Wednesday, 28 August 2013 15:34

A Traditional Sailing Experience in Taiwan

At National Taitung University, during one of the workshops engaging Fijian navigator Setareki Ledua and Samoan dancer Tupe Lualua, aboriginal Tao writer Syaman Rapongan (夏曼●藍波安) talks about his own experience sailing in the Pacific in 2005 on a 8 persons canoe.  

Friday, 11 January 2013 16:37

Sakinu Ahronglong: Poetry and Song

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:

Wednesday, 09 January 2013 13:26

Teaching a Common Pacific History: Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano

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.

Wednesday, 02 January 2013 16:14

The 2012 4th Life Sustainability Awards Ceremony and Awardees

This year saw the 4th Life Sustainability Awards ceremony take place at the 2012 International Austronesian Conference in Taipei. The awards celebrate individuals' actions and passions for nurturing and protecting cultural, spiritual and environmental sustainability. This years setting award setting was particularly fitting, as it was the first occasion that a non-Taiwanese has received the award. Papa Mape, a Tahitian and Lifok 'Oteng, an indigenous Taiwanese, both were present at the conference to receive their awards. Their presence together on stage further emphasised and reflected conference's key theme, of strengthening ties and realising connections between Taiwanese and Pacific culture.

The first awardee, and the first non-Taiwanese to receive this award, was Papa Mape, an 85 year old fisherman and village elder of Mo'orea, Tahiti, who through sharing his traditional knowledge of the ocean has opened up doors for scientists as well as his whole community. Traditional knowledge is sacred in Tahiti, only passed down to family members and done so orally. Yet with the future of the environment unknown and thus a growing need to better understand it, Mape appreciates the value of sharing his traditional knowledge with Western scientific knowledge of environmental resource management. As a key example of tradition working with science, in 2011 the National Geographic Magazine featured his inspiring story. What drives Papa Mape to share his knowledge with scientists however, is for the young and future generations of Tahitians, as in doing so cultural and environmental sustainability alike are greater maintained.

Lifok 'Oteng, is an 80 year old Amis diarist, historian and musician from the Yiwan tribe near Taidong. Suffering paralysis when he was 14, he spent many proceeding years bed-ridden, using his time to self-study as well as learn musical instruments and languages. With greater mobility from age 27, 'Oteng began putting his great ability with language and communication to use, through visiting village elders from tribes and compiling their culture and histories. His diary, which he has consistently maintained for 60 years is furthermore a documentation of his interactions with cultures and histories. 'Oteng's drive and interest in culture has also seen him working as a Japanese translator, research assistant and field researcher. He is a pioneer and leading figure in his own Amis tribes' cultural history, and through his efforts of sustaining culture through documentation, now he himself is an important part of own culture's history.

Officially recognising this year's awardees and previous recipients is but a small token of appreciation in the name of sustaining culture, spirituality and the environment. The awardees tireless work and drive throughout their lives to do so, is a reminder and reflection of the importance and value of maintaining these forms of sustainability, for their communities and all of us alike.

Wednesday, 02 January 2013 16:01

Review: Writings that Weave Waves

Living in today's ever-changing globalised world is threatening traditional cultural practices and identity. The history of the Taiwanese indigenous peoples is evidence of this with the island's history marked by previous Chinese and Japanese rule and today, more generally, the rule of modernity. Thus, for the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, although they primarily live in smaller, rural areas, maintaining a strong sense of cultural belonging, identity is a challenge. Cerise Phiv's documentary Writings that Weave Waves: East Formosans and the Pacific World explores this challenge, glimpsing into the lives and perspectives of several indigenous Taiwanese individuals living in a changing world and their relationship with the indigenous way of life of their ancestors.

Friday, 28 December 2012 15:56

The Sunken and Forbidden Islands

There are many islands strewn across the Pacific, they withdrew from the world, and hoped never to be found. The footsteps of the Han quietly snuck up upon them however, their persuasive words laced with the rhetoric of modernity and development. From Orchid Island to Yap, what does the trajectory of these footprints tell us?

Wednesday, 26 December 2012 14:08

The Biocode of Indigenous Knowledge


Papa Mape, recipient of this year's life sustainability award, tells us about his trip to Taiwan to receive it and describes his project and the importance of preserving nature. Interpreted by Professor Hinano Murphy.

Monday, 05 November 2012 16:27

Langus Lavalian Crossing the Kuroshio into the Skies of the Southern Cross

In mid April of 2012, I joined FISION International Exchange—The Aboriginal Youth New Vision Team—and embarked on an adventure that was to take me away from the limitations and constraints of my native Taiwan. Only a few of my teammates were members from my student club at school, most were fresh new faces.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012 17:39

Kalih Didiyun: Relationship between Indigenous and Indo-Fijians

The idea of International exchange programs is not foreign to us. However, when you add life experiences and tribal sensations, it seems like a much more foreign term. I think back to my remote ancestors, who struggled and created fixed hunting grounds, with well-defined limits. Should another tribe cross over these boundaries, war would surely ensue; there were also some tribes that were good at social contact, which, by means of friendly mutual exchange, would swap goods or offer information, giving rise to stable alliances which lasted for hundreds or even thousands of years. These exchanges, full of friendly intentions, are probably no different from our modern concept of international exchange programs. Hundreds and thousands of years after our ancestors, we too are going to engage in what they did, an exchange of information to strengthen our common culture, and to find a “new understanding” of ourselves.

This time the exchange was focused on international interaction. Different from past experiences, in which both sides shared a common tongue, this time the exchange was between people from different countries and with different languages. Before the flight to Fiji I had expectations of “the indigenous people of two countries” engaging in an investigation of similarities and differences. After the plane landed, however, I discovered that my previous attitude of superficially observing and understanding any single ethnic group’s culture meant that I ignored the interactions between different ethnic groups within society as a whole, as well as how they are affected by global political and economic factors. If these “environmental” factors are put to one side, and only the individual characteristics of the single ethnic group in question are discussed, this kind of exchange trip can be of little value.

Generally speaking, the population of Fiji is composed of about 57% indigenous Fijians, and 37% Fijians of Indian descent. The former are classified as part of the Melanesian people, and speak Fijian; the latter are the descendants of the workers who came to work in sugar factories during the English colonial period of the 19th century, and then decided to stay. Because of Fiji’s colonial past, the locals often use English.

From a political point of view, indigenous Fijians are the majority. Because of the 2009 coup d’etat by the military, and the subsequent abolishment of the constitution 4 months after, Fiji is now ruled by a military junta, of which most of the members are indigenous Fijians. In addition, because of the fact that the deposed government was largely of Indo-Fijian origin, this caused friction between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians, which caused a large amount of Indo-Fijians to migrate overseas. After going to Fiji and interacting with the locals, I found that, even though there is no direct conflict, misunderstandings and discrimination still exist amongst different ethnic groups. For example, our indigenous Fijian tour guide Julia felt a little out of place when, during our trip, we paid a quick visit to a Hindu temple. Even though indigenous and Indo-Fijians are the two largest ethnic groups in the island, after chatting to the locals I found out that it is fairly uncommon for them to intermarry.

In economic terms, the Indo-Fijians have the upper hand. As well as some major domestic large scale industry companies, the Indo-Fijians have connections with international business. Currently the most important domestic industries including tourism (comprising over 21% of the GDP) and sugar are in the vast majority of cases in Indo-Fijian hands. However, the majority of the land (more than 80%) of Fiji is owned by indigenous Fijians, and this severely limits the potential for the economic development of Indo-Fijians. Throughout the military junta period, there have been several instances of indigenous Fijians raising the rent on the land in order to discriminate against Indo-Fijians.


Muaivuso village was very different to others we had visited previously. This village has avoided developing its tourist industry, instead focusing on working together with academic institutions to continue developing itself. I really admire this village, because the tribe has left behind the typical focus on tourism, and has chosen an academic route. Apart from the opportunity to advocate the integration of indigenous culture and modern knowledge, and the chance to promote the power of learning, it helps to share a traditional cultural standpoint with the wide world. As well as culture, another important aspect of the collaboration with the universities is ecology, preserving the indigenous people’s relationship with the earth through the concept of sustainable development. Amongst all of this there was a moment that moved me. When I was taking pictures to record the interior design of a house, a grandmother thought I wanted to take pictures of her grandsons, and pushed the two roughly two-year-old kids so that they were facing my camera, despite the fact that the children were busy tasting candy we had brought for them from Taiwan. The language may be different but a smiling grandmother probably has the same meaning anywhere; maybe she just wanted to cater to us “tourists” with a friendly gesture, but, if this kind of interaction springs from a “gaining more benefits” kind of mindset, it would inevitably leave a sour taste in my mouth, in the same way that the exploitation of the Orchid Islands for tourism does.


Right then, I heard one of my companions shouting: “Come get the candy so you can share it!”, and at once I found myself in a strange emotional predicament. Since arriving at Fiji, we have been to two or three villages, giving them candy, taking photos together, and giving out gifts. In these situations, my actions and attitudes have seemed to express the arrogance of someone who comes from a place he mistakenly believes to be more advanced. Giving candy or gifts is usually probably just an act of courtesy or an expression of friendliness, but, if you don’t spend time to consider the motive, you might not realise that in fact, you might be implying an act of “giving charity”. Even though locals don’t have access to modern factory-made candy, in no way does this mean that they need your candy to survive! A lot of Taiwanese tribal villages have also suffered this fate, but the experience of going from victim to perpetrator has made me reflect on my own behaviour and reproach myself. I hope that in the future I will be able to lead by example.


In Fiji, there are two main types of handcraft stores: Indigenous and Indo-Fijian. The reason we separate them like this is because they are both different in the way they do business. Instead of focusing on selling products, indigenous people will try to make friends with you; when they saw we were foreign, they asked us all sorts of everyday questions, and didn’t even particularly market their product. Indo-Fijians, on the other hand, proactively engage in business, and when they come in contact with foreigners, they give it their all; they say of every product that you will regret it later if you don’t buy it now! The initial price offered by the Indo-Fijians is higher, so people often pay a higher price than at the indigenous stores. However, if you bargain, you can often get things for a lower price than you would at the indigenous stores. I assume it’s because indigenous Fijians might be relatively worse at business, so if the price goes below a certain number they won’t accept the offer. Indo-Fijians always aspire to reach an agreement when doing business, even if they occasionally lose some money in a transaction.

The thing that I was most concerned about in Fiji was actually the relationship between indigenous and Indo-Fijians. Living together in the same island is just a consequence of history, but being able to interact with each other hand in hand and harmoniously, is the true road to happiness. Despite being an indigenous Taiwanese myself, I found myself sympathising more with the Indo-Fijians, who don’t have land to the point that they are often penniless, and lack support resources, in contrast with the indigenous Fijians, who have the majority of the land and benefit from welfare policies and insurance. Even though they constitute almost half of the total population, in the period of the military government some Indo-Fijian stores were destroyed, leaving the people homeless and destitute. Those that left the country and live abroad as political refugees still consider themselves Fijian above Indian, and still care about Fijian affairs. Thinking about this makes me feel sad.

In Fiji, indigenous and Indo-Fijians used to deal with each other in a harmonious way, but later the political propaganda caused problems between the two ethnic groups, including opposition for the sake of opposition. Taiwan is the same, first separating between Benshengren (those descended from people who arrived from China before Chiang Kai-Shek) and Waishengren (those who came after), and later on making distinctions between South East Asian immigrants and aborigines. There are also the current issues over unification and independence, which are all part of this political language. After this bickering, society becomes full of unrest and instability. We separate people this way and that, but are we not all just trying to grow on this land? We can be confident and proud when emphasizing our aborigine culture, but to sink to ignorant bickering, to isolating ourselves, will just cause more issues. As far as I know, the meaning of the word “yuanzhumin”(aborigine) in Taiwan is in constant evolution; it is not only defined by mainstream society, or the so-called “9 tribes” or the current “14 tribes”, how far can we keep going until we stop separating into groups? In the end, it is all to no avail.

One of the reason why culture is to be treasured lies in the fact that when you conduct cultural exchanges, you can learn the strong and beautiful aspects of each other’s culture, allowing for the culture to grow in charm and power. This process can be big or small in its scope, like when I assimilated my Fiji experiences to make them a part of me. I discovered an optimistic and leisurely people, and understood that living in this way is living a blessed and beautiful life. If, one day in the future, I become someone who can exert influence, I hope to be able to bring the charm of these people to our own culture. My ideal of culture is one that is compatible with others and grows, a heterogeneous culture. Rather than worrying about being assimilated into the mainstream majority culture, it is better to strive to develop the truth, goodness and beauty in one’s own culture, in order to influence the mainstream train of thought.


Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy

Tuesday, 30 October 2012 17:12

Amoy A’okay Haiyawan: Ethnicity in the Tourism Industry

I come from the Saisiyat tribe of Wufeng township in Hsinchu county. My reason for taking part in this international exchange program stems from the fact that I am going to graduate this year and enter the job market, so I want to make the most of still being a student and see other countries. The exchange program organised by the Council of Aboriginal Affairs not only allows us to go abroad and broaden our horizon, but also to share the experiences that we have had abroad with our family, friends, and tribe members. We are like a seed being planted, which will later grow and share what it has seen and heard with the whole of Taiwan.

In Fiji, we visited four villages, namely Navala village, Navua village, Muaivuso village and Korova village. When looking around these four villages, I formed lots of different opinions. The first two villages were focused on the tourism industry, and were fairly developed. One of the reasons for them to develop their tourism industry was to preserve their traditions. They believe that “developing tourism” is the best way road to “preserving tradition”. I couldn’t help but think that in modern Taiwanese aborigine society, “developing tourism” and “preserving tradition”, are not often things that you see together, so I think it is really worth it for us to study this and take it back to our tribes. Another thing that left an impression on me was that, while at Navua Village, the locals not only introduced the particularities of Fijian culture, but also constantly impressed on us the importance of culture, and how careful we should be about not losing it. I was very moved; in their eyes we are probably just a group of tourists that will only come to Fiji once in their lives, but they still used their life experiences to illustrate the importance of culture for us. They hope that not only their own culture can be preserved, but rather that every ethnic group should preserve its own traditional culture. This kind of mentality moved me a lot.


After visiting these villages, I compared them to Taiwanese aborigine villages. In Taiwan, lots of aborigine villages that have developed tourism are not so capable of preserving tradition, even to the point that people from aborigine towns involved in the tourist industry, change everything about all things aborigine in a capitalist way, regardless of the feelings or habits of aborigine residents of that area, just to cater to the tastes of the consumers. Not only do the aborigine towns become more Han, but even the aborigines themselves gradually become assimilated to Han culture. Actually when I first laid eyes on the villages of Muaivuso and Korova, they reminded me a lot of the tribes in Taiwan now: Simple houses, a relaxed pace, no traditional buildings, etc. It felt the same as being back home. The difference is, however, that they still maintain their way of life, where as we beg for our existence under the capitalist system.


In Fiji, there are two main types of tourism: the first is ecotourism, such as the aforementioned visits of villages for sightseeing. The other type is the one typical of any tourist destination nowadays; tours of scenic spots, luxurious hotels, all manner of aquatic activities, etc. Combining these necessary elements with the unique local culture is the approach most tourism companies are taking nowadays. At this point, too, it is inevitable to draw a comparison between Taiwan and Fiji. In Fiji, even though a lot of foreign businessmen have established a presence and developed the tourist industry, I have also noticed that the smart ones have understood the need to incorporate the cultural characteristics to the tourism industry. For example, when we went to Denarau Island and visited two hotels, they both included elements of local Fijian arts and crafts and building styles. In contrast, in Taiwan, the tourism industry and hotels run by so-called “Foreign businessmen”, always seem to focus on the concepts of “high-class” and “cosy” as their defining characteristics, striving their hardest in order to pander to the requirements of the consumers. They don’t really think about how to integrate their tourist model with the local culture. In this sense I think Fiji is definitely a place worthy of our study.


When visiting the “Pacific Harbour Cultural Extravaganza”, we all realised it was a little similar to Pingdong’s “Aborigine Culture Park”, it is a completely packaged experience and has become cultural tourism. What made it feel special to me was that they used acting to narrate their culture, an approach that made for an intimate experience, and also made it easier to absorb the knowledge on a personal level. Just as I was considering whether this style of performance would be suitable for Taiwan or not, I heard one of the members of our group say that if this method were to be used in Taiwan, it might lead to the problem of stereotypes. After all, indigenous Fijians represent roughly half of the local population of Fiji, and they are all of the same ethnicity. Local people are very familiar with indigenous Fijian culture, which makes it unlikely for stereotypes to arise. In Taiwan, however, aborigines amount to only 2% of the population, and what’s more there are 14 distinct tribes, each with their own cultural characteristics. Certainly, not everyone who lives in Taiwan understands aborigine culture, even how many tribes there are is unclear, so how can we demand that they become completely familiar with 14 different tribes? If it’s not clear how can acting be used to narrate, and tell them about our history? I hope that one day in the future everyone who lives in this piece of land we call Taiwan can come to understand the distinct aspects of Taiwanese aborigine culture, since after all it is our most precious asset.

In the meeting on the night of our last day in Fiji, Teacher Guan proposed a question for us to ponder: “If your tribal village was to develop its tourist industry, how would you like it to go about doing so?” He told us there was no hurry to answer this question. In fact, I had already started thinking about this question since I first arrived in Fiji. If the tribal village in question is my own, then I would not be interested in the slightest in developing its tourism. Perhaps the increase of tribe tourism has started to become a trend over the last few years, but I think that tribes are just that, tribes, and I wouldn’t want too many people coming from the outside and causing a disturbance, since it really is a kind of “disturbance” after all. In Fiji, we saw how tourism development and the preservation of tradition can coexist, but I don’t think this is possible in Taiwan at this stage in time. Perhaps you may ask? How do we make money then? Well, before the trend for tribe tourism had taken shape, tribes already had their own way and rhythm of life, did they not? Why do we need to risk the hazards posed by these “disturbances” just to “modernize” our tribes, especially when it’s not clear whether these “modernizations” will be beneficial or not?

Actually, speaking as a Saisiyat, I don’t think we currently need to rely on tourism to preserve and pass on our culture. The event that people are most aware of, our Pas-ta’ai religious festival, will carry on being held with or without tourists. Even when tourists do attend the festival, they have to respect its predetermined rules, such as attaching Chinese silvergrass to our bodies and cameras, and staying in the outer circle as opposed to the inner one. Just because tourists are curious and want to participate in our festival, doesn’t mean we should cater to their demands. When it comes to preserving traditional culture, I think us Saisiyat are actually quite a conservative tribe.


Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy

Tuesday, 30 November 2010 19:13

A subaqueous loner—Syaman Rapongan

Maka sagaz ka mo katowan.[1]
-May you have the soul of great fish.

Syaman Rapongan[2] (b. 1957) is a contemporary Tao (or Tawo)[3] writer in Taiwan. Since his debut publication in 1992, he has brought Chinese-language readers literally back to Tao-speaking people on Pongso no Tao (Island of Man)[4] on the west rim of the Pacific Ocean. This indigenous writer’s blue-water literature (poems, myths, essays, short stories and novels)[5] has often been praised by Taiwanese literary critics as one of the few windows to the beauty of tidal waters running about and especially on the east coast of the island. His special contribution includes introducing an undersea perspective, enabling many lively scenes below sea level to surface, publicizing Tao values and a worldview of simple and harmonious coexistence with nature, confronting the disadvantaged reality of his people in an uncompromised way, as well as creating a poetic language combined with Tao and Chinese.[6] Although unlike another Taiwanese writer of the sea, Liao Hong Ji,[7] Syaman Rapongan may not feel motivated enough to establish an arayo (dolphin fish) preservation society, trumpeting the love of nature as its archangel, neither does his culture teach him to see the ocean (and its marine resources) as some object for conquest, a manly act particularly testified by The Old Man and Sea of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), or as some traffic artery for moving peoples and goods, another piece of past fully annotated by early modern European Expansion literature.[8] No call for preservation; no laud for human intervention. Instead, in Syaman Rapongan’s writing of the sea, one sees deep affection, “…a feeling, a way of life that is simple, primitive, humble, and unaffected”.[9]

To borrow the expression of ‘an undersea perspective’ from Chang, I personally feel tempted to say that seeing Syaman Rapongan as someone who finds peace with his home environment, ancestral culture and eventually himself after returning from years of urban wandering is too abbreviated a cliché, a real ‘perspective above sea level’ that, on the one hand, seriously undermines his struggle to find that peace, and on the other, rather naively predicts (if not already advertises) a positive outcome.[10] Returning to one-self, or termed in another fashion rebuilding one’s identity, is never a Snow White fairy tale; one does much more than waiting for some white-horse rider, a prince savior. Neither is it a personal matter to be figured out behind a closed door. The people closest by are often heavily involved. For Syaman Rapongan as well as for many other indigenous intellectuals who have tasted similar bitterness, the process concerns much more than that. The alienating from one’s identity often starts much earlier than the literal departure from home with a shabby suitcase, and the end of restoring it is still somewhere out there, yet to be reached but may very well never be found. In short, far beneath the peaceful image created by Syaman Rapongan’s sea literature, there lies the real battlefield where this subaqueous loner[11] struggles to rebuild who he truly is. And this essay serves to highlight the writer’s identity struggle by constant references to his sea literature.

When He Was Shi Nu-lai (施努來)

Before the late 80s, there was no Syaman Rapongan but a young man bearing a Chinese name: Shi Nu-lai. Being the only son to a very traditional father who believed that a real Tao man should excel at traditional production skills such as “building dadalas and houses, catching flying fish, catching dog fish, telling stories, singing chants”,[12] Nu-lai was often told the tales and myths about Tao by his father and mother. Usually at the eve of the day, Nu-lai was also found amidst his uncles and other men from the village at someone’s gazebo, listening attentively to their sea adventures and chants of ancient songs. By the age of ten, he already knew the difference between oyud (the fish for women) and rahet (the fish for men), so he would not feed his little sisters with the wrong fish served in the wrong utensil.[13] In other words, the boy Nu-lai was like any of his forefathers on the Island of Man, given the kind of education that would make him a real Tao in the future.

However, what his forefathers did not experience in their childhoods was the power of another kind of education to which the young Nu-lai was fully exposed. In addition to the delicious stories from his parents and uncles, he was also told by primary school teachers to “become a teacher in the future, so that [he] could teach these ‘savage kids’ on Lan-yu and ‘civilize’ them”. So did the priest at his junior high school tell him the same thing: “be a priest, tame those savages on your Lan-yu island who know nothing of God, and make civilized men out of them”.[14] Nu-lai was utterly confused; why were there two very different interpretations of his people? Looking at Chinese veterans drinking sorghum liquor inside the only grocery store on the island, he asked himself who were these people; watching strange ships sailing by his island either from the east to the west or vice versa, he wondered where they were going.[15] The idea of a whole new wide world outside his small island gripped Nu-lai’s mind, never let him go, and eventually brought him with his aspirations and ambitions away from the Island of Man.

Against his father’s wish, young Nu-lai left Lan-yu at high-school age to pursue his dream, a college education. At his graduation from senior high school, he had a chance to enter three different colleges without taking the compulsory entrance exams. However, he refused them all because he believed indigenous students could rely on their own, instead of on governmental preferential initiatives, to get permission to any college. After doing years of odd jobs in manufacture and transportation as well as years of self-study, the young man proved himself and passed the exam to the Department of French, Tamkang University. By this time, according to Chiu Fei-hsiang, Nu-lai “had experienced all sorts of setbacks in life…In his eyes, nothing should be taken ‘for granted’”.[16]

Besides attending university, Nu-lai was also a wholehearted participant in urban indigenous movements that kicked off since early 1980s. Issues from land, autonomy, education, social justice, name rectification, to anti- nuclear-waste facilities on Lan-yu were among the most important appeals to the Taiwanese government at the time to redress the social and economic disadvantages of its many indigenous groups. Like his fellow indigenes, Nu-lai was deeply provoked by the frustrations with these movements—namely the suppression from the authority, the disagreement of goals among the indigenous activists, and the gap between the indigenous activities and their home communities[17]—into rethinking his tie with his mother culture, and finally making the decision to return to the Island of Man.

The Making of Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安)[18]

9“Soon after returning, Shi Nu-lai started his struggle with officials from the household registration, had his name in the end officially rectified as Syaman Rapongan, and started quietly to build a house for his small family”.[19] It was already in the late 80s, and the way back home was extremely difficult for the man who left as an innocent child filled with dreams but returned as a frustrated grownup. In the cities, his friends didn’t regard him as ‘cooked’ (Sinicized or Chinese) enough[20]; his critical attitudes and later frustrations also prevented him from becoming an urban insider. Back home, however, the obstacles to reintegration were unexpectedly much more formidable.

In the first few years, Syaman Rapongan could not speak fluent Tao; nor did he have many experiences of male collective activities such as lumbering in the mountains and going to sea. Besides, he was neither physically fit for manual labor nor mentally as calm as a mature Tao was supposed to be. In one word and in the word that gnawed at him, he was ‘degenerated’ by Tao standards. In order to detach himself from the stigma, he went to the sea almost every day to dive and to fish, sometimes with his uncles or cousins and always despite the weather conditions. The more he practiced, the better he became in maneuvering his homemade spear gun as well as his breath and the larger amount of fish he was able to bring home and offer to his family.[21] He also followed his father and uncles to the mountains to learn everything about the building of canoes.[22] Without a doubt, he worked very hard to be reborn a Tao man. “This is what I am after,” he said, “to build up my social status by labor (traditional work), to go deep into my culture’s civilizing process with labor, to live and share with my people the food from nature, to clear myself of the stigma of being Sinicized, and to allow my repressed proud to come back to life”.[23] This, as he thought then, was the way back to his mother society and his true identity as Syaman Rapongan.

What he did not expect, perhaps, was the series of protests from his beloved family against his excessive love affair with the sea. Worrying about his safety, his mother proposed to his father that they should hide his spear gun; his woman asked him to make real money and spare time for their children; his children complained that he was the laziest father in the world who didn’t make a penny for them; even his father who was so glad to find his only son did not forsake the traditional way of life would dissuade him from going to sea, threatening that he and his mother would not share his catch and they both have decided that he should go to Taiwan to make money for the family. They have had enough sea food.[24] “The entire family”, Syaman Rapongan said, “wanted to kick me out of the house, just because I don’t make money but go diving in the sea every day.”[25] He was very torn, very confused. He came home to stay away from the frustrating and kindless urban environment, but now his home wanted to spit him out of his sea and out of his way back to it. As much as he wanted and worked to be a Tao by living as a traditional Tao, the cruel reality once again set back his plan, as if it were taunting at his naiveté. The way back is not that easy.

This family dispute ended in a compromise: Syaman Rapongan would do any job as long as his family did not force him to leave his island.[26] But life goes on, so do various kinds of struggles and compromises. As his newest novel, Lao Hai-ren (2009), shows, the writer is now more aware of the dangers on the way to rebuild his identity and knows better how to translate those dangers through written words. Like the writer himself, the three main characters in his Lao Hai-ren, Ngalomirem, Tagangan and Zomagpit, are in-between people who try to survive towering waves created by clashes between modernity and traditionality. Also like he himself, they all choose to return to traditionality, the deepest bottom of the sea, to build their own philosophies of life. Again like he himself, however, they all appear like losers in the eyes of others, a psychopath, a zero-king, a drunkard, and an irresponsible family man. They have anger, they complain, and they feel confused.[27] But they continue; they are not there yet, but they are going.


10As Syaman Rapongan puts it, the sea “has always accepted…will never abandon…After all, the sea itself has neither periphery nor center”.[28] Being ultimately inclusive and rid of discrimination, it allows generations of peoples from all over the world, including Tao, to weave their own tales of life at sea, be they tales of forceful conquest, precarious journey, or simple survival. For Syaman Rapongan personally, the purpose of writing the sea is to “[continue] the education given to me by fathers and grandfathers…[and] to appreciate the sea with ‘serenity’”.[29] He was told many stories during his childhood; then he left these stories behind for a long while, thereby a certain way of life that later proved to be the closest to his heart. It was not until his return and his deliberate devotion to live as a real Tao—to build the dadala[30] his fathers used to build, to row on the sea where his fathers used to row, to dive in the sea where his fathers used to dive, and to catch the fishes his fathers used to catch—notwithstanding protests from his loved ones, that he finally found one meaning behind these stories, saying that, “So, as it turns out, they told me so many stories precisely because they expected me to become a ‘writer’ in the future”.[31] It further supports that the sea and the writing of the sea have come to be the center of his life.

Just as the writer still has much to speak about his people, home-island and home-sea, the person Syaman Rapongan is also on the way to peace with himself and reality. For him, the process of rebuilding a true identity, both personal and national, is far from completion. In Lao Hai-ren, he admits that the serenity of his fathers and grandfathers still remains beyond his reach: “But, I have not yet reached their [his fathers and grandfathers’] level, the level of seeing the world with true ‘serenity’ that is to be learned from nature”.[32] By returning to his personal identity crisis, cultivating in the Tao way of life, observing carefully both his people and the world, employing the language and knowledge acquired outside his own society, and explaining the course of reality through his sea-soaked eyes, Syaman Rapongan is still striving to obtain that serenity.

The 2000 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Gao Xing-jian, especially emphasizes the personalness of a writer in his or her lifelong pursuit of truthfulness. According to Gao, truthfulness is the ultimate criterion for literature that is worthy of all efforts and sufferings. A writer should reduce him- or her-self to the state of commonness, deprived of all privileges and powers so that he or she could produce a relatively unaffected observation of the world, a real testimony to life.[33] Likewise, Syaman Rapongan from another corner of the world is also pursuing a similar course and is in fact doing much more than that. He does not, will not, and actually cannot stop at sensational self-masturbation. As one of the few literate intellectuals on his island, he has too much to do. He wants to document the traditional way of life of his people, to redress the faults committed both voluntarily and involuntarily by former anthropologists, to ponder about how and why his people has been devastated by imposed modernity, and to propose a possible way out of their social and economic impasse.[34] In him, we see a subaqueous loner talking about the sea, but behind his lonely back, the shadow of an island always looms large. He is a literary writer with an activist mentality.

Not only does the sea provide Tao people with food so that they do not starve, but it also creates space for them to connect culturally so that they do not merely survive, walking on their land like alien zombies. The sea holds to the key to the material and mental life of the entire people. As the soul that went before Syaman Rapongan’s body[35] told him, “My son, you must learn to love the sea. It is because of the sea that we can exist as a people”.[36] This is how important the blue water is to Syaman Rapongan. His dear wish, as he puts straight forwards in one interview, is “to build a true literature based on a true life, and to build this island’s sea philosophy based on this true literature”.[37] That indeed is his calling as a Tao and a writer of the sea. Toward that goal, he is still marching.

Major Publications (with brief introductions)[38]

Ba-dai-wan de Shen-hua 八代灣的神話》 (Myths from Ba-dai Bay). Taipei: Morning Star Publishing Co., 1992.—Syaman Rapongan’s first book; a collection of myths and his personal reflections on contemporary Tao; divided into two parts, with the first on myths, and the second on personal reflections.

Leng Hai Qing Shen—Hai-yang Chao-sheng Zhe 冷海情深—海洋朝聖者》(Deep Love for Cold Sea: The Oceanic Pilgrim). Taipei: Unitas Publishing Co., Ltd., 1997.—A collection of short stories about Syaman Rapongan’s life on Lan-yu; the book marks the writer’s constant struggles with himself and his family because he voluntarily went unemployed and devoted himself solely to the ocean as a bare-hand diver in order to explore Tao civilization and find the meaning of life. The book also marks the writer’s initial identity transition from a Sinicized man to a real Tao who embraces the value of physical labor and learns to cultivate the art of story-telling. The book was the Annual Reading for 1997 by United Daily News.

Hei-se de Chi-bang 黑色的翅膀》 (Black Wings). Taipei: Morning Star Publishing Co., 1999.—Syaman Rapongan’s first novel; it questions the future of Tao people through the characterization of four young men (Kaswal, Gigimit, Jyavehai and Ngalolog) Should they run rigorously after the tempting ‘white body’ on the land or wait patiently for the arrival of ‘black wings’ on the sea? Although this appears a rhetorical question, Syaman Rapongan reveals that the conflicts are severe and their impact profound. This novel won Wu Zhuo-liou Literary Award in 1999.

Hai-lang de Ji-yi海浪的記憶》 (Memory of the Ocean Waves). Taipei: Unitas Publishing Co., Ltd., 2002.—Another collection of short stories; divided into two parts, with the first on the countless ties between Tao and the sea (six stories), and the second on Tao’s staunch fights against foreign influences. Experimenting boldly with different genre and languages, the writer combines verses with prose and juxtaposes Tao and Chinese languages. As another Taiwanese writer and critic, Song Ze-lai, points out, Syaman Rapongan deliberately defamiliarizes his language and syntax in order to praise traditional Tao values and to guide his readers, especially Tao, back to the original way of living, far from influences of Chinese culture and modern civilization.[39]

Hang-hai-jia de Lian 航海家的臉》 (The Face of a Navigator). Taipei: INK Literary Publishing Co., 2007.—Also a collection of articles; it continues the oceanic theme but exposes more of Syaman Rapongan’s personal battles with modernity or traditionality and his pursuit of prosperity or return to innocence.[40] Calling him-self a nomadic soul, Syaman Rapongan knows there may be no end to his battle. His course is a romantic one, without any definite plan. Nor will his beloved sea offer any answer or guidance. Nevertheless, consolation can be found in sweet solitude and family understanding. Syaman Rapongan’s first attempt at trans-Pacific navigation with a Japanese captain and five Indonesian crew members is also included here.

Lao Hai-ren 老海人》 (Old Ama Divers)[41]. Taipei: INK Literary Publishing Co., Ltd., 2009.—Syaman Rapongan’s second novel; highly praised and awarded (The Wu Lu-chin Prize for Essays, Chiu Ko Publishing Co. Annual Selection in 2006). Instead of following the previous semi-biographical direction, Syaman Rapongan focuses on three outcasts on his island, Ngalomirem, Tagangan and Zomagpit, whose pretty names fail to bring them pretty lives. Ngalomiren is regarded as a psychopath, Tagangan a miserable student though a brilliant octopus-catcher, and Zomagpit a hopeless drunkard. Through these figures, Syaman Rapongan portrays how Tao society stumbles between traditionality and modernity, and how broken the society has become in both material and mental terms as its humble and simple way becomes recognized again. In spite of a slight hope for reconciliation, this way back to the humble and simple Tao world is arduous, sometimes painful, and fully filled with regrets. My favorite.

Final Note: So far, all of Syaman Rapongan’s books are only available in Chinese. Nevertheless, English translation of some of his stories can be found in certain anthologies of contemporary Taiwanese literature.

(Photos, in order of publication: Pan Hsiao-Hsia, Lin Chien-Hsiang and Tomo.Yun)

[1] A Tao saying. See Lao Hai-ren, p. 111.

[2] Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安), a name of Tao (see Note 3), literally means ‘the father of Rapongan’. Tao people change their names at least three times in life. Take a boy named Rapongan for example. He’s called ‘Si Rapongan’ throughout his child- and single-hood. After his first child (Sumalud) is born, his name will be changed to ‘Syaman Sumalud’ (the father of Sumalud); so will his wife, who for instance is called ‘Si Maveivou’ before her marriage and maternity, change her name to ‘Sinan Sumalud’ (the mother of Sumalud). Once the couple has their first grandchild (Tagangan), they will both be called, ‘Syapen Tagangan’, the grandparents of Tagangan. See Lao Hai-ren, p. 235, note 17. In this essay, since neither syaman nor rapongan could stand alone as a meaningful reference for the writer, his name will always be fully cited when necessary.

[3] Tao or Tawo (Da-wu, 達悟), also known as Ya-mei (雅美), is one of many indigenous peoples that fall currently under the jurisdiction of Taiwan government. Being officially recognized, Tao is entitled to legally protected rights in culture, language, education, employment, etc. Nevertheless, due to a persisting influence from main(is)land Taiwan, the island Lan-yu has witnessed a steady outward flow of its people, mainly Tao, and thereby, the loss of Tao language, culture, and traditional livelihood. At the same time, the scandalous introduction of nuclear waste facilities in 1970s has also put the island’s people under lifelong threat. It was one of the issues that triggered numerous Taiwan indigenous movements in 1980s. These together compose the background to Syaman Rapongan’s embarkation upon a literary career (see When He was Shi Nu-Lai). According to the 2009 census, Tao population numbers 3,748, nearly 0.8% of Taiwan’s total indigenous population (see Council of Indigenous Peoples). Tao is well-known for its oceanic culture, dadala (Tao joined-log canoe, see Note 32), flying fish festival, traditional attire (male T-back and silver cone-shaped hat), female hair dance, et cetera. It is known that Tao and the Ivatan people on the Batanes Island in the Philippines share cultural and linguistic ties. Trade was in the past a custom between the two peoples. See Syaman Rapongan’s ‘The Story of Syapen Mitoli’, Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 195-204.

[4] Lan-yu (蘭嶼), Orchid Island and Botel Tobago all refer to the small volcanic island lying approximately forty-five kilometers to the southeastern coast of Taiwan. The island is home to Tao (see Note 3), who call it by the name of ‘Pongso no Tao’, Island of Man. See Lao Hai-ren, p. 191, note 8.

[5] For Syaman Rapongan’s works, see Major Publications (with brief introductions).

[6] See Chang, Rui-fen, ‘The Course of Pen and Oar—Reading Syaman Rapongan’s Memories of Oceanic Waves in Summer (筆與槳的方向—夏日讀夏曼·藍波安《海浪的記憶》)’, UNITAS《聯合文學》, 2002 (215). Also, Sun, Ta-chuan (a.k.a. Palabang), ‘Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安)’, Taiwan Indigenous Voice Bimonthly《山海文化雙月刊》.

[7] Liao Hung Ji (廖鴻基, b. 1957) worked as a seafarer and fisherman at his early teens. His life on the sea later becomes a source of creation that enabled him to produce literature especially about the relationship between fish and men. His characterization of that relationship resembles Hemingway, since he focuses on the brutal struggle of force. Liao is also the founder of ‘Kuroshio Ocean Education Foundation’ (黑潮海洋文教基金會), who is now devoted to the study of whales and the preservation of oceanic environment and culture.

[8] Recall the famous line in The Old Man and the Sea: “Man is not made for defeat…A man can be destroyed but not defeated”. For literature on the sea as a route of transportation, see Exploiting the Waters (Crayenborgh 2010, 17th edition), edited by Yedda Wang and Daan Elders.

[9] See Chang’s ‘The Course of Pen and Oar’.

[10] See the short paragraph on the front cover of Syaman Rapogan’s Hang-hai-jia de Lian for example: ‘After spending much of his youthhood wandering in Taiwan, finally, Syaman returns to the island Lan-yu, living with his people, building dadalas to go to sea with them, diving into the ocean to catch fish, watching the waters, pondering, and changing into a real Tao man’ (在台灣流浪了所有的青春歲月/終於,夏曼回歸蘭嶼這座小島/與部落的人一起生活/造拼板船出海捕魚/潛海抓魚,望海思考/成為真正達悟族的男人).

[11] A subaqueous loner, 海底獨夫, is Syaman Rapongan’s favorite nickname. See Leng Hai Qing Shen, p. 220: ‘Like a loco talking to himself along the way, sandwiched between the dark sky and pitchy sea, I priggishly called myself a member of the arrogant subaqueous loners’ (我像瘋子一樣,一路上自言自語的,黑暗的天宇和黑暗的海洋夾著一位,自以為是「海底獨夫」的狂傲份子。)

[12] In Chinese:會造舟建屋、捕飛魚、釣鰭魚、善於說故事、吟誦詩歌……。 See Leng Hai Qing Shen, p 99.

[13] See Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 172-177. Also, Lao Hai-ren, p. 17.

[14] In Chinese for the first:將來當個老師好好教育你們蘭嶼這些「野蠻」的小孩成為「文明人」; for the second:將來當神父馴化你們蘭嶼那些不認識上帝的「野蠻」人成為「文明人」。See Lao Hai-ren, p 16.

[15] See Lao Hai-ren, p.15, and Hang-hai-jia de Lian, p. 7.

[16] In Chinese:[努來]已嘗遍人生的挫折……在他的眼裡,已經沒有什麼事是「順利」的了。See Chui, Fei-hisang (邱斐顯). ‘Literary Brave-heart Syaman Rapongan, Embrace the Dream of Flying Fish’ (文學勇士夏曼·藍波安 擁抱飛魚之夢)’. New Taiwan《新台灣新聞週刊》, 2006 (530).

[17] See Kuan Hsiao-yong (關曉榮). ‘From Shi Nu-lai to Syaman Rapongan’ (從施努來到夏曼·藍波安), Preface to Syaman Rapongan’s Leng Hai Qing Shen 《冷海情深》, pp. 5-9.

[18] ‘The Making of’ indicates that it is still an ongoing process.

[19] In Chinese:返鄉後不久,施努來經過一番與戶政人員的鬥爭後,正式改名為夏曼·藍波安,開始默默地為自己的小家庭建造家屋。See Kuan’s ‘From Shi Nu-lai to Syaman Rapongan’, p. 7.

[20] See Lin, Chien-hsiang (林建享), ‘Interview with Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安訪談)’, Literary Landscape Episode 9《文學風景》第九集, Public Television Service, Taiwan 公共電視.

[21] See ‘The Oceanic Pilgrim’ in Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 97-129.

[22] See ‘The Kuroshio and the Family Canoe’ in Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 49-68.

[23] In Chinese:這就是我所要追求的,用勞動(傳統工作)累積自己的社會地位,用勞動深入探討自己文化的文明過程;與族人共存共享大自然的食物;廢除自己被漢化的污名;讓被壓抑的驕傲再生。See Leng Hai Qing Shen, p. 148.

[24] See Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 11, 14, 43, 122, 183 and 211.

[25] In Chinese:全家人……都要把我趕出家門,只因為我不賺錢,只因為我天天往海裡潛。Ibid, p. 212. Syaman Rapongan’s struggle is especially obvious in ‘No Complaints…No Regrets’, Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 205-220.

[26] This is not to say Syaman Rapongan never visits Taiwan. He finished his MA program at the Department of Anthropolgy, National Tsing Hua University, and is now a PhD student at the Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Cheng Kung University. He certainly visits Taiwan, but Pongso no Tao is always his home.

[27] See Hao Yu-hsiang (郝譽翔). ‘The Moving Life of an Oceanic People: Syaman Rapongan’s Lao Hai-ren (海洋民族的動人生命:夏曼·藍波安「老海人」)’.

[28] In Chinese:海洋終究一直在包容…當然也不可能拋棄…畢竟海洋本身是沒有邊陲,也沒有中心。See Lao Hai-ren, p. 21.

[29] In Chinese:[延續]父祖輩們給我的教育…用「寧靜」觀賞海。Ibid.

[30] Tao dadala (達悟拼板舟) is often translated into Lan-yu dugout or canoe, a type of light and narrow wood boat made by hollowing a single tree trunk like a monoxylon (Greek μονόξυλον, mono- single + xylon tree). Although this translation appears appropriate in terms of the materials and functions of the boat, it might still mislead people into thinking that dadalas are made of single tree trunks. According to professional studies and Syaman Rapongan’s stories, however, dadalas are actually made of 21 or 27 pieces of logs from different types of trees, such as Longan or Syzygium for the bottom, Neonauclea for the keel, breadfruit for the gunnel, and so on. Therefore, it is better to translate a dadala into ‘joined-log canoe’ or simply keep the Tao name ‘dadala’. See Wang, Ya-Ping,  ‘Study the Wisdom of Tao dadala based on the Collections of Union Catalogs (從聯合目錄藏品了解達悟族拼板舟(dadala)的智慧)’, Cyber Island E –Paper 《數位島嶼電子報》, 19.

[31] In Chinese:原來他們跟我說許多的故事就是要我將來當個「作家」。See Lao Hai-ren, p. 21.

[32] In Chinese:然而,我還未進階到他們用「寧靜」看世界,在自然環境裡萃取「寧靜」的層次。Ibid.

[33] See Gao Xing-jian’s (高行健) Nobel Centennial Symposia Lecture, ‘Le témoignage de la littérature’ (The Testimony of Literature)’, delivered on December 5th, 2001. A Chinese version has also been prepared by Gao and published by Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University. See Gao, Xing-jian, ‘The Testimony of Literature—Seeking Truthfulness (文學的見證—對真實的追求)’, NTU Studies in Taiwan Literature 《台灣文學研究集刊》, 2006 (2): 165-174.

[34] See Lin, ‘Interview with Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安訪談)’.

[35] ‘Souls that went before one’s body’ is a special Tao phrase; it means one’s deceased fathers. See Hang-hai-jia de Lian, p. 26, note 1. Sometimes, the deceased fathers or forefathers are also referred as ‘bodies that went before one’s soul’. See Lao Hai-ren, p. 23 or p. 176.

[36] In Chinese:孩子,你要養成愛慕海洋的性格,因為海洋的關係,才有我們這個民族。See Leng Hai Qing Shen, p. 113.

[37] In Chinese:從一個真實的生活,去建構一個真實的文學,而這個真實的文學也企圖去建構這個島上的海洋哲學。See Lin, ‘Interview with Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安訪談)’.

[38] For an introduction of Syaman Rapongan and his encounter with the Martinique-born Francophone writer, Roland Brival, see Lu, Nancy T, ‘Orchid Island’s Syaman Rapongan Lives and Writes in Praise of the Ocean’.

[39] See Song, Ze-lai (宋澤萊). ‘Strange Rhetoric and Group Guidance in Syaman Rapongan’s The Memory of Waves’ (夏曼·藍波安小說《海浪的記憶》中的奇異修辭及其族群指導), Research in Taiwan Studies 《台灣學研究》, 2007 (3): 16-33. Song doesn’t agree with Syaman Rapongan’s idea of returning to the traditional way of living. In his opinion, indigenous peoples should study more and learn more about capital economics. These are their ways out of present economic and social disadvantages. However, I don’t think Syaman Rapongan says the traditional way of living is the only way either. He knows clearly that diving is not the only future for the next Tao generations. For young people, the purpose of learning the traditional production skills is to understand the value of the life of their ancestors, to keep them aware of their Tao identity, and to offer them room for reflection upon their life journey. See Leng Hai Qing Shen, p. 118.

[40] ‘Return to Innocence’ is also the title of a 1994 chart-topping single by Enigma, an electronic musical band founded in Germany. This success was particularly polluted when it was found out that parts of an Amis chant, ‘Jubilant Drinking Song’ (飲酒歡樂歌), produced by two Amis elderly singers Kuo Ying-nan (郭英男) and Kuo Hsiu-chu (郭秀珠), were sampled without their permission. Amis, a.k.a Pangcah, is the largest indigenous group in Taiwan.

[41] Ama divers (あま) are Japanese divers, who are famous for collecting pearls or abalones in coastal waters. Since the three figures of Syaman Rapongan’s second novel also make living by collecting different kinds of marine resources, it is more appropriate to translate the title of his second novel to ‘Old Ama Divers’ than to the literal ‘Old Sea Men’.

Tuesday, 02 November 2010 00:00

Documenting his own reality: The films of Kidlat Tahimik

The first film directed by and starring Kidlat Tahimik is Perfumed Nightmare (1977). He is a Phillipines born director who released this film with the help of Francis Ford Coppola. Although his films were shown as part of the documentary film festival in Taizhong at the end of October, they do not follow the style of the conventional documentary, and incorporate what could be called performance art, or a performative rendition of memory, experience and emotion.

The director, in what seem to be fictionalized sequences, traces his memory of setting out from the Phillipines to France and then the US. The director seems to attempt an experiential or sensous recreation of the trip. First setting out from his imagination of the West, a kind of Occidentalist structure with its foundation in Voice of America broadcasts and dealings with American soldiers and later recognizing the error in this imaginary of the West. The film employs a lot of surrealist imagery to fragment the logic of the narrative and the events on screen quite often happen in contradiction to the narrative voice of the film.

The film seemed to be countering the notion that modernization in the guise of progress is a good blueprint for what in the West is referred to as "The Third World". The protagonist who had been eager for progress to occur rescinds his membership from a fan club of an immigrant to America who helped to build the Apollo space shuttle. This signals his realization that the American dream is not the path to happiness. At first he is awed by France but as he grows accustomed to life there, he realizes that technological progress does not endow places or things with the meanings and emotions that places and things are endowed with in his hometown. The faceless encroach of the supermarket on the 4 seasons market confirms for him this absence of meaning that he comes upon in the West. Despite his ever more caustic tone in his films, Tahimik, in his interview with, insists that he is not anti-Western in his sentiments, but rather feels that the contemporary world could benefit from the application of aboriginal values to modern life, the indi-genius way, as he calls it. A theme he goes on to develop in his film Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow (1994), suggesting that "old ways" are essentially an untapped resource in terms o_MG_0912f conservation and ecology; what he calls "an inbuilt brake system" Although used in an ironic tone in this later film, he adopts the dichotomy of first and second world on one hand and "the third world" on the other, dividing the world into "indigenous" and "Western" peoples, he seems to buy into this way of categorizing the world, which in essence is a result of a Western ethnocentric psyche. He traces the recent social and political events of the Philippines through the eyes of his son, Kidlat. He seems to be continually harking back to an imagined "non-Westernized" Filippino nation, embodied in his mind, in the Igorot aborigines. This is stressed in another of his films, his 1981 film Turumba, narrated from the perspective of a young boy called Kadu, gives an account of the dehumanizing effects of the European system of mass production on the village where Kadu lives. The local craft of Papier-mâché prepared for a local festival called "Turumba" is distorted and homogenized by a German woman who starts to export the craft works to Germany en masse. What had originally been a family enterprise laden with tradition, becomes a sudo-sweat shop, and the models that had been used before are discarded for the 1971 Munich Olympic Games mascot. Kadu's father who originally had been the Kantore at the festival every year becomes the boss of this enterprise and becomes obsessed with accruing status symbols of wealth, including a TV, a Mercedes Benz, foreign travel. This material wealth is contrasted to Pati, a machete maker, who lives simply but happily without the pressures of trying to prove wealth in material possessions.


The theme of both of these films along with Tahimik's debut film, Perfumed Nightmare, talk of a disillusion with the Western "developed world" and a pastoral longing for a simpler life uncomplicated by a imported system of values. These films reminded me somewhat of the short story 蕭蕭 (Xiaoxiao) by 沈從文 (Shen Congwen). The short story, in one interpretation, conveys a longing for life on the margins of civilization, as yet untouched by modernization. The old society's rules and laws although seemingly chauvinistic and oppressive are regulated by the institutions and the men and women within the society. This is represented within the story by the horrible things we hear about how women are treated in the society in which Xiaoxiao lives, but the relatively benign treatment of the protagonist herself, which denies us a feminist reading of the story. This suggests the pre-Western society had already evolved an independent "Chinese Modernism", the potential of which was lost with over-exposure to Western modernism. The film like this short story seem to be praising this cultural wilderness while simultaneously acknowledging its coming destruction. Both the film and the short story question the prizing of the modern above the native, and seem to point to an already void desire to found an alternative Eastern modernism, independent of the perils of what is often called "The American Dream".


Some excellent bits of the first film include the Filippino cast "whiting up" in a scene where they act as the white guests at a farewell party that make Kidlat feel small, prompting him to say:

I am Kidlat Tahimik, I'm not as small as you think, nothing can stop me from crossing my bridge.

Another scene, earlier on in the film, is where religious self flagellation is portrayed, and Kidlat goes to pray to the Virgin Mary, who speaks to him in a very crude manner, revealing the snideness of an icon who demands the pain of self-flaggelation. Mary describes Kidlat in the garb of self-flaggelation as "sexy". In his interview he discusses in more detail his relationship with religion, particularly Catholicism. Which he sees not as an enemy but as a circumstance, which has interfered with the cultural brake mechanism in the Philippines.

His apparent view of Western culture is summarized in his first film as follows:
The white carabao is rare, it is born against nature. The white carabao is beautiful but inside its cold and aggressive. One day, Kidlat, you will understand that the beauty of the white carabao is like the sweetness of the chewing gum the American soldiers gave you.

This seems to me to indicate the illusion created by Eastern imagination of the Occident and the subsequent disillusion that it begets.

A Clip from Perfumed Nightmare

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