Taiwan Panorama Forum From Our Villages to the World：Rediscovering Aboriginal Images and Music
Sharleen Su /photo byJimmy Lin /tr. byScott Williams
Sharleen Su /photo byJimmy Lin /tr. byScott Williams
The two-day conference at the Taitung Art Museum highlighted Taitung’s prominence within the Austronesian world. (photo by Jimmy Lin)
Taiwan Panorama, the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation, and National Chengchi University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies recently co-sponsored the second New Southbound Cultural Salon. Hosted by the Taitung Art Museum, the conference invited Aboriginal musicians, scholars and experts with strong connections to Southeast Asia to discuss and explore developments in culture and the arts under Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, as well as the state of related international exchanges and the feasibility of establishing multilateral partnerships.
In August 2020, the Taitung Art Museum hosted the second New Southbound Cultural Salon, the theme of which was Aboriginal images and music. In addition to discussions of Austronesian culture by artists and scholars in the field, the conference featured Aboriginal cultural workers sharing stories of their exchanges with Southeast Asia and Oceania. Their experiences show that Taiwan’s citizens have already begun using the soft power of music and the arts to forge ties and start conversations with Austronesian-speaking nations.
The conference invited Aboriginal musicians, producers, curators and scholars with deep ties to Southeast Asia to discuss the state of Taiwan’s international exchanges.
A diamond world
During the conference’s first session, Taiwan‡Asia Exchange Foundation chairman Michael Hsiao noted that Austronesia is a “diamond world,” referring to the diamond-shaped distribution of the Austronesian languages, which range from Taiwan in the north to New Zealand in the south, and from Easter Island in the east to Madagascar in the west. He also stated that the success of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy hinges upon discovering the inmost details of our shared Austronesian culture. Hsiao went on to recommend that Taiwan connect to the whole of Southeast Asia through this culture by initiating even more extensive citizen-to-citizen contact.
Looking back over Taiwan Panorama’s 40-plus-year history, editor-in-chief Ivan Chen observed that the magazine’s in-depth reporting on topics related to Taiwan’s indigenous peoples has fallen into four major categories: events, origins, education and cultural appreciation. One of the themes our articles have discussed is the development of Aboriginal music in Taiwan and its future possibilities.
How does Taiwan fit into the Austronesian world? Chung Ching-bo, director of the Taitung County Cultural Affairs Department and the Taitung Art Museum, said that while there are differing schools of thought and competing theories concerning the overall development of the Austronesian peoples, anthropological research over the last decade has shown increasing support for Taiwan as their point of origin. “It’s likely that 1400 years ago Taitung’s Dulan Village was both the capital of Taiwan and a bustling center for items made of jade.”
Lee Chi-chung, director of the Taitung Living Art Center, agreed with Chung’s remarks about the origins of the Austronesian peoples, and added that all of Taiwan’s jade used to be transported to Taitung for processing. “Taiwanese jade can be found all over Southeast Asia.” There are also surprising linguistic similarities between Taiwan and portions of Southeast Asia. Lee explained that the pronunciations of some words and expressions are nearly identical in Amis and Malay, offering mata (“eye”) and lima (“five”) as examples, and stated, “We are brothers and sisters.”
The Luxury Logico art collective used waste materials to create this piece, entitled Rebirth, in Taitung. (photo by Kent Chuang)
Paper mulberry hints at migration
Archaeologists theorize that a group of brave indigenous Taiwanese ventured out into the Pacific Ocean some 4000 years ago, relying on wind, currents and the stars to steer their course to the Philippines.
Their descendants continued to explore unknown waters, and within 1000 or so years had reached Malaysia, Indonesia, Polynesia, New Zealand, and even Madagascar. But for all the density and complexity of the routes within this network, each points to Taiwan as the place of origin.
Lin Ching-tsai, chair of the Department of Music at National Taitung University, has long studied ethnomusicology, Taiwan’s musical history, and Aboriginal music. Recalling a performance in Taiwan by an arts group from Palau, he said, “In Taiwan, that style of song and dance, the call and response between the lead singer and the group, is seen only among the Puyuma people.” To him, the parallel represents a tangible example of the connection between Taiwanese and Austronesian culture.
Another example of the connections between islands emerged in October 2011. At the time, Lin was showing the director of New Zealand’s Maori cultural tourism department around, and traveled with him to Taitung to visit Amis and Puyuma villages. On the night of October 31, tribal ancestral spirits entered the director’s dreams, greeting him and laughingly informing him: “Your ancestors set out from here.” In his dream, the director then took part in a traditional ceremony and contacted his ancestral spirits. Since then, whenever officials from Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples have visited New Zealand, local people have welcomed them with great ceremony and spread word of their arrival: “Our brothers have returned!”
Lin added that these encounters not only brought Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and the Maori closer together, but also indirectly spurred the inclusion of an article on indigenous cooperation in the Agreement Between New Zealand and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu on Economic Cooperation (ANZTEC), which opened a new frontier for Taiwan’s free trade agreements.
Margaret Chang-hwa Wang, director of Taiwan’s National Museum of Prehistory, offered two pieces of archaeological evidence in support of the “out of Taiwan” theory. The first involves paper mulberry trees: a genetic comparison of paper mulberry trees in Taiwan with those in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Hawaii found that all of Oceania’s paper mulberries originated in Taiwan. Moreover, all the peoples of this region make clothing from the tree’s bark.
The other involves Taiwanese jade carvings from a Puyuma archaeological site. As Wang explained: “There is now very clear evidence that during a period from roughly 2200 years ago to 1000 years ago, Taiwanese artisans carried Taiwanese jade to Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and the Philippines using ocean currents to travel southward, and the Kuroshio Current to return northward.”
Filipino artist Dexter Fernandez spent time as an artist in residence in Taitung. His work highlights the Austronesian links connecting Taiwan and the Philippines. (photo by Kent Chuang)
Taiwan’s Aboriginal musicians have also sojourned across national borders in more recent times, traveling around the world to promote indigenous music and to search for elements of culture shared throughout the Austronesian world. In one example, Amis singer-songwriter Chalaw Basiwali, a Golden Melody Award winner, visited musical partner Kilema’s home of Madagascar looking for the common origins of the Austronesian peoples. There, he observed local Malagasy using the same fishing techniques as his own Amis people, and noted that their languages also shared many similarities.
In another instance, Amis singer Suana Emuy Cilangasay used music to break down barriers during a performance at a Malaysian middle school by having the students form a circle, hold hands, and sing and dance along with a Taiwanese Aboriginal song. “Afterwards, a lot of the kids began following me on Facebook, where they shared their feelings with me.”
Wherever it plays, Taiwanese Aboriginal music brings people together and touches their hearts. (courtesy of Chalaw Basiwali)
Wu Shu-lun, founder of the Taitung Dawn Artist Village, attended an artist-in-residence program in India at which participants tried to resolve local social issues through art. (courtesy of Wu Shu-lun)
Promoting Aboriginal music abroad
Wu Shu-lun, founder of the Taitung Dawn Artist Village, once took part in an artist-in-residence program in India at which the artists attempted to use music and the performing arts to resolve local social problems related to caste and women’s rights.
During the final session of the conference, Eric Scheihagen, a renowned American scholar of indigenous music, talked about musical exchanges between Taiwan’s Aborigines and the people of Southeast Asia from the vinyl era through the CD era, using album tracks to highlight cultural connections.
Taitung musicians and artists have created Tiehua Music Village to showcase Taitung’s “downshifted,” easygoing atmosphere.
The two days of stimulating discussion and dialogue provided attendees with a deeper understanding of Austronesian culture, and a greater awareness of the importance of Taiwan’s connections, both past and present, with this diamond-shaped world.
Conference attendees also proposed recommendations and potential directions for New Southbound cultural exchanges. Jiang Bin, a professor in National Taitung University’s Department of Public and Cultural Affairs, pointed out the need to be aware of the ethnicities and sociocultural networks that exist within each of the “Southbound” partner nations when Taiwan uses the concept of Austronesian languages to promote the New Southbound Policy. His valuable advice is that we not cling to Taiwan-centric thinking when promoting the policy.
Yang Hao, a professor in the Graduate Institute of East Asia Studies at National Chengchi University, noted that Taitung has already called for the formation of a kind of “Southern community.” While Taitung has previously been regarded as far removed from Taiwan’s economic and political center, he argued: “Taitung can proudly proclaim itself a center of the human landscape.”
In addition to encouraging an awakening among local young indigenous people and giving them pride in their Aboriginal identity, this conceptual turnaround is also creating a more solid basis for New Southbound cultural exchanges, one that will better enable us to forge ties that span seas and transcend national borders.
This Taiwan Panorama co-sponsored conference, held for the first time this year at the Taitung Art Museum, examined the possibility of Taiwan forging multilateral cultural relationships with the partner nations of the New Southbound Policy.
Taitung’s well developed cultural environment makes it an ideal place for exchanges with Austronesia.
Retrieve from Taiwan Panorama