Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: tafalong
Wednesday, 26 November 2008 23:40

Tafalong, past and present

Tafalong is a traditional Amis village located nearby the township of Fata’an (Guangfu), in Hualien county – a township with which it entertains an healthy, deep-rooted rivalry... Working the land remains the main activity: cultures of betel nut, rice, sweet potato fruits and vegetables shape the surrounding landscape. Yield is rather good, and the first impression of the outsider entering the area is certainly one of a hard-working, moderately affluent population. Older people are slowly walking along the streets, speaking mainly Amis among themselves, while the wandering groups of schoolchildren speak only Chinese and seem to be spoken to solely in that language.

Tafalong keeps alive songs and legends describing the creation of the world and evoking spirits, genealogies and rituals. As in other Amis areas, the Yearly Offering ("Ilisin" – often translated in English as the Harvest Festival), taking place sometime in August, remains the biggest event of the year. In Fata’an and, to a lesser extent in Tafalong proper, the Offering now takes place on a large scale and has become a much-publicized touristic event. Its State-sponsored promotion may have gone along the loss of meaning that the one who watches it might experience – still, its long preparation unites the whole community, and everybody seems to get great fun out of it. In Sado, the very small size of a closely-knit community obviously concurs to better preserve the spirit and the ritualistic undertones traditionally attached to the festival: in this particular hamlet, during the three days event, men are chastised by the village chief if they did not meaningfully participate in community life during the year (the punishment consists in the drinking of a large bowl of rice wine), praised if they did so (such men are by far in the minority…). Young men’s initiation is still a commonly observed feature, though the way it is followed and performed varies from place to place.

In the still recent past, several shamans (or, more frequently, she-shamans.) were living in Tafalong. There is still one of them remaining in Sado, who also plays the role of a medium catering for the needs of Han people through Taoist rituals. Underlying shamanist creeds and practices are certainly present, but they are largely covered and transformed by Christian beliefs. The Catholic community is the most numerous and active, while two Protestant churches also enjoy a significant following. The faith brought from afar has been acculturated through songs, community bonding (there is a very active Catholic old women association) and well attended Sunday services celebrated at the same time in Amis and Chinese. Parish retreats and study sessions are an important part of village life. Japanese priests preaching to the elderly in the language they have learnt during their youth come to Tafalong once every year.

The term "kawas" refers at the same time to the Christian God and to the gods of the Amis tradition. Therefore, the shaman is usually called "Sikawasay", meaning the One who possesses a god. Spirits, demons and guardian angels are regularly invoked during all rituals. The invocation to the Ancestors is a basic part of traditional Amis rituals, and it is common to see Amis people offering some alcohol to the pictures of latter generation ancestors adorning the walls of their house, muttering to them a rapid prayer if they fear that trouble is brewing or that they have somehow behaved improperly. At the same time, the stress on ancestors and on their watchful presence is assimilated into Christianity without too much ado, especially by the Catholics, more accommodating in that respect than their protestant brethren.

Photo: B.V.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008 23:38

The Tafalong Project

“On the fifth day the sea tide rose…”



What happens exactly from the first to the fourth day? The song does tell us the events that unfolded before the big tide’s rise, allowing Kariwasan to take Tiamacan away, but, still, the chronology starts with this disjunctive event – as if only the recollection of total chaos could help one to create some kind of order within time and space. At some point, you have to start counting, but you do know that the Primordial Tale cannot truly speak of the Origin of the origins, that there is always a first day before the first. So, why not starting with the fifth one?

In the same vein, it is hard to say how the Tafalong movie exactly took shape. For sure, there was an encounter between Nakao Eki and the Ricci Institute. Nakao has spent the year 2008 working on an oral history project sponsored by the Institute with the help of “WeShare” Foundation. At some point (but when exactly?), it appeared to me that Nakao’s narrative was the stuff of a great documentary, in a way that would complement and enrich her writings and drawings, telling the same and yet a very different story. Renlai monthly and erenlai.com, both published by the Ricci Institute, were also trying to improve their skills in movie making, and had asked Nicolas Priniotakis to guide them in filming and editing a full-fledged production. Tafalong village was chosen most naturally as the perfect setting for this endeavour. I stayed in Tafalong several times between March and July 2008, and witnessed Nakao struggling with a project that was reaching far deeper than a mere academic fieldwork would have done. At the end of July, Cerise, Nicolas, Nakao and I gathered in Tafalong, also filming in the adjacent Fata’an township and Sado hamlet. We were joined in this adventure by Ta-cheng (Nakao’s cousin), several of their relatives, and other members of the Ricci team.

But is it really the way it happened? The “origins” of the movie reach far deeper anyway, and the more we advanced into production, the farther we went into the past: Nakao had to find her way into her own memories. We were sometimes dealing with a place (two places actually, discovering the strategic importance of the hamlet of Sado, the stronghold of Nakao’s extended family), sometimes with a clan or a family, sometimes with recollections linked to personal burning events. At some points, we were having a glimpse on the rise of the giant tide, but we could sense that the surge of the ocean was happening “on the fifth day”, that the tide would have not risen if there was not the mysterious unfolding of events from the unknown first day till the fourth…

So, the Tafalong project is not about a person, a place or a clan. It is about all of these and yet about something different. It is about the way memories – memories shared by and divided among individuals, villages and families – are told, re-enacted, slowly digested or suddenly cried out at the face of the earth, memories that obscure and illuminate the present, and that bless or curse the future… From the start, without us actually knowing it, the project was about the tides that endlessly shape, erode and engulf our mental universe.

On the fifth day the sea tide rose…” : There are the giant tides of the hidden, remotest past, there are the tides that have shaped the history of Taiwan and the Amis people during the last four hundred years, there are the endless sea currents experienced in the course of the most eventful twentieth century, there are the tides that unite and divide families, there are also the tides (insignificant and yet sometimes devastating) surging in the soul of the one who relate anew to the people and the lineage she comes from… and in this movie, there is also, on the shore of the Pacific, a real tide, the tide that takes away a beloved one and thus reawakens memories of the floods that engulfed people’s life in time past…
 

Drawing by Nakao Eki

 
 

Friday, 28 November 2008 03:04

When I look eastwards

Three generations of Amis women gather in Haruko's household (Tafalong village). They wear their traditional costumes to improvise dances and sing an Amis song.

Thursday, 20 November 2008 00:08

Tafalong a niyaro

In this excerpt of Renlai’s documentary, the grand-father of Nakao, Angah Foday, sings the ancestral Tafalong song which recounts the origins of the village. He is surrounded by relatives while they all sit in the traditional common house that has recently been reconstituted. (English translation of the song due to Nakao Eki.)

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