A long time ago there was a beautiful butterfly that was born in the centre of a grand old maple tree, or maybe it was a sweet-gum tree, depending upon which version of the story you’re hearing. One day, the butterfly flew over a huge lake and fell in love with a glistening water bubble. After a while, the butterfly laid 12 eggs but the burden of hatching these eggs was too great for such a delicate creature. As luck would have it, the top of the tree miraculously turned into a bird, that became known as Jiwei. The savvy butterfly then enlisted the assistance of Jiwei who took it upon himself to guard the eggs with his life until finally, 12 years later they hatched. From one of these eggs came a boy and a girl, from the rest, the animals of the Chinese zodiac emerged to roam the earth and keep the people company.
This is a picturesque creation myth of the Miao people, a minority group who live in South West China.
The boy and girl, who came from the butterfly egg, are said to be the ancestors of the Miao people and the animals their companions. The butterfly is thus, the mother of all living creatures and the Jiwei bird, the father.
There are 56 distinct nationalities in China, the predominant being the Han, making up a whopping 90%. The remaining 55 nationalities are referred to as ethnic minorities with the 4th largest know as Miao. Although, the Chinese government actually gave them this name, bundling a number of smaller sub-groups together under the one title, many of who do not speak the same native language and hold different histories and cultures.