Focus: Austronesian Conference 2012
The 10th International Austronesian Conference (IAC) was organised in 2012 in Taipei by the Council for Indigenous Peoples (CIP). Its main aim has always been to facilitate via conversations initiated among representatives from Austronesian governments, industries, and academic circles the establishment of an interactive network of Austronesian people. In addition to promoting both the understanding of Austronesian cultures at a global level and cross-cultural and cross-national relationships, the IAC also worked to increase international awareness of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan. In this sense, the 2012 IAC was a success, since all of these objectives were met and surpassed. In addition to this the 2012 IAC also succeeded in establishing a well-structured platform for academic communication, all while facilitating actual collaborative relationships between nations and exploring the historical and spiritual resources of the Austronesian peoples. Finally, perhaps the most important function the 2012 IAC served was that of being an interactive platform for communication in terms of indigenous issues. Because of all of this, the conference not only linked to past debates and drew on further indigenous issues for the upcoming year, but aso served to strengthen the connection between Austronesian nations working together for the development of all indigenous peoples.
This month, we offer you select excerpts and exclusive interviews with the scholars that participated in this years conference, so that they may hopefully serve as a route to immersion into Austronesian and/or indigenous Culture.
Professor Paul D'Arcy talks about the role for Taiwan in the Pacific - particularly the leading role it has taken in listening to the Pacific in the last few years, (with respect to the ban on the practice of finning sharks amongst other initiatives). He goes on to outline areas in which Taiwan could continue to show leadership in the region, especially in regard to education and sustainable fishing:
Ahronglong Sakinu is a full-time police man, working in forest conservation, and an amateur writer, recording the wisdom passed down for generations in his tribe. Here he presents us with a poem and a song which he performed at the 2012 International Austronesian Conference - Weaving Waves's Writings:
Summary of Session III: Images as Waves- Watching, Thinking and Acting
Session III: Images as Waves - Watching, Thinking and Acting, provided a visual aspect to the conference by focusing on the works of three local documentary filmmakers and their use of visual media to explore various indigenous issues. The three documentary makers provided an introduction to their work as well as showing small excerpts from their documentaries.
The first documentary maker was Lungnan Isak Fangas, an experienced documentary director from the Amis tribe. His documentaries focus on his interest in indigenous identity and belonging. He introduced three of his documentaries; the first of these was filmed in 1999, and is footage of an indigenous speaking competition at his university. It documented enthusiastic young students with either indigenous roots or just with an interest in learning the traditional tongues of Taiwan. Although the film is not very polished, it makes for a good and engaging introduction to the subject. Fangas' second documentary saw him following the journey of an indigenous Taiwanese band called 'Totem' performing in a bar in a city. The footage shows the band arriving in the city by night, then performing in a crowded room to a receptive crowd. Fangas reflects that the song being sung is called 'I was singing over there', and due to its meaning concerning coming home, every human being, indigenous or not, can relate to this feeling. The footage again is simply edited but this works well with the topic, the grassroots journey of the band. Lastly, Fangas ends with footage from his most recent exploration of indigeneity which sees the camera turn on himself and his own journey of identity. The content of this footage, along with that from the previous two documentaries, was simple and easy to follow. It light-heartedly documented his pursuit to become a member of the Amis tribe, showing his amateur attempts to learn the specific cultural practices and dances of the tribe. His desire to connect with the Amis culture despite having apparent but untraceable indigenous Taiwanese roots, stems from what he calls "feeling like a tourist, in terms of identity". Overall, Fangas' documentaries, despite doing nothing more than casually observing an event each time, sensitively present his desire to explore notions of indigenous identity in an easy to understand manner.
The second documentary maker introduced was Si Yabosokanen. She comes from Orchid Island, a small island off the East coast of Taiwan that's traditional culture and way of life has been better preserved than in other areas due to its isolation, yet still strongly and uniquely affected by an influx of contemporary society and culture nonetheless. It is this combination of traditional methods and more contemporary methods that has inspired the focus and issues that Yabosokanen aims to introduce and help tackle through her documentaries. Yabosokanen adds her skills as a nurse to her filmmaking ability in order to address the serious lack of care of elderly people on Orchid Island. Yabosokanen explained in detail the cultural factors for the origin of this problem, including a cultural stigma of sickness, younger generations' having to leave the island to find work and thus being less able to care for their elders, and traditional housing being replaced by a more modern style which affects the place for the elderly within their physical home structure. Her documentary showed nurses addressing the dire needs of some elderly residents who are extremely emaciated and unclean. Seeing these images is striking as it is hard to imagine how these elderly people could be left to survive in this state. Yabosokanen's topic is shocking as much as it is very interesting, as cultural and social undercurrents are at play, affecting the general wellbeing of people. It is no wonder that, when shown in Taipei, her documentary created an emotive response, with members of the public giving donations of money and their time to help her cause. Overall Yabosokanen's documentary endeavors and her story are inspiring, and truly embody the power of the documentary to introduce and help address complex issues such as this on Orchard Island.
The last documentary maker introduced was Cerise Phiv, the managing editor of eRenlai. Ending with her documentary was fitting since her focus was broader and more encompassing, concerning the place of indigenous Taiwanese within the Pacific region. Phiv explained the causes and events for her arrival at this topic of exploration, then provided footage from her documentary: Writings that Weave Waves, which was shown in full later in the conference.
Firstly, through her time at the Ricci institute, with which eRenlai is associated, and by participating in one of their documentaries following a young Amis woman, Phiv was introduced to issues of indigenous Taiwanese culture and the craft of documentary making. Secondly, also through the Ricci institute, Phiv attended a trip to Canada with fourteen young indigenous Taiwanese, filming their trip and interactions with indigenous Canadian culture. Thus,
Writings that Weave Waves, was a culmination of the notion of indigenous identity in its own cultural context, and also within a regional Pacific context. These two contexts considered together are interesting, as they are concerned with the scope of perspective and belonging. Phiv explained that despite being Taiwanese and therefore living on an island surrounded by ocean, certain tribes do not associate themselves with it. Therefore, although in a broad sense, there is the perspective that Taiwan is part of the Pacific, from a more refined perspective, an affinity to ones local tribal environment becomes evident. Alongside this thought, the footage from the documentary itself left the viewer with a desire to see more, as the editing and the ambition to attempt to place Taiwan within the greater Pacific diaspora were both well presented and clearly evident. To conclude her presentation, Phiv herself aptly stated that the images should be best left to talk for themselves.
This section of the conference affirmed the idea that images truly have a unique ability to convey messages and explore complex issues. These three documentary makers have all taken different approaches and styles to their documentary making, yet all achieve their overall goal: to explore issues and enlighten viewers. Without this section, the conference would have lacked a greater sense of perspective of the issue. Furthermore, seeing footage from the documentaries prevented conceptual ideas and notions from stealing away the conference's purpose, as seeing real people, places and issues at hand helped keep the conference grounded and down to earth.
The following video is a recording of the Q&A from the second session of the International Austronesian Conference 2012 - Historical Resonances - War, Colonial Experiences and Peace-Making.
In this interview, Cook Islands cultural specialist/drummer prof. Jon Tikivanotau Jonassen shares with us a variety of topics on the different Pacific Asia cultures in terms of indigenous music and language. He starts from a very special story about his own name, signaling us to the hidden force of traditional culture in our modern era, and ends the interview with solemn advice to the indigenous people on how to gain autonomy in a globalizing world...
Professor Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano discusses how the teaching of history in Fiji has been decolonized, and how Taiwan and other Pacific nations can work together to create an alternative version of history which incorporates indigenous memory and stands apart from the colonial view of history.
Fabrizio Bozzato discusses the consequences of rising sea level for Pacific island nations and suggests a possible solution for them: artificial islands.
Professor Bondan Kanumoyoso talks about Batavia, a center of commercial activity set up in 1619 by the Dutch East India Company in modern-day Jakarta, and how the melting pot of cultures it created still has lasting influences today.