Yimakan songs of the Hezhe

 

The Hezhe have a rich oral literature, with a large body of stories, legends and songs that are present in all activities of their lives. For them the most important types of songs and stories are the following:

The yimakan, or sung stories.
The telungu, or legendary stories.
The shuohuli, or stories.
The jialinkuo, or popular songs.

Yimakan is the name they give to their sung stories. In them is reflected the spiritual universe of the Hezhe, their myths, legends, customs, philosophy, religion, and history. These sung stories are not only a means of communication between people, but also with the spirits. The Hezhe think that the gods like to listen to these songs. So, they consider that by singing them they will gain the favor of the gods: good health, abundant hunts and good luck. The demons, on the other hand, while listening to these yimakan, that sometimes narrate tales of the heroic shamans of the Hezhe, get scared and don't dare bother the people.

The yimakan are always sung at night, accompanied by a dance presentation. Their rhythms and movements bear a certain resemblance to the dance of the shamans, so it is thought that they originated in their ancient shamanic songs and ceremonies. The sense of magic and spirituality found in this type of song allows people to communicate with the gods and demons. It is clear that by imitating the actions of the shamans the Hezhe believe that they can produce a similar result among the singers.

The yimakan holds primary importance in the life of the Hezhe. Any important event, such as weddings, funerals or the arrival of guests, is always accompanied by the singing of the yimakan. Their function is particularly important in hunting expeditions and during the fishing time. If a group leaves for a hunt, when they come back to the camp at night, it is necessary to sing the yimakan. The singer of the yimakan is the most important person in the group of hunters.

In the fishing season, usually in the spring and autumn, the Hezhe spend the night on the river singing their yimakan. They believe that in this way they can encourage the river deities to provide them with abundant fishing the following morning.

Among the neighboring peoples there are also sung stories similar to the yimakan. Some scholars think that the existence of this literary genre harks back to the remote past of the Hezhe.

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