“On the fifth day the sea tide rose…”

BV_TafalongProject

What happens exactly from the first to the fourth day? The song does tell us the events that unfolded before the big tide’s rise, allowing Kariwasan to take Tiamacan away, but, still, the chronology starts with this disjunctive event – as if only the recollection of total chaos could help one to create some kind of order within time and space. At some point, you have to start counting, but you do know that the Primordial Tale cannot truly speak of the Origin of the origins, that there is always a first day before the first. So, why not starting with the fifth one?

In the same vein, it is hard to say how the Tafalong movie exactly took shape. For sure, there was an encounter between Nakao Eki and the Ricci Institute. Nakao has spent the year 2008 working on an oral history project sponsored by the Institute with the help of “WeShare” Foundation. At some point (but when exactly?), it appeared to me that Nakao’s narrative was the stuff of a great documentary, in a way that would complement and enrich her writings and drawings, telling the same and yet a very different story. Renlai monthly and erenlai.com, both published by the Ricci Institute, were also trying to improve their skills in movie making, and had asked Nicolas Priniotakis to guide them in filming and editing a full-fledged production. Tafalong village was chosen most naturally as the perfect setting for this endeavour. I stayed in Tafalong several times between March and July 2008, and witnessed Nakao struggling with a project that was reaching far deeper than a mere academic fieldwork would have done. At the end of July, Cerise, Nicolas, Nakao and I gathered in Tafalong, also filming in the adjacent Fata’an township and Sado hamlet. We were joined in this adventure by Ta-cheng (Nakao’s cousin), several of their relatives, and other members of the Ricci team.

But is it really the way it happened? The “origins” of the movie reach far deeper anyway, and the more we advanced into production, the farther we went into the past: Nakao had to find her way into her own memories. We were sometimes dealing with a place (two places actually, discovering the strategic importance of the hamlet of Sado, the stronghold of Nakao’s extended family), sometimes with a clan or a family, sometimes with recollections linked to personal burning events. At some points, we were having a glimpse on the rise of the giant tide, but we could sense that the surge of the ocean was happening “on the fifth day”, that the tide would have not risen if there was not the mysterious unfolding of events from the unknown first day till the fourth…

So, the Tafalong project is not about a person, a place or a clan. It is about all of these and yet about something different. It is about the way memories – memories shared by and divided among individuals, villages and families – are told, re-enacted, slowly digested or suddenly cried out at the face of the earth, memories that obscure and illuminate the present, and that bless or curse the future… From the start, without us actually knowing it, the project was about the tides that endlessly shape, erode and engulf our mental universe.

On the fifth day the sea tide rose…” : There are the giant tides of the hidden, remotest past, there are the tides that have shaped the history of Taiwan and the Amis people during the last four hundred years, there are the endless sea currents experienced in the course of the most eventful twentieth century, there are the tides that unite and divide families, there are also the tides (insignificant and yet sometimes devastating) surging in the soul of the one who relate anew to the people and the lineage she comes from… and in this movie, there is also, on the shore of the Pacific, a real tide, the tide that takes away a beloved one and thus reawakens memories of the floods that engulfed people’s life in time past…

Drawing by Nakao Eki

Know more about the documentary on www.erenlai.com/tafalong

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