Review: Writings that Weave Waves

by on Wednesday, 02 January 2013 Comments

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.

The documentary sets its exploration of indigenous Taiwanese identity in two distinct locations. The first half focuses on three young Taiwanese indigenous individuals, all from small towns in eastern Taiwan. The Taiwanese youths introduce the film crew to their tribal village and an older member of their community, who talks of and displays the traditional practice of weaving. In each case, it is the young person himself, rather than the film crew who leads the questioning of the elder in regard to their cultural traditions and practices. This gives the impression that the youths themselves share the perspective of the viewer as an outsider, in observing their own culture's practices. The documentary then briefly shows footage of a trip to Canada by a group of Taiwanese indigenous youth, there to observe and interact with indigenous Canadian cultural practices. Although no more culturally linked than indigenous Canadians and non-indigenous Canadians, indigenous Taiwanese and their Canadian counterparts evidently share common challenges in preserving and maintaining an indigenous cultural identity in today's world.

From Canada, the documentary moves to addressing Taiwanese indigenous identity in a more regional Pacific context, providing the second focus of the documentary. Specifically, the documentary follows the pilgrimage of a collection of Taiwanese indigenous youth performing for the first time at the revered Pacific Festival on the Arts, in Honiara, 2012. This reverence is well reflected in the footage as the documentary is truly colourful and brought to life through the images and sounds displaying Pacific Islander culture. The documentary specifically follows one of the three indigenous youths introduced at the beginning, Yubax, who attends the festival. The camera follows her interacting with and observing the Pacific Islanders and their culture; it is through her observations that the viewer begins to situate Taiwan within the Pacific. The notion of a legitimate Taiwanese 'place' in a Pacific world is not so much argued by the documentary, as simply presented organically within it, reflecting the documentary's fluid nature and further reflected by the fluid title of the documentary itself. In contrast with the interviews in Taiwan, the interviews with Pacific Islanders concerning their traditional practices, are more positively portrayed, through a more colourful and lively atmosphere. This creates a perception that indigenous Taiwanese should possibly look to the Pacific for a greater inspiration in the possibility of upholding their cultural ways.

At the end, the last day in Honiara, provides the documentary's overarching message through the words of the young Yubax who talks of her personal loss of identity and not knowing who she really is. This personal loss is evidently caused by factors greater than Yubax herself that she essentially cannot control. Thus for the future, Yubax states that she will not insist on sticking with traditions, yet she poignantly emphasises that you need to know the 'original story'. Writings that Weave Waves overall provides a colourful, sensitive and honest introduction into the way to navigate traditional identity in a modern world, from an indigenous Taiwanese and also a Pacific Islander perspective. It serves as a good introduction, from which one can then further investigate more specific dimensions of the subject.

Madeleine King

My name is Madeleine King, I am 21 and an undergraduate student studying at ANU in Canberra, Australia. I will soon be commencing my final year of my Bachelor of Asia-Pacific Studies degree, with Chinese language and Pacific Studies being my majors. Currently I am undertaking a 3 month scholarship in Taipei, studying Chinese at NCCU. It was since arriving in Taipei that I became involved with Erenlai. My key academic interests are of the Pacific region, the growing Chinese influence in the Pacific, as well as environmental and social issues in general. More generally, I like travelling, learning and experiencing new things. Being involved with Erenlai has allowed me to pursue both my academic and general interests, which is great!

我的名字是Madeleine King, 我的中文名字是麥荻。我是二十一歲。我,在堪培拉,在澳洲國立大學學習。我是一個本科生。明年是我最後的年關於我的學位。我的專業是中文和太平洋研究。現在在台北我做了一個獎學金了。我在政大學習。來台北得時候,我成為殘餘跟eRenlai. 我的學術興趣是太平洋研究,中國跟太平洋關係跟中國的越來越多影响,再說环境和社会的問題也有興趣。我本人,喜歡旅行,學習和新的經驗。因此,成為殘餘跟eRenlai是非常好因為我不但追求我學者的興趣而且我一般的興趣!

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