Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: solomon islands
Friday, 21 December 2012 11:54

From Tafalong to Honiara

The genesis of  the movie “Writings that Weave Waves”


It was in 2008 that I participated for the first time in the shooting of a documentary with the Ricci Institute:  during the month  of July of this year, as a small crew, we went to a village on the East coast of  Taiwan to follow a young Amis woman, Nakao Eki. She was engaged in research concerning aboriginal oral history, and as a part of her studies, she was returning for the first time in 7 years to Tafalong, an Amis village on Taiwan’s East coast (Hualien county) which is especially famous for its harvest festival. After two month of filming, editing, and post-production work, a movie was born: On the fifth day the sea tide rose…

Through the metaphor of the “tide”, the title already suggests the idea of Taiwan being shaped by waves. Indeed the title was chosen after one of the lines of an Amis song we recorded and which tells the legend of a mythical wave that brought to this place the  founding ancestors of Tafalong village. Besides this, the expression also reminds of the different waves that pound the shore of Taiwan: those of the ocean but also the waves of migration.


Thus, this very first movie experience not only introduced me to the basics of filming and editing but also to the aboriginal culture of Taiwan.  Indeed, the movie depicts the way the main character and her family deal individually and collectively with their history, and more precisely with the memory of their history. This first contact with the East Formosans already raised some questions about the way the aboriginals pictured in this movie related to the Pacific as the ocean is important in their legends and culture but they personally seemed to feel estranged to its physical existence.

At the same time, the Ricci Institute was following its shift towards the Pacific with the creation of the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies (TSPS).  In September 2011, I had the chance to accompany the Ricci Institute in taking a group of 14 aboriginal students who were sent to Canada for a cultural exchange with the First Nations peoples (a project sponsored by the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan - CIP). I was  in charge of filming the trip. It was only 9 days but for some of the students it was the first time they had ever left Taiwan and despite the brevity of the trip it was a mind opening experience in a variety of ways.   First of all, they undeniably found more self-confidence , especially after the preparation for the trip for which they had to take classes on history, culture, dance and singing. They also bonded in special way with the aboriginals they met in Canada and one could feel a real kinship between them despite the fact that the cultures are not so similar at first glance.  In fact, it was through singing and dancing together that the connections between them really became clear. But at the same time, this experience also seemed to make some of them realize how much they were alienated from their own culture and traditions.

 
Two parallel concepts became the starting point of a new documentary:
1. How young Taiwanese aborigines relate to their own culture and how are their traditions and knowledge transmitted?
2. How do they relate in particular to the Pacific, is there only a global Pacific culture and what would be its features?

In the meanwhile, we were planning the conference and the idea of ‘weaving’ occurred naturally, after all, a movie can also be conceived as a patchwork of images woven together.  

I chose then to go visit two of the students who were part of the trip to Canada. And in February 2012, Benoit Vermander, my brother and I went to two Atayal villages located in Ilan County on Taiwan’s East coast: Jinyang and Wutah. Despite the fact that these villages are not too far from the ocean, these aborigines still consider themselves from the mountain more than the coast. We just asked them to show us their villages and aspects of their traditional culture on the go. Our plan was also to take these students to another island in the Pacific to let them experience the culture of another Pacific island. We decided then to set out for the Solomon Islands because of its special diplomatic links with Taiwan and because the country was organizing this year’s Festival of Pacific Arts. It was a unique opportunity to gain an insight into the diversity of the cultures of the Pacific where Taiwan aboriginal culture would also be  represented as the Council of Indigenous Peoples was able this time to send a performance troupe.

Unfortunately, neither of the two boys could come on the trip in the end. One was called for military service and the other had to finish his medical internship. So we went to find another student from a village in the same area. Yubax Hayung (羅秀英) was born of an Atayal father and a Bunun mother and she is from Aohua, an Atayal village located a few kilometers away from the other two villages and from the coast. She turned out to be a very interesting character to follow, being also probably one of the most unsettled within the group of students.

Thus, in July 2012, we flew to the Solomon Islands to continue the shooting and I completed the editing within four months in order to present the movie at the International Austronesian  conference organized on November 27-28 this year  by the CIP and the TSPS.

Solomons lilisiana

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The summary of the documentary is available here: http://www.erenlai.com/index.php/en/editorials/5138-writings-that-weave-waves-east-formosans-and-the-pacific

 

Or watch the trailer

 


Wednesday, 24 October 2012 18:59

Tokelau Walks the Talk

In December this year, the South Pacific archipelago of Tokelau will be the first nation to be entirely powered by renewable energy: with the help of New Zealand, they are currently completing the installation of more than 4000 solar panels on the three atolls that constitute Tokelau territory. Last July, we had the chance to interview Tino Vitale, the representative of the Tokelau Delegation at the Festival of Pacific Arts held in the Solomon Islands: he told us about their project and a special song they perform to carry their plea.

 

Tuesday, 15 March 2011 13:38

New Media in Anthropology and the Lau People


Pierre Maranda is a distinguished cultural anthropologist, and his academic career is renowned for its broad scope and the development of highly innovative research methods. His main innovation is concerning the structure of anthropology, which took root early in his career when he worked on the island of Malaita Province in the Solomon Islands with the native Lau aboriginal tribes. He combines the research methods of social and cultural anthropology, philosophy, literature, mathematics and other disciplines. In 1996 he was awarded the Molson Prize from the Canadian Council for the Arts. The panel of judges praised him as follows: "The international impact and recognition of his research are remarkable. Pierre Maranda is a talented professor and communicator whose lectures and publications have contributed to the dissemination and application of his research findings."

He has worked in various scientific journals and books, published over 150 papers, and participated in more than ten international conferences in Canada, the United States, Brazil, Australia, Britain, France, Sweden, Japan and other countries as well as holding seminars and special events and giving speeches. In 1998 he was granted L'Ordre des Palmes académiques in Paris.

In this interview Maranda introduces the website www.oceanie.org and how new media can be used to reform anthropology:

Alternative (for those readers in China)

In a second interview Maranda gives us an account of his anthropological work in Malaita in the Solomon Islands and his attempts to retain traditional institutions against a tide of fundamental evangelicanism and modernization, which was later chronicled in his documentary film:

Alternate (for those readers in China)

Below is a summary of Pierre Maranda's key-note speech to the "Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific" conference, held in Taipei in February 2011.

Pierre Maranda  - Key Note Speech (Abridged)

First, I want to congratulate the organizers of this conference for the formulation of its theme and its bearing. They are questioning current ideas about Oceania through a double inversion, actually a paradoxical title. A paradox is a statement contrary to commonly accepted ideas and that seems self-contradictory or absurd, but that may in reality express a possible truth. The first inversion consists of a statement, “mapping” and its inversion, “un-mapping”. The second resides in the contrast between “island” - here understood of course as the thousands of Oceanic islands - and the term “continent”.

Such a paradoxical approach is a most productive dialectical heuristics. Turning an idea upside down questions - which is disturbing - common assumptions. Indeed inversions compel one to work back and revise completely one’s thoughts and feelings on a given subject. Provocative, paradoxes are dialectical in that they trigger disputation or debate aiming at exploring differences between two opposite views so as to come up with a renewed, transcendent one. Accordingly paradoxical statements are heuristic because they lead to higher levels of knowledge. And that in turn, when one reflects on one’s mental processes, leads to what is currently called meta-cognition.

The theme of this conference echoes Epeli Hau’ofa’s important and most relevant essay A New Oceania: Rediscovering Our Sea of Islands. Like the title of this conference that of his essay is actually a paradox.

A quick reminder of who was Epeli Hau’ofa (he passed away in Janyary 2009) - http://savageminds.org/wp-content/image-upload/our-sea-of-islands-epeli-hauofa.pdf

In the words of our colleague Alex Golub of the department of anthropology, University of Hawai’i,

“Ethnically Tongan, born in Papua New Guinea, educated in Australia, and a naturalized citizen of Fiji, Hau’ofa’s life exemplifies the vibrant, diverse, and connected image of Oceania he promoted throughout his life. Those of us who study Papua New Guinea will remember him as an ethnographer of the Mekeo, but his influence expanded far beyond his ethnographic work — indeed, he is most often remembered as a novelist and author of short stories, and his humorous, satirical writings about the fictional but too-close-to-home Tikongs are widely read both in and out of the Pacific. […] In “Our Sea of Islands” Hau’ofa argued against the then-common (and still-common) presumption that Pacific Islanders lived in small, isolated, remote communities separated by a massive ocean. Instead, he argued that Pacific Islanders were connected by an ocean which facilitated movement and connection. Like all great ideas, it was an inversion of popular understandings that was so true and so timely that in retrospect it seems impossible to imagine how we lived without it (emphasis added). (http://savageminds.org/2010/11/01/anthropology-and-the-long-essay/).

However Hau’ofa did not touch on an important point. Indeed what would be the common language, the lingua franca of the “sea of islands”, what would be the continent’s idiom that would enable Oceanians, proud speakers of their native tongues, to communicate with each other? Pijin? English? And how about French Polynesia and New-Caledonia? A lingua franca to the detriment of mother tongues? Actually, as is already the case for instance in the Solomons, Pijin has become the mother tongue of young adults… Will consequently the so many different native languages be doomed? I would doubt it because so many Oceanians have been multilingual for generations in their numerous interactions with people of different ethnicities with whom they maintained trading and other relationships.

Keeping alive the irreducible diversity of native languages is a fundamental issue that must be addressed when considering remapping Oceania. One way to do it is to provide texts in native languages both for the population at large within a linguistic community and more specifically for use in schools. There is a great need in that respect and TSPS could contribute very significantly to meeting it so that whatever lingua franca predominates, it will not jeopardize the people rootings in their own cultures. Oceanians must remain firmly planted in their most fertile Pacific soil in order that their branching out does not entail losing their specific identities that warrant their survival instead of transforming them in pseudo Whites. Solomon Islanders have so often told me

Our guts ache, because we no longer know who we are. We know that we are not White people, we know that we are not sons and daughters of savages as they have called our fathers and forefathers. Christians tell us that our kastom is the work of the devil, that the stories we believe in are all wrong, but how about their own stories, their Bible? We too have stories about dead men resurrecting. But we know that it is no longer so. Is it not the same with their story about the resurrection of Jesus? We don’t know what or in whom to believe.

Years ago, I have witnessed pagan priests arguing with missionaries in Malaitan market places. They told them “David’s and Jesus’ genealogies are good for you, but we have our own genealogies that are good for us and we don’t ask you to learn them. Why should we learn your own genealogies? Then it says in your Gospel that if one has faith, one can move mountains. You have faith, no? Well look, there is a mountain right there, behind you: tell it to move and if it does then we’ll believe you”.

Oceanian identities are function of what is written in the Synopsis of this conference which

aims at identifying the ways of mapping the Pacific in time and space that have been developed by islanders, especially by Austronesian populations. Such "mapping" has taken place through migration roads, tales, songs and genealogies, as well as by astronomic or geographic charts and artistic renderings. Taking these representations both in their irreducible variety and as an organic whole may help a new generation of scholars to challenge the usual ways of looking at the Pacific world, thus enabling the inhabitants of this "oceanic continent" to enrich and develop the interactive process through which they understand their history and destiny.”

In Epeli Hau’ofa’s words(emphasis supplied),

if we look at the myths, legends and oral traditions, and the cosmologies of the peoples of Oceania, it will become evident that they did not conceive of their world in such microscopic proportions. Their universe comprised not only land surfaces, but the surrounding ocean as far as they could traverse and exploit it, the underworld with its fire-controlling and earth-shaking denizens, and the heavens above with their hierarchies of powerful gods and named stars and constellations that people could count on to guide their ways across the seas. Their world was anything but tiny. They thought big and recounted their deeds in epic proportions (Appendix 1, p. 7).

And the Synopsis voices a rejoinder to Hau’ofa’s statement under “Sacred Space-Times”: “Sacred elements in traveling and mapping, missionary routes and their rationale, conversions, new religions and the blurring of traditional religious mappings…”

The tack we have taken in CHEO (Cultural Hypermedia Encyclopedia of Oceania) to represent Oceania rests on the fact that there are major thoughts underlying language and actually structuring the ways their speakers use it, i.e., semantic syntaxes. As a dynamic substratum to different yet interconnected linguistic families such thoughts constitute a thesaurus of collective representations, i.e., ideas and feelings that shape worldviews, and that give people the conviction that they belong together. Some such major themes are universal and cut across linguistic families, others are culture-specific within linguistic families. According to the French semiotician and computer scientist François Rastier (1991, 1992) there are some 350 such major ideas - fundamental “keywords” - in Western societies : God, man, woman, sex, work, money, etc. Of course many other societies share all or some of those basic vectors of thoughts, feelings and behavior. Yet each society maintains identity vectors that enable its members to stand up and let other people know who they are. Here we fully endorse Fr Benoit Vermander’s (2005: 8) statement to the effect that

Though identities are mobile and changeable, they are still discrete entities, and the solutions to our common challenges will remain localized and different in substance. However, throughout the interpretative process these particular solutions will considerably vary from the ones suggested by the traditional understanding of one’s culture and identity, and the array of solutions devised form [sic] one’s culture or group to another will then be legitimately understood as a correlated set of attitudes, choices and decisions.

The “correlated sets of attitudes, choices and decisions”, networks of basic thoughts and feelings - “ontologies” in contemporary terminology -, depend on heavily loaded and deeply engrained culture-specific cognitive processes generating the fundamental “ideas” that structure ideologies. Expressed in cultural keywords as it were they “grip our guts”, Oceanians tell us. And such correlated sets form the ballast of societies, act as gyroscopes that maintain them on course in spite of difficult times that challenge their deep identities and ways of life. As both identities and ways of life must be reshaped without losing their groundings especially in times of crisis, we call those heavy and dynamic keywords “attractors” as I will explain below (Part 3). And, again in Fr Vermander’s words (p. 8),

In this perspective, all cultures, creeds and world-views are perpetually reshaped, and what defines them is never taken for granted but rather is being discovered and challenged throughout the process of exchange and interpretation. Thus, the core of our identity is never “behind” us, it is always “beyond”, it cannot be “essentialized”, it is rather “related to” the Other whose identity is similarly challenged and reshaped. At the same time, this ever-evolving reshaping of one’s culture, creeds and world-views does not lead to a confusion or a mix, it does define and sometimes sharpen one’s sense of belonging and core values (emphasis supplied).

Stimulated by the thought-provoking paradoxes of the title of this conference - powerful mental instruments to map and remap worldviews - are we now ready to take up rethinking and redefining the Pacific islands as Oceania? Perhaps we can try by moving beyond language, beyond native idioms and lingua franca, viz., to reach a level of collective representations that would remap and reshape Oceania. Is there a shared ontology that would “not lead to a confusion or a mix” but “sharpen one’s sense of belonging and core values”? Before showing CHEO’s approach to explore it I will briefly recall the importance of Taiwan as regards that endeavor.

 

 

 

 

 


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