Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: asia pacific
Monday, 13 October 2014 00:00

Trans Pacific Partnership – Risk or Opportunity?


Enrico Cau is an Italian-born Master Candidate at the Graduate Institute of Strategic Studies (GIASS) and a Fellow Researcher at the Center for Advanced Technology (CAT) of Tamkang University. He has a long experience in the areas of translating, interpreting and international affairs, with a specific focus on Asia Pacific issues. Below is his tentative paper on the Trans Pacific Partnership.


Friday, 30 August 2013 10:19

Uniting the Sea of Islands

Epeli Hao'Ofa, the most significant Pacific scholar of his age, wrote a momentous paper Rediscovering our sea of islands, in which he laid out an indigenous vision of the Pacific, one in which the people were united by their "sea of islands" rather than constrained by the seas, the passport system implemented by the colonial powers and acquired linguistic differences. I experienced these words in all their emotional and symbolic power during the six weeks that my newly discovered siblings, Fijian Ledua Setaraki (Seta) and ethnic Samoan New Zealander Tupe Lualua, spent in Taiwan, where they had been invited to engage in exchange with Taiwanese aborigines to explore with one another their common Austronesian heritage through the mediums of dance and navigation, both revived traditional forms of indigenous wisdom which they had employed to re-engage with the contemporary world. Indeed, Seta had been a part of a navigation team which had put into practice 'uniting the sea of islands' by sailing the breadth of the Pacific using the traditional navigational methods of their forefathers.

Pacific scholar Vilsoni Hereniko once told me in this 2010 interview that the important point was that indigenous communities were empowered with 'cultural autonomy' rather than them to be perceived as 'culturally authentic'. From then on I always maintained some doubts when participating in or researching cultural projects commissioned by the government that are inevitably imbued with a self-congratulatory character and language and often have a superficial focus on supposedly authentic regalia, song and dance that seem detached from the real everyday lives and struggles of the participants, who are nonetheless often obliging due to the pride that cultural recognition furnishes them with and the jobs provided by the indigenous cultural revival industry. I often find these projects like to blow their own trumpets in terms of the diversity that they supposedly foster and their focus on praising Taiwan as the source of migration to the Pacific, a claim that is underlain with domestic political and geopolitical functions. I had heard too often indigenous peoples adopting and internalising the Han Chinese trope of the "indigenous person with the great sense of humor", or what one could term a "stage aborigine", commonly found in different media representations of the indigenous community. The tendency to focus on rediscovery of lost cultural traditions I feel often clouds contemporary social justice issues between the ethnicities in Taiwan and within the individual tribal groups. For example no cultural exchange group has ever received government funding to come and see the urban indigenous communities such as the Sanying tribal village or the Sao'wac Amis who suffered the full violence of the state machinery with the demolition of their riverside communities.

Another doubt I have harboured relates to the ethnic and racial historical burden. Although I generally try not to think in racial terms, having experienced being marked as a clear and obvious racial group, in a relatively racially homogenous island, being viewed sometimes in both an unfairly positive and unfairly negative light, in the context of this trip, I couldn't help having a discomforting nagging feeling that led me to question my very role in this trip. What was I, an English national, the very same English who had once been colonial masters and profiteers over both the Fijian and Samoan peoples, doing assisting in this project, translating between one colonially-received (or acquired?) language to another colonially-received (or acquired?) language forced on the local indigenous populations during their centuries of Han Chinese domination and marginalisation, for a project which was commissioned by the same ROC government (albeit from the Council of Indigenous Peoples) and being implemented by the Ricci Institute in which the main organizers were Han Chinese? Was this empowerment? 

Primarily serving as a translator and guide for the visiting Pacific guests, our entourage spent much of our time dining, drinking, singing, dancing, swimming, capsizing, crashing and generally living together as a swiftly improvised family and support network. In the host of parties and welcomings we were jovial partners in celebration. On a personal level, Seta shared with me some of his local knowledge, helping to reignite a passion for re-immersing myself in nature and all the daily survival struggles in the age of pre-convenience, as he taught me how to make my first sling spear, to ferment coconut and pineapple based alcohol which bared an uncanny resemblance in taste to indigenous Taiwan's infamous millet wines and finally to prepare and serve Kava, a tree root based powder mix, in the traditional way they drink the mix in his native island of Fiji. "Ta-kii" Seta called, and he clapped twice before I handed him the coconut half-shell cup, which he drank and clapped once more before handing the cup back to be passed on to the next person. And in that moment I felt a tingle of belonging and my own status doubts were somewhat resolved, as I realised that to live together in a globalized world, we are filled with both a need for universal fraternity in the goals of peace, love, unity and respect, and also a sense of belonging in a community of familial love and understanding.

Indeed on the trip certain doubts were assuaged, especially after seeing the reaction of the children in the schools where Tupe's energetic and inclusive singing and dancing, such as the mosquito swatting dance, brought smiles to the faces of all the school children and the tales and video footage of Seta's two year boating trip left the children staring in awe, filling the kids with a sense of adventure and a sense of their own potential to achieve their dreams. THIS was empowerment. That some of Tupe's works bring up contemporary social issues was also enlightening, and people did question to what extent Tupe's dances were similar to the dances of old, to what extent had they overturned the thorough religious, linguistic, cultural and artistic colonization and to what extent their revival had a positive effect on society. Furthermore Seta's talks and demonstrations always contained a strong environmental message, "my grandpa used to say, every second breath that you take in comes from the ocean", he went on to build awareness of the state of the ocean, with his gripping tale of his experience saving a huge sea turtle that had been dying, stranded on the masses of plastic waste irresponsibly left there from humanity's excesses. These children of Formosa, and Orchid Island, I believe will never forget that the stewardship of the oceans is one of their great missions and perhaps a generation later they will be the ones leading the fight to clean the Pacific.

I still had some doubts, however. For example, while Tupe often mentioned how some of her dance works could also function as a critical art medium to express social problems in marginalised communities, in general it seemed to draw little attention from the audience, with still too much attention on selling an 'authentic look' to improve their economic benefits. Furthermore as expected the group did not visit the controversial settlements mentioned above, and barring the unavoidable exposure to Orchid Island's nuclear waste dump, these politically sensitive aspects still tended to be glossed over in the sea of dance and cultural display. I would hope that in addition to cultural renaissance, future projects could also put more emphasis on ocean wide Austronesian land rights and community inequalities. The Pacific, must be 'united as a sea of islands' facing a common set of environmental and social struggles.

nick seta zijie


Tuesday, 27 August 2013 16:13

Dance from Samoa to Taiwan

On June 8th, the Pacific workshop organized by the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies brought Saloan dancer Tupe Lualua and Seta Ledua to Hualien County on Taiwan East Coast where they met with the renowned Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe (原舞者). This video records Tupe's interaction with three members of the Troupe, including a section in which they teach each other dance moves.


Friday, 26 April 2013 12:46

A Vibrant Culture with an Ugly Facade: Honiara and the Pacific Art Festival

Let me admit it: Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, situated on the Guadalcanal Island, does not strike the visitor with awe. Cavernous Chinese shops filled with all kinds of goods, administrative buildings and houses in concrete scattered around the roads that run parallel to the coastline, commercials for "Solomon Telekom" and the "SolBrew" beer, the two brands that seem to monopolize the advertising expenditures of the country... nothing that really draws the attention. On the hills, a monument adorned with granite plaques recalls the naval battles that ravaged the island during WWII. Modest but numerous Adventist, Catholic and Protestant churches are landmarks all along the way. In the haven and on the beaches, carcasses of warships still lay down, giant ghostly presences. But there is also a kind of softness in the atmosphere, a mixture of gentleness and restraint in people's conduct that, from the start, intrigues and seduces the newcomer.

In Honiara, a wide field has been surrounded by high fences in preparation for the festival, and is divided into two villages – traditional houses hosting on the one side the different provinces and cultural groups from SI, on the other the delegations from abroad, among them the Taiwanese one. A vast public, mainly local, attends the dance and music performances, looks at the handicrafts for show or for sale, marvels at the similarities and differences of languages and customs witnessed from one island to another.

I am usually a bit dreary of festivals and other public events, but this time I find myself thoroughly enjoying the show. I especially like to stay in the SI village, with the huts under the shadow of the giant trees, and to watch the performances offered by tribal groups from the mountains and the coast. The dancers from Isabel Island are my favorites.festivalIsabel05-copyONLINE

Contacts are easy and relaxed. Dancing, panpipes and drums, tattoos, weapons, canoes... I enjoy myself like a child, far away from the megacity of Shanghai where I usually live. Near the main venue of the festival, the little village of Doma, right on the seashore, offers performances from the various tribes living in Guadalcanal Island. Children play on the sand, the music of the drums and that of the waves join into one. The Pacific starts to operate its magic.

Not far away, within walking distance of the fishing village of Lilisiana, the festival gathers local people between the seashore and a lake. The setting is modest, but groups are coming from far away villages, some of them from the mountain bush, and other from the coast. Mathilde, a woman form the Lau tribe, tells me that she takes care alone of a plot of land, where she cultivates cabbage. Her English is quite good: she has worked for five years for a Catholic NGO, she tells me, and in 1997 she even went to the World Youth Day in Paris. She directs the dancers' troop of her village, and performs with much gusto and sense of humor.

Photos by B.V.

The following video is an interview and a performance by Arasuka'aniwara, a panpipe collective from the Solomon Islands:

This video is currently not available for readers in Mainland China.

 


Friday, 12 April 2013 00:00

A School in the Solomon Islands

During the summer of 2012, while filming for the documentary Writings that Weave Waves, I had the chance to spend ten nights at the St Joseph Tenaru school dormitory. The St Joseph Tenaru Secondary School is located in the outskirts of Honiara, on farm land, and is managed by Marist brothers mostly coming from Papua New Guinea. The school now boasts 425 students majoritarily between 13 and 17 years old. At the eve of the start of school, we interviewed the then principal, Brother John Tukana who told us about the educational and cultural challenges he encountered during his three years spent at St Joseph. 


Wednesday, 30 January 2013 14:45

Summary of Session III: Images as Waves- Watching, Thinking and Acting

Summary of Session III: Images as Waves- Watching, Thinking and Acting

Session III: Images as Waves - Watching, Thinking and Acting, provided a visual aspect to the conference by focusing on the works of three local documentary filmmakers and their use of visual media to explore various indigenous issues. The three documentary makers provided an introduction to their work as well as showing small excerpts from their documentaries.

The first documentary maker was Lungnan Isak Fangas, an experienced documentary director from the Amis tribe. His documentaries focus on his interest in indigenous identity and belonging. He introduced three of his documentaries; the first of these was filmed in 1999, and is footage of an indigenous speaking competition at his university. It documented enthusiastic young students with either indigenous roots or just with an interest in learning the traditional tongues of Taiwan. Although the film is not very polished, it makes for a good and engaging introduction to the subject. Fangas' second documentary saw him following the journey of an indigenous Taiwanese band called 'Totem' performing in a bar in a city. The footage shows the band arriving in the city by night, then performing in a crowded room to a receptive crowd. Fangas reflects that the song being sung is called 'I was singing over there', and due to its meaning concerning coming home, every human being, indigenous or not, can relate to this feeling. The footage again is simply edited but this works well with the topic, the grassroots journey of the band. Lastly, Fangas ends with footage from his most recent exploration of indigeneity which sees the camera turn on himself and his own journey of identity. The content of this footage, along with that from the previous two documentaries, was simple and easy to follow. It light-heartedly documented his pursuit to become a member of the Amis tribe, showing his amateur attempts to learn the specific cultural practices and dances of the tribe. His desire to connect with the Amis culture despite having apparent but untraceable indigenous Taiwanese roots, stems from what he calls "feeling like a tourist, in terms of identity". Overall, Fangas' documentaries, despite doing nothing more than casually observing an event each time, sensitively present his desire to explore notions of indigenous identity in an easy to understand manner.

The second documentary maker introduced was Si Yabosokanen. She comes from Orchid Island, a small island off the East coast of Taiwan that's traditional culture and way of life has been better preserved than in other areas due to its isolation, yet still strongly and uniquely affected by an influx of contemporary society and culture nonetheless. It is this combination of traditional methods and more contemporary methods that has inspired the focus and issues that Yabosokanen aims to introduce and help tackle through her documentaries. Yabosokanen adds her skills as a nurse to her filmmaking ability in order to address the serious lack of care of elderly people on Orchid Island. Yabosokanen explained in detail the cultural factors for the origin of this problem, including a cultural stigma of sickness, younger generations' having to leave the island to find work and thus being less able to care for their elders, and traditional housing being replaced by a more modern style which affects the place for the elderly within their physical home structure. Her documentary showed nurses addressing the dire needs of some elderly residents who are extremely emaciated and unclean. Seeing these images is striking as it is hard to imagine how these elderly people could be left to survive in this state. Yabosokanen's topic is shocking as much as it is very interesting, as cultural and social undercurrents are at play, affecting the general wellbeing of people. It is no wonder that, when shown in Taipei, her documentary created an emotive response, with members of the public giving donations of money and their time to help her cause. Overall Yabosokanen's documentary endeavors and her story are inspiring, and truly embody the power of the documentary to introduce and help address complex issues such as this on Orchard Island.

The last documentary maker introduced was Cerise Phiv, the managing editor of eRenlai. Ending with her documentary was fitting since her focus was broader and more encompassing, concerning the place of indigenous Taiwanese within the Pacific region. Phiv explained the causes and events for her arrival at this topic of exploration, then provided footage from her documentary: Writings that Weave Waves, which was shown in full later in the conference.
Firstly, through her time at the Ricci institute, with which eRenlai is associated, and by participating in one of their documentaries following a young Amis woman, Phiv was introduced to issues of indigenous Taiwanese culture and the craft of documentary making. Secondly, also through the Ricci institute, Phiv attended a trip to Canada with fourteen young indigenous Taiwanese, filming their trip and interactions with indigenous Canadian culture. Thus,
Writings that Weave Waves, was a culmination of the notion of indigenous identity in its own cultural context, and also within a regional Pacific context. These two contexts considered together are interesting, as they are concerned with the scope of perspective and belonging. Phiv explained that despite being Taiwanese and therefore living on an island surrounded by ocean, certain tribes do not associate themselves with it. Therefore, although in a broad sense, there is the perspective that Taiwan is part of the Pacific, from a more refined perspective, an affinity to ones local tribal environment becomes evident. Alongside this thought, the footage from the documentary itself left the viewer with a desire to see more, as the editing and the ambition to attempt to place Taiwan within the greater Pacific diaspora were both well presented and clearly evident. To conclude her presentation, Phiv herself aptly stated that the images should be best left to talk for themselves.

This section of the conference affirmed the idea that images truly have a unique ability to convey messages and explore complex issues. These three documentary makers have all taken different approaches and styles to their documentary making, yet all achieve their overall goal: to explore issues and enlighten viewers. Without this section, the conference would have lacked a greater sense of perspective of the issue. Furthermore, seeing footage from the documentaries prevented conceptual ideas and notions from stealing away the conference's purpose, as seeing real people, places and issues at hand helped keep the conference grounded and down to earth.

 


Wednesday, 30 January 2013 14:30

The Immanence of Culture: An Interview with Prof. Jon Tikivanotau Jonassen

In this interview, Cook Islands cultural specialist/drummer prof. Jon Tikivanotau Jonassen shares with us a variety of topics on the different Pacific Asia cultures in terms of indigenous music and language. He starts from a very special story about his own name, signaling us to the hidden force of traditional culture in our modern era, and ends the interview with solemn advice to the indigenous people on how to gain autonomy in a globalizing world...


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.


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