Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: amis
Friday, 21 December 2012 11:54

From Tafalong to Honiara

The genesis of  the movie “Writings that Weave Waves”


It was in 2008 that I participated for the first time in the shooting of a documentary with the Ricci Institute:  during the month  of July of this year, as a small crew, we went to a village on the East coast of  Taiwan to follow a young Amis woman, Nakao Eki. She was engaged in research concerning aboriginal oral history, and as a part of her studies, she was returning for the first time in 7 years to Tafalong, an Amis village on Taiwan’s East coast (Hualien county) which is especially famous for its harvest festival. After two month of filming, editing, and post-production work, a movie was born: On the fifth day the sea tide rose…

Through the metaphor of the “tide”, the title already suggests the idea of Taiwan being shaped by waves. Indeed the title was chosen after one of the lines of an Amis song we recorded and which tells the legend of a mythical wave that brought to this place the  founding ancestors of Tafalong village. Besides this, the expression also reminds of the different waves that pound the shore of Taiwan: those of the ocean but also the waves of migration.


Thus, this very first movie experience not only introduced me to the basics of filming and editing but also to the aboriginal culture of Taiwan.  Indeed, the movie depicts the way the main character and her family deal individually and collectively with their history, and more precisely with the memory of their history. This first contact with the East Formosans already raised some questions about the way the aboriginals pictured in this movie related to the Pacific as the ocean is important in their legends and culture but they personally seemed to feel estranged to its physical existence.

At the same time, the Ricci Institute was following its shift towards the Pacific with the creation of the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies (TSPS).  In September 2011, I had the chance to accompany the Ricci Institute in taking a group of 14 aboriginal students who were sent to Canada for a cultural exchange with the First Nations peoples (a project sponsored by the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan - CIP). I was  in charge of filming the trip. It was only 9 days but for some of the students it was the first time they had ever left Taiwan and despite the brevity of the trip it was a mind opening experience in a variety of ways.   First of all, they undeniably found more self-confidence , especially after the preparation for the trip for which they had to take classes on history, culture, dance and singing. They also bonded in special way with the aboriginals they met in Canada and one could feel a real kinship between them despite the fact that the cultures are not so similar at first glance.  In fact, it was through singing and dancing together that the connections between them really became clear. But at the same time, this experience also seemed to make some of them realize how much they were alienated from their own culture and traditions.

 
Two parallel concepts became the starting point of a new documentary:
1. How young Taiwanese aborigines relate to their own culture and how are their traditions and knowledge transmitted?
2. How do they relate in particular to the Pacific, is there only a global Pacific culture and what would be its features?

In the meanwhile, we were planning the conference and the idea of ‘weaving’ occurred naturally, after all, a movie can also be conceived as a patchwork of images woven together.  

I chose then to go visit two of the students who were part of the trip to Canada. And in February 2012, Benoit Vermander, my brother and I went to two Atayal villages located in Ilan County on Taiwan’s East coast: Jinyang and Wutah. Despite the fact that these villages are not too far from the ocean, these aborigines still consider themselves from the mountain more than the coast. We just asked them to show us their villages and aspects of their traditional culture on the go. Our plan was also to take these students to another island in the Pacific to let them experience the culture of another Pacific island. We decided then to set out for the Solomon Islands because of its special diplomatic links with Taiwan and because the country was organizing this year’s Festival of Pacific Arts. It was a unique opportunity to gain an insight into the diversity of the cultures of the Pacific where Taiwan aboriginal culture would also be  represented as the Council of Indigenous Peoples was able this time to send a performance troupe.

Unfortunately, neither of the two boys could come on the trip in the end. One was called for military service and the other had to finish his medical internship. So we went to find another student from a village in the same area. Yubax Hayung (羅秀英) was born of an Atayal father and a Bunun mother and she is from Aohua, an Atayal village located a few kilometers away from the other two villages and from the coast. She turned out to be a very interesting character to follow, being also probably one of the most unsettled within the group of students.

Thus, in July 2012, we flew to the Solomon Islands to continue the shooting and I completed the editing within four months in order to present the movie at the International Austronesian  conference organized on November 27-28 this year  by the CIP and the TSPS.

Solomons lilisiana

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The summary of the documentary is available here: http://www.erenlai.com/index.php/en/editorials/5138-writings-that-weave-waves-east-formosans-and-the-pacific

 

Or watch the trailer

 


Wednesday, 03 October 2012 16:30

Panay Raranges: Tourism and Authenticity

My hometown is the Mulating tribal village in Fuli, Hualian, I belong to the Amis tribe and my name in the tribal language is Panay. I’m part of an aboriginal university society in which I’ve participated in a lot of debates with my other classmates concerning issues affecting aboriginal peoples, but mostly this is limited to discussion of Taiwan, it’s rare that we discuss foreign indigenous affairs. When I heard of this opportunity to go to Fiji as part of an international exchange program, I knew it was a rare opportunity that I didn’t want to miss out on. From another perspective, as Taiwanese aborigines and Fijians are both Austronesian, in the process of researching in preparation for the trip, I discovered a lot of striking similarities between the two, these similarities were the elements that I was most eager to explore throughout the course of the trip. Our team held countless discussions both in the selection process and in the days before we departed for Fiji, in the hope that we would learn a lot through this once in a lifetime experience, and be able to share this learning experience with other team members as well as our own tribes. The ten day trip was divided into three main parts: visiting indigenous villages, educational institutions and government departments. As everyone in the team had a different specialty, we were able to get different things out of the experience, and we would share these experiences at the end of each day, and more importantly, we were acutely aware that we were not just a group of exchange students, but that we were also representing Taiwanese aborigines, and each member of the group had a different aboriginal background and experience. With each scheduled visit, we would try to use our hearts to interpret all that we saw and heard, and relate it to our own experiences growing up, this is another important tenet of international exchange.

 

Navala and Koromakawa had a very touristic feel to them, both in their sevusevu welcoming ceremony and in their village tours, you felt that the whole thing was as a result of accumulated and experience, somewhat rehearsed.

Readers in Mainland China can watch it here

On the other hand, however, I discovered a lot about the background of the development of tourism in those villages, and how they struggled to preserve traditional culture at the same time. In Navala for example, all the buildings were traditional “bures”, not as a result of government grants or encouragement, but rather because the village residents took the initiative to preserve this tradition. The ceiling of the meeting house in Koromakawa village was covered in all sorts of totems, these were painted by the women of the village bit by bit standing on ladders. It’s possible that the conservation of traditional culture was an attempt to attract tourists, but even if the motives are suspect, the traditional culture is still being preserved, and it plays a very important role in the everyday life of the villagers. In Koromakawa we asked the spokesperson (the person who spoke for the chief) if they were concerned that the development of the tourism would contribute to the loss of traditional culture, he answered that they were; he told us that because of modern developments, that they had suffered cultural leakage, some ways in which the villagers lived their lives had long changed from the way they lived before, the young people leave the village to work elsewhere, there they came in contact with very modern things, and became accustomed to a new way of life. From the example of Koromakawa, I was able to observe that bringing the tourism industry into the village brought another advantage: that young people were gradually returning to the village to help in the development of tourism there.

The University of the South Pacific is one of the most important universities in the Pacific region, concentrating talented young people from all the different islands in one place. Several professors from the region made time in their busy schedules to hold a forum with us, sharing with us their research and their own experiences. What made the deepest impression on me was the response that we got after our dance performance, and the opportunity afforded us to attend Professor Morgan Tuimalealiifano’s class, and get to know his students who came from a wide variety of backgrounds. I was really moved when we got a rare opportunity to share the similarities between our languages, it was as if a family that had been separated by circumstance had been reconciled. Perhaps our life experiences were very different, but the links between us could be felt in a multitude of little similarities. I felt that the way Professor Tuimalealiifano brought the backgrounds and experiences of the students and the teacher into the discussion was different from the usual model of the teacher just feeding the students a string of impersonal professional knowledge, which really resonated with me and provided a lot of food for thought. When Professor Tumalealiifano was sharing his thoughts about Fijian identity he got quite emotional at times, which just went to show how much of himself he invested in each class, and led me to the discovery that the classroom can be quite an emotional place.

In the course of this trip, I was charged with observing of the legal and political system, in an attempt to understand what channels of communication there were between the government and the villages, how ideas were exchanged between them, and how the implementation of policy concerning indigenous people could effectively incorporate the opinions of the villages, enabling the compatibility of government activities and the expectations and demands of the indigenous people. What struck me most was the extent to which Fiji’s chiefly system was still so intact. This traditional leadership structure of the villages was developed by the British colonists and became the structure of governance for Fiji. The British even set up the Great Council of Chiefs, with the aim of more effectively governing the colony, although it later became an important safeguard ensuring the rights and protecting the interests of indigenous people. Each chief is like an elder of the village, dealing with everything within the village, and collecting together opinions from villagers; he acts as a spokesperson to the outside world for the village, the decisions he makes are a result of consensus amongst the entire village, encouraging close relationships between villagers, and good communication between a chief and his villagers. This interactive model functions within the Fijian government structure in the way the Great Council of Chiefs incorporates the opinions of all the villages represented by each of the chiefs who form its ranks, and through discussion and cooperation work towards a consensus, to influence government policy, and oversee the implementation of policy, creating closer links between the government and the villages, as well as clear channels of communication between the two. The application of the traditional chiefly system into the modern system is an accumulation of long-term experience, even though there have been several political upheavals in Fiji in recent years, the importance of the chiefs in the politics of Fiji cannot be overlooked, which left us with the impression that traditional knowledge and the modern system were not necessarily in conflict. With enough communication and discussion, the two can integrate with one another. Perhaps Taiwan’s situation is a little more complicated, but this makes a good reference point for us. We discovered that the sense of autonomy and initiative among the villages was very strong, although many young people leave the villages to work, you could still feel the presence of traditional culture in the villages was being preserved. Some of the mountain villages had preserved the traditional architectural style, elders and youths in the village took the initiative to teach the traditional building skills to the children in their spare time, hoping to pass on these skills to future generations.

The coastal villages continue to fish using traditional canoes, not only making use of traditional wisdom, but also preserving a sustainable balance in the ecology. The cultural similarities, are essentially that they are both engaged in a Fijian way of life, traditional culture is inseparable from their daily lives, which preserves it, and this again is a very good example for us to reference. To have just such an opportunity to get to know Fiji is, without doubt an invaluable experience, and we were burdened with an important mission, we were most likely a group of young people amongst Taiwanese aborigines who most understood Fiji, and we have a duty to maintain this important link between Taiwan and Fiji, and to share the things we had learned in Fiji with our tribes, this latter is one of the most important objectives for our group. We both belong to the Austronesian ethnic group, we were very excited about discovering the common features between us, using this to try improve our relationship, although the vast Pacific lies between us, but it is this very stretch of ocean that is what connects us, the ocean is not an obstacle, but rather it is a connecting bridge, connecting our languages, culture and even our history.

I haven’t lived in Hualian since I was a little girl, I was brought up in the city and received a modern style education, and was always in search of an identity of my own, but I had forgotten to turn my gaze to the world’s many aboriginal peoples who have never forgotten their own roots, living on with all their efforts for their selves and for their tribe, they told me that having heart is always important, going with one’s heart will always lead you to where you belong. This Pacific connection was not the end of the story, but rather it was an important beginning.

Translated from the chinese by Conor Stuart


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