Photowalking in Taichung

Amis girls in three-legged race

I had a busy day yesterday taking photos around Taichung. The day began at an Aboriginal Cultural Festival organised by the Taichung City Government. The event featured some traditional dancing as well as some fun activities like the three-legged race pictured above and a tug-of-war. There was also a good range of aboriginal style food on offer — plenty of assorted meats on the BBQ and some fresh fruits like grapes and peaches grown in the mountains.

Amis women in a line dance

The colorful clothing of the Amis makes for great photos. I have a complete set of photos from this event at flickr.  Continue reading

Ethnoecology workshop at Smangus

Smangus community classroom

On Sunday and Monday I attended a conference in Smangus. The conference, organized by National Chiao Tung University (國立交通大學), brought together a small group of anthropologists to discuss the topic of “Rethinking environment, localisation and indigenisation.” While it poured rain on the Sunday afternoon the cafe at provided a great refuge for the presenters gave their papers.

The presentations started with Dr Lin Yih-ren (林益仁) talking about the politics of the plan for the Maqaw National Park. The proposed national park covers a mountain area that is the traditional territory of the Atayal people. The social movement to promote the park developed through several stages. Initially indigenous people were not involved but an alliance between indigenous people and conservationists later developed. However, there was also another indigenous group that opposed the park. The plan for the park is now suspended but it has had an important influence on the development of ecotourism and laws related to indigenous peoples. Continue reading

Sanying Community celebrates another year

On Saturday the Amis community of Sanying (三鶯部落) in Sanxia held its end of year celebration. The event attracted a crowd of about 500 people which was more than last year’s event. The community had also undergone a lot rebuilding after its demolition in February 2008.

The afternoon began with dancing by members of Sanying and also the nearby riverside community of Saowac. As the evening approached the dancing ended and there was a generously catered meal enjoyed by everyone in attendance. Continue reading

Sanying Community end of year party

Sanying Community (三鶯部落) held an “end of year protest party” at their village in Sanxia (三峽), Taipei County yesterday. The community located by the Dahan River is made up of Amis aborigines who settled there after coming to Taipei to seek work in the 1970s. In February 2008 the Sanying village was demolished after protestors clashed with police while trying to protect their homes. For more background information see: No City for Old Aborigines at Global Voices and the Sanying Community’s blog (中文). Continue reading

228 Memorial Day in Taipei

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian gives a speech at the 228 Memorial in Taipei, 28 February 2008

I arrived at 228 Peace Park just as Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) was finishing his speech. I then watched on as Vice-President Annette Lu and President Chen Shui-bian gave their speeches. As they both spoke in Hoklo Taiwanese I didn't understand what they said. The Taipei Times gives a good summary of Chen's speech. 

Speaking in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said that pretending the murder of tens of thousands of people never happened, or playing down the incident, is tantamount to rejecting universal human rights.

"If we cannot face the past, we cannot construct the future," he said.

Chen said some people had questioned whether it was necessary to continue to commemorate the 228 Incident each year, as it happened decades ago.

Some, he said, had argued that it was meaningless to do so and that discussing what happened only opened old wounds and exploited the past for political gains to spark social tensions.

Citing the words of Master Sheng Yen (聖嚴法師), Chen said the country would forever live under a shadow — the memory of the 228 Incident and the White Terror — if the public did not accept and deal with the truth.

Crowd enthusiastically awaits for the arrival of A-bian at Taiwan Democracy Hall, 28 February 2008

After 228 Park I headed back to Freedom Square (自由廣場) where I met Darren and a little later Craig. The atmosphere there was considerably more upbeat and excited than the sombre event at 228 Park.

A-bian shakes hands with supporters at Taiwan Democracy Hall on 28 February 2008

A-bian arrived to an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd. While he has had to bear much criticism of his Presidency he still remains hugely popular with many people in Taiwan. He then spent over 40 minutes walking through the crowd shaking hands, including the hand of Prince Roy. Even though I didn't get to shake A-bian's hand I can at least say I shook the hand that shook A-bian's hand! Also Darren took a great photo just moments after the one I took above.  

Tsai Ing-wen, Chen Shui-bian, Annette Lu and Yeh Chu-lan at Taiwan Democracy Hall on 28 February 2008

President Chen, along with former Vice-Premier Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Vice-President Lu and Presidential Office Secretary-General Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭) then awaited the arrival of the Walk Against the Wind (逆風前進.最愛台灣) march participants. The "Walk Against the Wind" began in Eluanbi, the southern tip of Taiwan, on 5 February. Young Taiwanese people participated in the march in support of Frank Hsieh's Presidential election campaign. 

President Chen Shui-bian greets participants in the Walk Against the Wind march at Taiwan Democracy Hall, 28 Feb 2008

The participants were all individually greeted by A-bian, Annette Lu, Yeh Chu-lan and Tsai Ying-wen. A-bian gave out high fives, hugs and hand shakes to the participants.

After A-bian departed Continue reading

Amis Hip Hop documentary

screenshot from the documentary Amis Hip Hop

screenshot from Amis Hip Hop 

Amis Hip Hop (阿美嘻哈) is a documentary about the age-grade ceremony of the Amis in Dulan (都蘭), Taidong County. A version of the documentary can be downloaded from the official website. I wrote the following about it in a paper for the Culture and Ethnic Structure of Taiwan class. 

What most impressed me about this documentary was how the young people in Dulan skillfully combined tradition and modernity. These two things are often thought of as being antagonistic to the other. In Dulan village the young people used the latest popular music as part of their age group ceremony. However, I don't think this weakened or diluted their culture in any way. The most important thing about the ceremony was building community and strengthening identity which was clearly achieved.

Many people view indigenous cultures as unchanging or static, thinking that they are maintaining the way of life that they lived centuries or even millennia ago. However, in reality all things are in a constant state of change. Cultures adapt and respond to events that occur both within and around them. If they failed to respond to change then they would quickly die. It is the process of change that gives them vibrance and life.

I think in the Dulan village the young people have found ways of adapting the new while simultaneously strengthening the community. Through their “hip hop” they are not saying they will do things exactly as our elders did them. But at the same time they are showing respect to their elders by maintaining the age group tradition.

Amis Hip Hop also screened at the Ethnographic Film Festival in Taipei last year. At that festival I saw the documentary Pas-taai: The Saisiat Ceremony in 1936. It showed the Pas-taai ceremony (矮靈祭) as it was recorded in 1936 and another documentary showing the same ceremony in 1986 was screened after it. The form of the dance was almost unchanged. 

A recent Taipei Times article about the screening of the 70 year old documentary in Da'ai community (大隘村) in Xinzhu County quotes an elder as saying:

Noting the similarities between the celebration that took place 70 years ago and the one last year, Mamavale, also a Saisiat elder, says, "This documentary shows that, like food, the Saisiat are capable of preserving that which gives Aboriginal people nourishment. Where other tribes discard the fruits of their harvest, the Saisiat retain the riches from the ground. Other Aboriginal people change their rituals, only the Saisiat preserve them."

It is interesting to contrast the conservatism of the Saisiat with the progressive traditions of the Amis in Dulan. However, both groups are actively maintaining their identity and community in the modern world.