Society and Identity
This study explores the roles that female singing has played in Yao 瑤 ritual traditions. The Yao are one of the 56 nationalities in today’s China, with the majority of their population residing in mountainous areas of South China. Yao’s highly Daoist-laden ordination ceremonies and ritual manuscripts in Chinese have often been singled out to support scholarly claims about Yao “sinification”. Such analyses overlook the importance of female singing in Yao ritual traditions, especially as shown in the rituals regarding their progenitor deity, Panhu 盤瓠. The paper challenges conventional wisdom about Yao “sinification” that narrowly focuses on written tradition and male religious practitioners. First, the paper traces a discursive history of “Yao Daoism” in Yao studies. Second, it explores the ritual significance of singing and its special references to womanhood. Third, it examines shamanistic characteristics of the role of the “mother of singing” (gemu 歌母; a woman renowned for her good voice and wide repertoire of songs) as expressed in myths and rituals. In conclusion, the paper seeks to find the voices of women in a ritual tradition of long-term male domination.