Rituals / Names / Memories

by Benoit on Wednesday, 26 November 2008 Comments
In many respects, this movie is all about rituals, informal or formal. There are four “rituals" shown in the course of the movie:

- Nakao and Ta-cheng first visit their old auntie, Haruko, paying her their respect after her son has been taken away by the ocean a few months before. The scene of their visit is immediately followed by an excerpt of the Ilisin in Sado, August 2008, when men from the same generation as the deceased come to his house and perform a dance of farewell and commemoration – an outside scene, strongly emotional, during which the mother, the widow and the three daughters of the deceased retreat into the house, where the soothing sound of the piano acts as a “healing’ ritual. Outer and inner spaces are drawn into two complementary ritual stages.

- Older women gathering twice a week within the premises of the Catholic church re-enact their childhood through the wearing of kimonos and the singing of nursery songs, mixing prayers and recreation. The whole sequence works as an “age group” ritual that reconciles different moments of time that are often opposed and thought to be irreconcilable (Japanese occupation/post-war regime; childhood/old age; prewar traditions/post-war Christianity…)

- Nakao and Ta-cheng meet with their grandfather. His playful evocation of childhood memories gives way to a meeting of clan representatives within the reconstituted communal house of Tafalong, which belongs to the oldest family of the village. At this occasion, the lineage of Nakao’s family is formally recognized as part of a larger lineage that links them to a trail of sixty generations. During this gathering, the grand-father sings the whole of the “Tafalong song” which describes the origins of the village from the events surrounding the rise of the big tide (“on the fifth day”…) on.

- Maybe moved to the occasion by the chant, Nakao and Ta-cheng perform two “private rituals” that can be understood as one. They first pay a visit to the oldest tomb of the village, the one of a chief who was a great-uncle of their 92 year old grand-father. They read aloud on the tomb all the names that they and their relatives still bear. Ill at ease with rituals they forget to pray on the tomb and go back precipitously for performing this duty when they realize their omission. Later on, they go to the shore and discreetly throw a few flowers into the sea, at the same time paying homage to their remotest ancestors and to the cousin who was drown there a few months ago, repeating the gesture that performed her widow once it was confirmed that his body could not be retrieved.

The diversity of formal and informal rituals goes along a search for one’s name. Elsewhere in this issue, Nakao explains all the naming and re-naming to which she has been subjected, a witness to the ambiguity of her position, her being the daughter of a man from Tafalong and of a deceased outsider, having spent her childhood in the village and having left it long time ago. More generally, the plasticity of names along the movie testifies to the richness and confusion of the Amis’ sense of identity, as the latter has been strongly linked to their capacity of nurturing relationships with neighboring minority groups, Taiwanese, Japanese, Chinese rulers coming from the continent and foreign missionaries… In that respect, Amis people have since long developed a “post- modern identity”, seen more in terms, of “relations” than as an unchanging “essence.” This striking characteristics might be linked to the absence of a given “territory”, as historical events have made the Amis’ “ancestral land” a vague and ever-evolving notion. Eventually, the number of names illustrates one’s position (more numerous are the names, more exalted the status), but the vagueness in naming also testifies to the confusion of origins, memories and social positioning. The multiplication of names and rituals works at the same time as a system of reassurance and as a witness of confused and tortured memories.

Eventually, the movie is made of the very stuff of memories – happy and tragic remembrances, embellished and hidden recollections, stories that are sung and ritualized, events that are repressed, forgotten and suddenly retrieved. By participating in the storytelling, by soliciting from the villagers their participation and active recollection, does not the documentary itself work as another ritual, aiming at social and personal healing while needing to be perpetually reenacted?

Attached media :
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