they had no need for books

When the geng was played, people swore they could hear the voices of the ancestors. It was as if their spirits were retelling the history and describing the path to the afterlife through the sounds of the instrument. Music became the medium through which the Hmong recorded their legends. The notes had replaced the written text. The music of the geng could be used to teach new generations about their past and their future lives. They had no need for books.

The Western missionaries, of course, had no ear for such foolishness. They considered a race without a written text to be barbaric and ignorant. So, they created a roman phonetic system as the basis for a script for the Hmong that was impossible to read without learning a lot of complicated rules. The clever churchmen believed they had bonded together the diffuse Hmong tribes through this linguistic subjugation, but the Hmong knew better. They learned the text to keep the missionaries in their place, but they had a system that was far more advanced than anything devised in the West. They had a musical language that communicated directly from one soul to another.

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