Erenlai - Nakao Eki
Nakao Eki

Nakao Eki

Formosan Melon|Endemic to Tafalong


Saturday, 29 August 2009 02:53

Herr Johann Strauss II

It was indeed too sultry today that I could hardly nod to Herrn Beethoven’s Fate. Moments before I rejected my beloved Herrn Beethoven, I had a talk with Herrn Johann Sebastian Bach. I sensed that he intended to build the entire Brandenburg on my account. Such expenditure naturally led to a less satisfactory farewell between us. My favorite Herr Mozart used to be a close friend to me. Today he insisted, however, to talk about Jupiter all along. "Naja… Jupiter ist heute aber kein gutes Themen,” I said, “Mon cher, Amedeus, I think you may kindly pay me a visit some other day. C’est bon?"

Unanticipated as it was, that "c’est bon" offended the proud Russian gentleman Monsieur Tchaikovsky, who were elegantly leaning against the door. He furiously yet so smooth-handedly bent the Marseillaise and blew right away his horn of 1812. Now it was obviously too late to engage my dear Amadeus’ much softer Horn; thus I had to solemnly, and calmly, ask Monsieur Tchaikovsky to leave with his cannons.

Then stepped Herr Johann Strauß II into my drawing room.

I had a long nice chat with Herrn Johann Strauß II. As the night descended, he— being an attentive, thoughtful Vienna gentleman— poured the entire Blue Danube down from the top over my head.

"Herr Johann Strauß II," though totally wet as one could well imagine, I felt compelled to keep up with the elegance of the Hapsburg. "Do you… agree with me that it is indeeeeed a very nice and cool concert at the Danube. Qu’en pensez-vous?"

Herr Johann Strauß II refused to comment on my poor, poseur French and lowered his eyes staring at his own wonderful waltz scores. I realized that all the Vienna gentlemen must be as modest as this one thus tried to pick on another topic.

"Herr Johann Strauß II," I said, "do you recall that newly entered parliament member Herrn Lüger? Now, do tell me, how are we to feel comfortable that there is actually someone in the parliament who has such a surname? Comme ci…"

Herr Johann Strauß II interrupted me with caution and politeness, "Mademoiselle, wir in Wien… oh, it is in music, drama, and arts of all kinds that we are interested in Vienna. Politics… is a matter of no commonly shared concern. Nonetheless— allow me to remind you, mademoiselle— this new member of our parliament is not of ordinary family. He is addressed as Herr von Lüger…" That said, he poured down to my head even more from the Blue Danube.

"A bon…" as poseur as one could be, I endured all the sweet coldness of river water and night dews, fanning myself into even sweeter coldness, and said, "According to you, Herr Johann Strauß II, it is only due to my baaaaad accent as a non-Viennese that I inappropriately remark on politics in Vienna. Since their family kommt von Lügern, it must be their ancestral misfortune to play a part in politics!"

Herr Johann Strauß II nodded slightly, "Indeed, now it has gotten much, much better..." and poured actually more water from the Blue Danube down to my head.

It was midnight that I could no longer endure to fan myself warm. Thus I stood up with all my firm determination and slapped my fan right onto this Vienna gentleman mon cher Herr Johann Strauß II’s head:


After all, even with Herrn Johann Strauß II, there was no honorable farewell today.


(photo by Cerise Phiv)

Thursday, 24 March 2011 21:54

The role of the Inbetweeners

The young scholars session at the Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific conference held at the National Central Library, Taiwan gave three promising young scholars the chance to present their work. Nakao, a PhD candidate in history at Leiden University, is one of these young scholars trying to break the academic boundaries, to produce experimental writing of Eastern Taiwan history from a new historical narrative, an Amis perspective and in doing this foster real cross-cultural dialogue. In her speech she presented the foundations of her groundbreaking research:

Alternative (for readers in China)

Working on Eastern Taiwan history, I found interesting similarity and difference between the historical writing of Eastern Taiwan and that of the Pacific world: Both have to do with the writing of the indigenous past; both face the dominant Western historical tradition which per se is a specific value system that is often incommensurable with the local ones. Today, many Pacific writers insist on their traditional way of writing about their Self, more or less at the price of isolating their writing from the rest of the world. In contrast, many Taiwanese historians (Han Taiwanese or Austronesian alike) attempting to write Eastern Taiwan history work within the Western historical tradition, with or without a clear awareness of the underlying cultural differences and conflicts that may eventually affect the written presentation of “history.”

As an Austronesian (Amis) yet Western-trained historian, I'm most concerned with the possibility of bridging the incommensurable: Is it possible to go beyond the debates of academic Westernism and Indigenism, decolonization and postcolonialism etc. and bring up something that is not conflictive in nature but that emphasizes mutual acknowledgement and respect in practice? It requires, I believe, a certain kind of “inbetweenness,” born (usually but not exclusively) by the “cultural inbetweeners.” At the first glance this “inbetween” position seems academically unpopular and disadvantageous, yet eventually it may prove to be promising in creating a real cross-cultural dialogue, which, amidst cultural confrontations, deconstructs none of the participating cultural traditions and remains constructive to all parties.

Photo: Cathy Chuang

Thursday, 20 January 2011 16:51



Sunday, 23 January 2011 15:21

A new world begins

“Where land ends, the world begins.”
This quotation sets the tone as we present our Focus on Taiwan in the Pacific, transcending land’s natural boundaries and turning our attention to the ocean, as we explore a world so unfamiliar to Taiwan. Most of the authors in our Focus are members of the newly established Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies, the creation of which is not inconsequential to Renlai. As the publication and website of the Taipei Ricci Institute, Renlai and eRenlai are key components of the research organisation originally set up by a group of foreign missionaries. Back then, these Jesuits were also navigating bravely beyond the boundaries of their own lands in Europe and America, to experience their own new world beginning.

Thursday, 20 January 2011 16:51



Monday, 13 September 2010 11:29

An ear for Chopin

Among all the versions of Chopin's first ballade I have listened to, Rubinstein's interpretation sounds to me the most convincing one. There are other pianists who play this ballade with more passion or elegance... But only in Rubinstein's rendition do I hear something that must be very difficult for an instrumentalist to express - effort.

This is best exhibited in the middle of the piece when the climax is reached. Most pianists play this part with the intention to show liberation or success, thus notes are often hit with ease, smoothly, sometimes even elegantly or joyfully. But in Rubinstein's, the peak is not reached without effort, hesitation, and even fear. Rubinstein gives one the impression that this climbing is supported by great courage and firm belief, and it really radiates once it's unfolded. But one also hears discernible efforts, great strength being poured into it - and the fear behind this calls for such strength.

Out of fear and hesitation, courage and strength are born - yes, this is what I hear. It is amazing that the expression of such state of mind actually can be achieved. And, in less than one minute, it tells more than one thousand words can say.

Rubinstein surely can play it with ease, like many others do, but he plays it this way. At the highest, most exalting point he shows how difficult it really is. So difficult that it can even be noticed! This reminds me of Maria Callas - she once talked about how hard it was for her to "appear to be as tired" as she does when performing La Traviata. How do you sing with a voice that sounds as being on the verge of breaking away at any second while making the entire opera house hear you clearly? Callas describes it as "a dangerous work."

Both Rubinstein and Callas did such a treat beautifully. The intended imperfection in no case damages the musicality. On the contrary it gives it a real human touch. And this is exactly what moves me so much.

Photo: C.P.



Thursday, 29 April 2010 00:59






Thursday, 29 April 2010 00:40

Festina Lente!——城市生活,慢慢快步

初到萊登的那一日夏日正盛,我坐在城緣的運河邊,享受著歐洲西北角上溫暖但絕不傷人的陽光。綠色草坪和藹可親,運河中有噴泉,天鵝圍著噴泉悠遊戲水,我耳畔彷彿聽見法國作曲家拉威爾的鋼琴曲《水之嬉戲》(Jeux d'eau)——陽光與水,在新來乍到者眼中有著萬千姿態!眼前風景令我回想起大西洋彼岸我曾居住過的麻省劍橋,某個櫻花接替雪花而紛飛的早春,又想起迤邐瑞士日內瓦湖畔高大筆直的綠樹,和樹冠之上無盡的夏末藍天。

Tuesday, 10 November 2009 01:01

Colonization without Colonialism?

When did European colonialism start? What were its original objectives? How did it develop and shape the destiny of the nations that would later be established on its ruins? The question resonates in various ways in different parts of the world. In East Asia, the Dutch were one of the early colonizers – or were they? The question of the original nature and purposes of Dutch Asian settlements remains a hotly debated question. Presently residing at Leiden University, I am surprised to see how sensitive the issue remains, both for Dutch historians and for scholars of the nations where the Dutch staged their expansion. Much of it has to do with the intricate relationship between commerce, military force and nation-building….

It has been argued that the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC), the forefront of Dutch expansion, went through a transition from commercial power to territorial empire in the second half of the 17th century. Arguably, the transition was mainly caused by the local political situation in Java, where Jan Pietersz Coen had established the company headquarters in 1619. Such a change would be the watershed through which the VOC was supposed to have evolved from a “mere commercial powerhouse” to a power “colonial” in nature.

However, the rapid expansion of the VOC in eastern Indonesia and the Far East already undertaken during the first decades of its existence indicates otherwise: the change of character, if any, occurred well before it was embroiled into Javanese politics. Patronized by the States-General of the Netherlands, the VOC was – to borrow Leonard Blussé’s words – a “strange company” ever since the time of its foundation. It was meant to compete with other European powers for the Oriental riches – and not only through pure commercial means. Besides a 21-year monopoly on all Dutch trade in Asia, the VOC was also given quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, negotiate treaties, coin money and even establish colonies. That is to say, even in terms of the character determined by its founders at the very beginning, the VOC was more than a company of commerce.

In fact, attempting to characterize or qualify an enterprise set up in pre-modern times through our modern categories might be utterly anachronistic – and this applies to the question of determining whether the VOC was or was not “colonial” in nature, as the word chiefly refers to an array of phenomena linked to European expansionism during the course of the 19th century. Nevertheless, the rich literature on this issue reveals how much the “nature” of the VOC has aroused the historian’s curiosity. Such curiosity might be linked to the perplexities we feel when confronted with the mindset of a time when international trade was not supposed to be inscribed into a world order regulated by civil laws and concord. In other words, the question of the nature of the VOC is to be understood as an interrogation on the way colonization was interwoven with trade in the pre-modern era. When dealing with such an issue we are thus led to revise our understanding of how a certain kind of activity (in this case, trade) is defined and takes place in a given temporal context.

We may begin our investigation with a statement made in 1685 by Coenraad van Beuningen, one of the Heeren XVII. In expressing his serious concern about the company’s ever increasing expenses, he explicitly admitted that “it is commonplace and to a certain extent the truth to say that the Dutch East India Company is not just a company of commerce but also of state.” With this acknowledgement of the twofold character of the VOC he further stressed: “it would be very wrong... if from this it were decided that for reasons of State, and not just for commercial profit, cost must be made for occupation, conquest, fortification.” To Van Beuningen, the employment of violence itself was not a problem – as long as it was justified by commercial incentives.

That coercion and trade could go hand in hand had been demonstrated a few decades earlier, when the dazzling profit of monopolized spice trade necessitated violent intervention in the Moluccas: the bloody conquest of Banda in 1621 left the islands practically depopulated. The introduction of Moluccan slavery and the creation of a “plantation colony” on Banda (very much similar to the Spanish colonies in the New World but unique in the Company’s history) were the inevitable consequences of the conquest - though the conquest itself was not motivated by the idea of building up a colony. As Els Jacobs has indicated, the “entire Dutch adventure in Asia, the founding of the VOC, and the building of an Asia trade network had originally been initiated for no other reason than the extremely lucrative trade in spices.” What happened in the Moluccas, from the Dutch takeover of Amboina from Portuguese hands in 1605 to “the solemn submission of Ternate” in 1648, was not done for gaining political prestige but for securing a profit. Still, there was no way of achieving such a goal without using violence and legitimizing its use through state-granted powers and privileges.

The same can be said about the curious Dutch colony on Formosa. A “sudden, relatively uncontested expansion,” says Leonard Blussé, and a seemingly unnecessary one for a commercial enterprise. The Formosan conquest makes sense only when understood as a part of Coen’s construction work – building up an intra-Asian network for the company. Initially, the Dutch settled in Taoyuan for no other reason than creating an entrepôt for trade with China and Japan. It proved to be a worthy investment, as a regular trade relationship gradually took shape in the following decade. But before the island was lost to Koxinga, the company (just as happened in the Moluccas and Java) became more and more affected by local politics, which eventually led the directors to cast their doubts on the necessity of expansion.

The VOC expansion in Asia was undoubtedly colonization, in the sense that it included the seizure and control of lands on which the natives were subjected to Dutch law and mere coercion, and also because the whole endeavour was depleting the resources of these lands for the sole benefit of Dutch merchants. However, as exemplified by the Moluccas and Formosa examples, it was mercantile in nature rather than colonialist. The term “colonialism” is understood and used today with rather vague Marxist undertones: it has become roughly interchangeable with the one of “imperialism” and relates to the development of capitalism rather than to the mercantilist era. When referring to this complex web of meaning, it is indeed problematic to say that the VOC was a colonial power if we cannot prove that its endeavour was guided by a colonialist/imperialist ideology.

Indeed, historical documents do not offer evidence that the enterprise was guided by such underlying ideology. Still, a last point needs to be made: the Company was founded also to finance the war against the Spanish Crown, namely, in the context and for the purpose of building the Dutch Republic. In that respect, though it cannot be described as a full-fledged colonial power, the VOC played a major role in the development of European colonialism: the contest of its creation provides us with the missing link between the formation of the European nation-state and the colonial expansion of the latter. Ultimately, the extent to which we use the term “colonial power” to define the nature and role of the VOC is closely related to our understanding of the Dutch Republic as an early case of nation-state building, long before the rise of nationalism in the 19th century.

Photo by N. Priniotakis

Thursday, 26 March 2009 01:49

Imagining the world from my mother’s womb


It is already quite difficult to imagine what was our life when we were in our mother’s womb… So, imagining what I was imagining when I was an embryo… Still, slowly, there must be something like a sense of imagination that was awakening in me, right? I was living within the palace of the human body, I was progressively perceiving sounds, sufferings and, who knows, tenderness… Did I obscurely know that one day I would come out and enter a world far, far bigger than the one I was presently living in? Was I dreaming about it the way I now wonder what the afterlife world may look like? I was obscurely preparing for death and birth, united into one…

Maybe all the obscure feelings and perceptions that occurred to me during these months are the primal stuff that will feed up my imagination during my entire life: the obscurity of unknown rooms and castles, the life in the cavern that stirred the philosophical imagination of Plato, the fear and attraction towards water that is mine… Maybe, yes, all this has been awakened by my uterine life….

Imagining the world from my cradle
Here I am… I came out through the door that opens towards life and death... Around the little universe of my cradle (much bigger already than the womb from which I so painfully came out) I perceive shapes, sounds, moves, feelings, quarrels, chants and care… I am sure I understand them much better than they think, and even much better than I know it myself. I understand them as if from within… I know what they mean better than they do… I have still this sense of immediate perception that I had in the womb. And, at the same time, these things and these people are totally obscure to me... I have no words for: cat; milk; toy; bed… I slowly will have one word, one word for: Mom… and this one seems to encompass all the other ones… But who is my Mom? Someone I have to fancy and imagine from her voice, her breasts and her hands… I have to give a shape, a personality, a volition, a soul to this great confuse shape, to this presence so mysterious and immediate… Yes, I first imagine my Mom, I compose and recompose all I feel, fear and hope around the word “Mom,” and , from this point on, I start to imagine the world, as if the whole universe was emanating from the body of my Mom….

Imagining myself
Leaving my cradle, rummaging around the room, risking myself into the corridor, I explore my expanding universe… I can imagine how the doors open towards new space, I sense a hand when I see a glove, I imagine a visage from the voice I hear in an adjacent room... I know there is a world around me, a world that I learn to apprehend and to dream, to expand at my will within the other word that is my brain… I know much less about me… Who I am, what am I doing there, what do I look like, am I cute and lovable? I have to experiment in order to know who I am, I have to imagine experiments – hurting myself, crying or laughing out of purpose, exasperating the adults, seizing a piece of cloth… I have to imagine myself in order to assert my own existence…
One day, I meet with a mirror: Here I am! This is me! But does the image I encounter take the place of my imaginative powers? Not at all: the mirror gives new space to my dreams and my creativity: I take a hat, a scarf, the lipstick of my Mom, I stand naked, I ride a horse, I hide my face and still risks glances on the mirror to see who is watching me when I do not look… The mirror opens up new worlds, in which fantasy and reality become intermingled. Fantasy and reality are going to be mixed up during my whole life, but I still do not know it yet…

Friday, 20 March 2009 21:46

Dreaming Taiwan

I cannot bear how unimaginative Taiwan has become since my stay abroad. All political discourses are repetitive, the media repeats a bunch of lies, nobody seems to be able to articulate a project that would give a sense of direction to this nation.

It is linked with our educational system, of course. When I was a child, everything was organized for making us think alike. Thinking outside the box was the supreme sin. There were stock sentences to be repeated. Lessons in literature and language were meant to make us speak and write in a certain way and in a certain style. Memorizing was the supreme virtue. Memorizing is good actually – as long as you are taught to build on it for inventing new things.

So, I dream of a Taiwan in which everyone would be encouraged to develop his or her own style, in dressing, writing, and speaking… I dream of a Taiwan in which you would not see the same model of buildings everywhere, in which no house would be like the one next door, a Taiwan where the roads would not go from North to South but from East to West, a Taiwan that would be like a big garden in which each plant is different and unique… I dream of a Taiwan ruled by imagination!


Taiwan, in fact, is imaginative in its own way. Look how we went from one economic model to another during the last fifty years. From bananas to flowers, from the toy industry to computer hardware, from computer hardware to software, from software to the most sophisticated electronic chips model… That was spirit of adaptation and survival, and these two nurture imagination. Our form of imagination is not the one that is good at long term planning, it is the imagination of the prisoner who looks for a way to escape his prison. We are good at responding imaginatively to crisis and challenges… Though, I wonder if we are now losing even this skill. Look how clumsy our answer is to the present economic crisis. It seems that we have much more difficulties in going from one economic paradigm to another than was the case ten years before. We are supposed to move from IT to biotechnology for instance, but I do not see it happening. Our faculty of adaptation might be drying under the sun.

The Taiwan I am dreaming of would be able to invent something together. It would decide that it is able to invent a polity, a form of living together that no nation has tried yet, and would thus make politics an art. Actually, shaping a social contract is like creating music. Politics is the art of inventing news ways of living together. I dream to see Taiwan become a world class symphonic orchestra, playing music never heard before…


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.
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