. People call her a thousand different ways, and Ashma's voice always echoes back.

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