Life and Vitality of
Indigenous Taiwan

The Taiwanese indigenous peoples were once the only people on the island. They share an interdependent relationship with nature and coexist harmoniously with other life forms. 6000 years of interacting with nature has laid the foundation of the indigenous peoples' animistic beliefs, outlook on life, land ethics, and social norms. The indigenous cultures of Taiwan have their roots in the native, rich, and unknown aspects of the physical and spiritual world. The traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of the indigenous peoples have been passed down through the myths and legends, names, ceremonies, songs and dances, and taboos of the various communities. For instance, for the Tao people who live on a small island in southeastern Taiwan, fish are divided into "rahed" fish and "oyod" fish, and there are taboos when it comes to eating them. We can also consider an example from the Bunun people living in the Central Mountain Range of Taiwan, who believe that their people were created from rocks or dung. However, 400 hundred years of ongoing colonization has impacted their way of life. The introduction of monetary currency, the homogenizing education system, hunting restriction laws, and property rights have caused the loss of traditions and fractures in the domain of traditional knowledge. At the same time, these changes are also continuously altering the relationship between human and nature. As crises such as forest fires, wars, and diaspora movements increasingly affect our day-to-day lives, making connections with others in the world has become one of the critical ways to salvage the future of mankind. Thus understanding community life styles of indigenous peoples is especially crucial to connecting people. The 8 Taiwan indigenous artists in this showcase embody the creativity deriving from their mixed life in between community and modern styles.

The eight groups of Taiwan artists showcasing in WAA 2020 include song-writers and singers, such as Sangpuy, Anu.kaliting.sadipongan, Chalaw pasiwali, O-KAI Singers, and contemporary dance troupes Tjimur Dance Theatre, Kuo-Shin Chuang Pangcah Dance Theatre, TAI Body Theatre, and Bulareyaung Dance Company. Musician Sangpuy’s voice is said to have been blessed by the ancestral spirits, and it has blown art festival curators around the world away. Musician Anu's songs, written in the Pangcah language (of the Amis people) have simple yet profound melodies that make people think of oceans and dreams instinctively. Musician Chalaw pasiwali combines Latin and Bossa nova musical styles with his native Ami language seamlessly. Musician the O-KAI Singers rearrange Atayal folk songs in A cappella style to infuse fresh vitality into traditional music. The Tjimur Dance Theatre deconstructs the traditional dance moves and rituals of the Paiwan people and the young and promising choreographer Baru Madiljim combines them with contemporary dance to create their unique pieces. The Kuo-Shin Chuang Pangcah Dance Theatre, the first dance troupe in eastern Taiwan to adopt the style of contemporary dance, is also an enthusiastic educator to the music and dance education of indigenous youths. Choreographer Chuang has thus charted a new path that merges contemporary dance and traditional music. Watan Tusi, the experienced choreographer of TAI Body Theatre, has developed new forms and aesthetics. The footwork of traditional dances and movements from daily life are collapsed into “foot scripts,” and nearly 70 sets of notations that are distinct from western contemporary dance academies have been created. The Bulareyaung Dance Company returns to the physical essence of indigenous dancers; by going back to square one and carrying out field research away from the Capital, choreographer Bulareyaung and the dancers tell the story of each community in Taiwan, step by step.

The “Taiwan Aboriginal People's Movement” began in the 1990s, and the idea of "indigeneity" stayed with the indigenous peoples through various resistances and compromises, differences and integrations. Through processes of implementation and cross-ethnic conversations, the web of contexts has been enriched. In recent years, "indigeneity" has become a pathway for the Taiwanese society as a whole to discuss the ideas of "decolonization", "Taiwan's values", "identity" and "body politics". However, to establish a broader context of "indigeneity", we must first recognize the heterogeneity and diversity of Taiwan's indigenous cultures, challenge the paradigm of rationality, and unburden ourselves from the uniformity of society and the egocentrism that hold our creativity captive. Many indigenous creatives are not just artists. They might also be a representative of or leader to the younger members of their communities; some of them might be experts at tasks like hunting, traditional weaving, and farming. Community life nurtures their creativity, while fieldwork and the reading of literature and history lay the groundwork for artistic creation. Rooted confidence stemming from the understanding of their own culture through the life and vitality of Taiwan, indigenous artists create works that are not limited by any signs and spaces. Furthermore, these artists are adept at collaborative projects with their lifestyles. Let us follow Taiwanese indigenous artists as they guide us through past and present, traversing the worlds of traditional songs and contemporary performances, and share with us how they deal with cultural elements and contemporary issues as they reconstructing the relationship between human and nature.