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Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: pacific
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, 09 January 2013 15:28

The Width and Depth of the Ocean within Me: In Memory of Yves Raguin

In 2012, we celebrated the centenary of the birth of Father Yves Raguin, founder of the Taipei Ricci Institute. Born in November 1912, Father Raguin died in December 1998 at Tien Educational Center in Taipei. After having studied theology in Paris and Sinology at Harvard, Yves Raguin lived in China, Vietnam, The Philippines and, for most of his career, Taiwan. He was a prolific author, mainly but not solely on comparative spirituality, and also a lexicographer who for many years directed the Ricci Dictionary project – the largest Chinese –foreign language dictionary in the world – and a beloved spiritual director.


The connection between his centenary anniversary and Pacific studies may seem an odd one, but there are several reasons for associating the Pacific with Fr Raguin's life and spirituality. First, there is the creation of the Taipei Ricci Institute in 1964-1966: Fr Raguin made the Institute a place of encounter, research and creativity till he left its direction in 1996 – and it is because of fidelity to his inspiration that the Institute later on shifted its focus towards Pacific studies. Second, Fr Raguin himself was no stranger to the Pacific world. Not only did his long stays in Vietnam and Taiwan make him a man of the Asia Pacific, but he also directed spiritual retreats and gave courses in The Philippines, Canada or Papua New Guinea among other places.


The main connection between the celebration of his birth and Pacific studies is that Yves Raguin focused all of his life on the quest for resonance and encounters between the different spiritual experiences that humankind has engaged in – and the spiritual style he slowly developed has oceanic undertones; pondering over his experiences may help us integrate the melodies and resonances we are gathering these days into the polyphony of world spirituality. I still remember Yves Raguin telling me one day, shortly before his death, how much he had always desired to see Chinese spiritual resources "fully integrated into humankind's spiritual computer." Yves Raguin used a typewriter all his life and never browsed the Internet. He had only a vague understanding of what a computer was like, but knew well enough the point relevant for his metaphor: a computer was a machine processing the data entered into it as an integrated whole, in which connections could be drawn in all directions.


Yves Raguin always placed the virtue of attentiveness at the core of any spiritual adventure. In "Contemplation East and West" he writes:


Contemplation is not a means of attention towards things beyond this world but rather an attention to things as they are. All things possess within themselves a mystery, and the more knowledge we have of these things, the more we realize the depth of the mystery within them. (...) If I practice what is called in Confucianism, investigation of things ge wu , I will be facing a mystery of things and I will be taken in by a kind of contemplation. It is the concrete awareness of the essential nature of things which puts me in silence before the mystery of this same nature. It is this essential nature of reality that science cannot grasp. This deep inner attitude described by the two terms serenity and a quiet being together with all things, has always been what wise women and men have been searching for in all parts of the world."

Elsewhere he notes:

Prayer is nothing but a simple awareness that in the beginning can be very painful. (The soul) feels cutoff from her normal activity and so, from herself. This barely perceptible presence forces the soul into deep solitude. She has no felt support outside this presence that draws her attention.

It seems to me that the primal role given to the "attention to the mystery of things' in spiritual development is what anchors Yves Raguin's spirituality within a multifaceted tradition open to what the writer Romain Rolland, in his correspondence with Sigmund Freud, called the "Oceanic feeling." Through this expression he was trying to encapsulate a feeling of infinity that palpitates beyond all structured religious belief. Nowadays, Rolland's "Oceanic feeling" has become no more than a footnote in the history of religious psychology. Freud was not very appreciative: "How foreign to me are the worlds in which you move! Mystique is as closed to me as music" he wrote to Rolland – who replied," I can hardly believe that mysticism and music are foreign to you. I rather think that you are afraid of them, as you wish to keep the instrument of critical reason unblemished."

Going one step beyond Rolland, one may say that, for the one who through attentiveness enters into the mystery of things as they are, the presence of the ultimate mystery in the soul is like the triumphant sound of the waves - and this "like" means two things at once: first, it speaks of the universal character of spiritual experience; and secondly, it recognizes the fact that no comparison can account for the way this mystery makes itself present within the depths of man. What the Oceanic feeling helps us understand is that joy arises in our soul always as something nascent. The joy that comes from the light of the day within the darkness of our depths is sung and evoked by the movement of an ocean everlasting and yet nascent, by the rhythm of the waves engraving and erasing their writings on the sand with a finger trembling and yet assured. Eventually, the Oceanic feeling makes us glimpse at the mystery of the birth of the divine within the soul: a gift eternally offered – and always new.

As an example of Yves coming into contact with this "oceanic experience", let us look at this passage from his spiritual diary in February 1979:

My internal being was enlightened, and an intimate touch of softness was entering into me. It was like a tenderness that was invading and attracting me, but without uprooting me from my humaneness. On the contrary, it was like the constant realization within me of a new incarnation. (...) Departing from Paris on January 5, I have given retreats in Thailand and in Papua New Guinea. I am now in the Philippines and in a few weeks I will be again in Taiwan. I can only say 'thanks" for all the love shown to me by the Lord during this trip around the world started in June. Everything has become very simple. This love of the Lord asks simply from me to be myself so as to let him be himself within me.

The deceiving simplicity of this paragraph should not hide the depth of meaning it opens: a given spiritual tradition – here, the western mystical tradition, with undertones coming from St Bernard, Meister Eckardt and St Ignatius - becomes somehow "globalized' by an operation of "rarefaction" or "distillation" that connects it not only to so-called Eastern spiritualities but to spiritual experiences as lived in many tongues, many customs and many settings. The experience here related is about the realization of what one is really called to be, in one's given tradition and calling, so as to let one's particularity become the creative humus in which other people will learn to similarly recognize what they are themselves called to be. Universality is not an "essence", but rather a process, awakened by the creative fidelity to what I come from and to what I am called to be. The ocean on which Yves Raguin tirelessly traveled was certainly that of the infinity of god – emptiness and plenitude – dwelling within our limited self; it was at the same time the ocean of the astounding variety of our human spiritual experiences, scattered like islands among the Sea of Unknowing. In his view, these two immensities were revealed and illuminated by one another. His writings and his example still encourage us to explore both the width and the depth of the Ocean that gave us birth and carries us beyond even our dreams.

Excerpt of a speech pronounced during the 2012 International Austronesian Conference in Taipei, November 27th


Tuesday, 08 January 2013 17:36

Taiwan's Pacific: Educational Links and Sustainable Fisheries

Professor Paul D'Arcy talks about the role for Taiwan in the Pacific - particularly the leading role it has taken in listening to the Pacific in the last few years, (with respect to the ban on the practice of finning sharks amongst other initiatives). He goes  on to outline areas in which Taiwan could continue to show leadership in the region, especially in regard to education and sustainable fishing:


Tuesday, 08 January 2013 17:09

Artificial Island Structures: The Future of the Pacific?

Fabrizio Bozzato discusses the consequences of rising sea level for Pacific island nations and suggests a possible solution for them: artificial islands. 


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, 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

 


Friday, 26 October 2012 00:00

This little boat that belongs to you and us

This issue of Renlai includes the second focus of a series of three dedicated to Taiwan and the Pacific. The October issue gave a voice to young Taiwanese scholars working on different islands, while the December issue will gather the best contributions from the Pacific conference that the Taipei Ricci Institute and Renlai organized this month in association with the Taiwan Association of Pacific Studies.

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.

 

Friday, 19 October 2012 20:01

Writings that Weave Waves: East Formosans and the Pacific

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East Formosa has been the departure point of the great migration that, six thousand years ago, shaped the present Austronesian world. And it is now home to the majority of Taiwan’s aboriginal population, some of them living in the plains and on the shore of Eastern Taiwan, and some in the mountains. The geography of Taiwan explains in part the diversity of its traditions and of its relationship with the Pacific world: In the central regions of Taiwan, the Mountain Range stretches from North to South with more than one hundred peaks rising over three thousand meters.  Further east, the smaller Coastal Mountain Range divides the remaining land into two parts, one located between the two mountain ranges, and the other directly facing the Pacific Ocean.

This documentary shows how aborigines in Taiwan, especially the younger generation, express and live their identity, while linking their narrative to the world of Oceania, which their ancestors contributed to develop, and where aboriginal people nowadays struggle to express their cultural, social, political and spiritual self-perception. In short, it is about the flow and exchange of experiences and stories (the ever-changing narrative weaved by the waves of the Ocean) that enrich and mix into one our local and global identities.  The Oceanic continent both separates and gathers together the people who inhabit it.

For the Pacific Ocean is not only a physical entity but a “storied” space as well: its immensity and the experience of crossing it have inspired in-depth stories, myths, poems, music and epics; its borders and islands have witnessed the rise and fall of cultural and spiritual traditions breaking along its shore, wave after wave.

Taiwan is a point of departure, a meeting point, and a destination for the stories weaved by the waves. This documentary aims at nurturing in Taiwan’s youth, especially in its indigenous youth, a sense of belonging within the Pacific world, while encouraging their creativity, their appreciation of the variety of the cultural resources offered by other Austronesian people, and its perception of the “resonance” that related stories, music and art forms inspire throughout this oceanic interchange.

Thus the filming of this documentary really started in Vancouver Island, Canada where some of our protagonists met with First Nations during a cultural exchange where both groups performed their traditional dances and songs. Then we get a glimpse of the way aboriginal traditions are preserved and transmitted in villages on the eastern coast of Taiwan and we travel through the Melanesian and Polynesian world with scenes and stories filmed during the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, held in Honiara, Solomon Islands, this year.

Director: Cerise Phiv 
Co-director:  Benoit Vermander
Image: Cerise Phiv, Amandine Dubois, Yubax Hayung, Wilang Watah, Takun Neka
Editing: Cerise Phiv,Amandine Dubois

Languages: Chinese, English, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Chinese

Watch the trailer here

Readers in China can watch it here


The Premiere will take place at the National Central Library in Taipei on Tuesday November 27th at 5pm as part of the International Conference organized by the Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies. You can join the facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/129160723900797/

Or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. directly!

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Wednesday, 03 October 2012 16:30

Panay Raranges: Tourism and Authenticity

My hometown is the Mulating tribal village in Fuli, Hualian, I belong to the Amis tribe and my name in the tribal language is Panay. I’m part of an aboriginal university society in which I’ve participated in a lot of debates with my other classmates concerning issues affecting aboriginal peoples, but mostly this is limited to discussion of Taiwan, it’s rare that we discuss foreign indigenous affairs. When I heard of this opportunity to go to Fiji as part of an international exchange program, I knew it was a rare opportunity that I didn’t want to miss out on. From another perspective, as Taiwanese aborigines and Fijians are both Austronesian, in the process of researching in preparation for the trip, I discovered a lot of striking similarities between the two, these similarities were the elements that I was most eager to explore throughout the course of the trip. Our team held countless discussions both in the selection process and in the days before we departed for Fiji, in the hope that we would learn a lot through this once in a lifetime experience, and be able to share this learning experience with other team members as well as our own tribes. The ten day trip was divided into three main parts: visiting indigenous villages, educational institutions and government departments. As everyone in the team had a different specialty, we were able to get different things out of the experience, and we would share these experiences at the end of each day, and more importantly, we were acutely aware that we were not just a group of exchange students, but that we were also representing Taiwanese aborigines, and each member of the group had a different aboriginal background and experience. With each scheduled visit, we would try to use our hearts to interpret all that we saw and heard, and relate it to our own experiences growing up, this is another important tenet of international exchange.

 

Navala and Koromakawa had a very touristic feel to them, both in their sevusevu welcoming ceremony and in their village tours, you felt that the whole thing was as a result of accumulated and experience, somewhat rehearsed.

Readers in Mainland China can watch it here

On the other hand, however, I discovered a lot about the background of the development of tourism in those villages, and how they struggled to preserve traditional culture at the same time. In Navala for example, all the buildings were traditional “bures”, not as a result of government grants or encouragement, but rather because the village residents took the initiative to preserve this tradition. The ceiling of the meeting house in Koromakawa village was covered in all sorts of totems, these were painted by the women of the village bit by bit standing on ladders. It’s possible that the conservation of traditional culture was an attempt to attract tourists, but even if the motives are suspect, the traditional culture is still being preserved, and it plays a very important role in the everyday life of the villagers. In Koromakawa we asked the spokesperson (the person who spoke for the chief) if they were concerned that the development of the tourism would contribute to the loss of traditional culture, he answered that they were; he told us that because of modern developments, that they had suffered cultural leakage, some ways in which the villagers lived their lives had long changed from the way they lived before, the young people leave the village to work elsewhere, there they came in contact with very modern things, and became accustomed to a new way of life. From the example of Koromakawa, I was able to observe that bringing the tourism industry into the village brought another advantage: that young people were gradually returning to the village to help in the development of tourism there.

The University of the South Pacific is one of the most important universities in the Pacific region, concentrating talented young people from all the different islands in one place. Several professors from the region made time in their busy schedules to hold a forum with us, sharing with us their research and their own experiences. What made the deepest impression on me was the response that we got after our dance performance, and the opportunity afforded us to attend Professor Morgan Tuimalealiifano’s class, and get to know his students who came from a wide variety of backgrounds. I was really moved when we got a rare opportunity to share the similarities between our languages, it was as if a family that had been separated by circumstance had been reconciled. Perhaps our life experiences were very different, but the links between us could be felt in a multitude of little similarities. I felt that the way Professor Tuimalealiifano brought the backgrounds and experiences of the students and the teacher into the discussion was different from the usual model of the teacher just feeding the students a string of impersonal professional knowledge, which really resonated with me and provided a lot of food for thought. When Professor Tumalealiifano was sharing his thoughts about Fijian identity he got quite emotional at times, which just went to show how much of himself he invested in each class, and led me to the discovery that the classroom can be quite an emotional place.

In the course of this trip, I was charged with observing of the legal and political system, in an attempt to understand what channels of communication there were between the government and the villages, how ideas were exchanged between them, and how the implementation of policy concerning indigenous people could effectively incorporate the opinions of the villages, enabling the compatibility of government activities and the expectations and demands of the indigenous people. What struck me most was the extent to which Fiji’s chiefly system was still so intact. This traditional leadership structure of the villages was developed by the British colonists and became the structure of governance for Fiji. The British even set up the Great Council of Chiefs, with the aim of more effectively governing the colony, although it later became an important safeguard ensuring the rights and protecting the interests of indigenous people. Each chief is like an elder of the village, dealing with everything within the village, and collecting together opinions from villagers; he acts as a spokesperson to the outside world for the village, the decisions he makes are a result of consensus amongst the entire village, encouraging close relationships between villagers, and good communication between a chief and his villagers. This interactive model functions within the Fijian government structure in the way the Great Council of Chiefs incorporates the opinions of all the villages represented by each of the chiefs who form its ranks, and through discussion and cooperation work towards a consensus, to influence government policy, and oversee the implementation of policy, creating closer links between the government and the villages, as well as clear channels of communication between the two. The application of the traditional chiefly system into the modern system is an accumulation of long-term experience, even though there have been several political upheavals in Fiji in recent years, the importance of the chiefs in the politics of Fiji cannot be overlooked, which left us with the impression that traditional knowledge and the modern system were not necessarily in conflict. With enough communication and discussion, the two can integrate with one another. Perhaps Taiwan’s situation is a little more complicated, but this makes a good reference point for us. We discovered that the sense of autonomy and initiative among the villages was very strong, although many young people leave the villages to work, you could still feel the presence of traditional culture in the villages was being preserved. Some of the mountain villages had preserved the traditional architectural style, elders and youths in the village took the initiative to teach the traditional building skills to the children in their spare time, hoping to pass on these skills to future generations.

The coastal villages continue to fish using traditional canoes, not only making use of traditional wisdom, but also preserving a sustainable balance in the ecology. The cultural similarities, are essentially that they are both engaged in a Fijian way of life, traditional culture is inseparable from their daily lives, which preserves it, and this again is a very good example for us to reference. To have just such an opportunity to get to know Fiji is, without doubt an invaluable experience, and we were burdened with an important mission, we were most likely a group of young people amongst Taiwanese aborigines who most understood Fiji, and we have a duty to maintain this important link between Taiwan and Fiji, and to share the things we had learned in Fiji with our tribes, this latter is one of the most important objectives for our group. We both belong to the Austronesian ethnic group, we were very excited about discovering the common features between us, using this to try improve our relationship, although the vast Pacific lies between us, but it is this very stretch of ocean that is what connects us, the ocean is not an obstacle, but rather it is a connecting bridge, connecting our languages, culture and even our history.

I haven’t lived in Hualian since I was a little girl, I was brought up in the city and received a modern style education, and was always in search of an identity of my own, but I had forgotten to turn my gaze to the world’s many aboriginal peoples who have never forgotten their own roots, living on with all their efforts for their selves and for their tribe, they told me that having heart is always important, going with one’s heart will always lead you to where you belong. This Pacific connection was not the end of the story, but rather it was an important beginning.

Translated from the chinese by Conor Stuart


Friday, 28 September 2012 11:56

Aboriginal Literature Inside Out

In this video, I discuss my views on Taiwanese aboriginal literature, my encounters with famous aboriginal writers Topas Tamapima and Monaneng, and the place indigenous literature occupies in the Pacific and the world.

From an academic point of view, many aspects of Taiwan have already been studied all around the world. Aboriginal issues are really suffering from a severe lack of recognition in Western countries, even if some other specialists like Scott Simon are emerging, they depart only from an anthropological and political starting point. I’m probably one of the very few western researchers who work in this field through written literature, and I think it really represents a great value for our knowledge of this field. It’s also a way to ensure that all the work which have been already been put in by researchers like Elizabeth Zeitoun, Josiane Cauquelin or Véronique Arnaud will be continued.
 

Readers in Mainland China can watch it on youku here

Written version of the interview

Can you tell us about your academic background?

So, between 1999 and 2005, I read Chinese Studies at the University of Provence in France and I lived in Taiwan for two years, between 2001 and 2003. Then I did a Masters degree for which I wrote a dissertation about the contemporary written literature of Taiwanese Aborigines. In 2010, I decided to continue my research in this field by starting a PHD thesis in the same university, under the direction of Noël Dutrait who has supervised me since the beginning of my studies.

What was the subject of your Masters dissertation?

Despite the fact that there were already some indigenous writers like Gao Yisheng or BaLiwakes, who were mainly songwriters under the Japanese colonization, a true indigenous written literature in Mandarin had started to appear around the lifting of the martial law at the end of the 80’s. In 2003, an anthology devoted to indigenous writing was published. It brought together the most representative indigenous writers of Taiwan and their work, consisting of 7 volumes which were structured around the three major literary genres that are novels, poems and essays. These texts often took the form of original fiction, traditional myths and legends or a mixture of the two. The dissertation I wrote for my Master degree was a work of synthesis about all these writers and their texts. I also translated four novels written by Topas Tamapima, the first indigenous writer of the post martial law generation. I interviewed him for the first time at the end of 2003 in his dispensary in the county of Taitung. At this time, I also met Sun Dachuan, the current minister of Aboriginal Affairs, who helped me a lot.

What are you going to discuss in more detail in your PHD thesis?

A lot of research has already been done in this field in Taiwan. But there is almost nothing in western countries, except a few works in English by scholars like Terence Russel, Darryl Sterk and John Balcom. However, most of the works in English I’ve read are just translations and don’t really analyze the contents of indigenous literature.

By attending some conferences in Western countries about Taiwan, I realized that most of people were mainly interested in the substance of these texts. So I’ve decided to shed light on the viewpoint that was expressed by all these writers in their background and their texts. This is the first part of my dissertation which tries to summarize the background and the major texts of the 33 indigenous writers who are officially identified in Taiwan by the online data base of the Mountains and Seas Publication Society. By “viewpoint“ I mean the perception of the world around them. In the second part of my dissertation, I try to compare this viewpoint with the viewpoint that is expressed through the literary and sociological reception of this indigenous literature in Taiwan.

The final part of my thesis is an annotated translation in French of the last collection of short stories written by Topas Tamapima and which were published in 1998. Its name is Memories of a doctor on the Orchids Island and it retraces the experience of the author as a doctor on Orchids Island at the end of the 80’s. This translation helps to analyze the “viewpoint” of an indigenous writer throughout one of his works. We can see through this translation the mobility of the author’s viewpoint because in those short stories, Topas always seems to be caught between his professional status as a doctor, whose field is Chinese medicine, which was originally foreign to the indigenous people, and some collective reminiscences which constantly remind him as to the defense of all the Aborigines against Han society. So, the aim of my research is to see what arises from the meeting of this multiplicity of different viewpoints.

During your research, you met the two famous indigenous writers - Topas Tamapima and Monaneng. Can you tell us more about those meetings?

The first time I met Topas was at the end of 2003. At this time, I still was a Masters student and I was already writing a dissertation about the indigenous writers of Taiwan, which focused especially on the works of Topas Tamapima. The meeting was very fun and friendly; It was at his dispensary, Changpin, on the southeast coast of Taiwan in the county of Taitung. I asked him some questions about his background, his childhood, about some novels he wrote and which I had translated into French for my Masters degree dissertation. The second time I met him was in 2011, it was still at his dispensary. He didn’t remember our first meeting. It was a bit frustrating for me. I interviewed and filmed him for an hour. We had a deep discussion about everything, indigenous literature, what he thought about the current state of aborigines in Taiwanese society, his political viewpoint and his experience as a doctor on the Orchids Island amongst other things.

The meeting with Monaneng was a few weeks later in his massage room in Taipei. We talked about his background and his writing too. In front of my camera, he read one of his most famous poems. Its name is ‘When the bells start to ring’ and it talks about young indigenous women who become prostitutes. The meeting with him was really touching.

Is the Pacific represented in Topas and Monaneng's writings? How?

To me, the Pacific is absolutely not at the heart of their writings. Their writings were born around the lifting of the martial law and I think Topas and Monaneng were particularly concerned about the plight of the indigenous people. They mainly criticize the clash between indigenous cultures and modern civilization which was imported by the Han people. They don’t talk about the Pacific, maybe indirectly like in Memories of a doctor on Orchids Island in which Topas describes the ocean culture of the Tao and the sea which surrounds Orchid Island.

Do you think that TW aboriginal literature fits into the TW literature ? And into the idea of the common Pacific literature?

When the true indigenous literature in mandarin started to appear around the lifting of martial law, I mean with regular and homogeneous publications, not like the works of some indigenous writers like Lifok O’Teng or Kowan Tallal which were very underground, quite sporadic and isolated before the 80’s, at the beginning this true indigenous written literature was just another symptom of an identity and a cultural crisis among Taiwan Aborigines. I mean, although the idea of writing novels or poems as an indigenous writer was also promoted by some Han writers and intellectuals, the first indigenous texts in mandarin were just a global reaction to the critical situation of Taiwan Aborigines. But during the 90’s, it’s true that this literature began to be institutionalized with the creation of some specific literary prices which were also organized by the Council of Indigenous Affairs in Taiwan. From that moment on, this literature began to be indirectly instrumentalized by public authorities,for example, if you analyze the posters which promote these literary prices, you can realize that one of their goals is to increase the diversity of Taiwanese literature. So, at the beginning, indigenous literature didn’t belong to Taiwanese literature, but it has been progressively included in it as another aspect of the literature of the island.

It’s difficult to say if Taiwanese indigenous literature fits into the idea of a common Pacific literature. Of course, some writers like Syaman Rapongan describe the Pacific. But I think, I mean, as far as I have progressed in my research, I think that Taiwanese indigenous literature belongs more to a “world indigenous literature” rather than to a “Pacific literature”. You know, even if the contexts are very different, the content is very similar in the writing, for example, some Native American writers or some Australian indigenous writers also criticize colonization, the destruction of a modern civilization over their original culture, the destitution of their tribe, as well as some social problems they encounter like alcoholism or poverty. I mean, in my opinion, the common point is more social than geographical in what we call the “minorities literatures”.

What is the benefit of your research for the study of Taiwan?

From an academic point of view, many aspects of Taiwan have already been studied all around the world. The Aboriginal issues are really suffering a severe lack of attention in Western countries, even if some specialists like Scott Simon are emerging, he approaches his research from an anthropological and political perspective. I’m probably one of the few western researchers who works in this field through written literature, and I think it is of great value for our knowledge of those issues. It’s also a way to ensure that all the work which have already been done by French researchers like Elizabeth Zeitoun, Josiane Cauquelin or Véronique Arnaud will be continued…

 

 

 

 
 

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