A Review on the 2019 Amis Music Festival

 

The 2019 Amis Music Festival was a huge success, boasting 6,000 people. The festival was held at Taitung’s Dulanbi (都蘭鼻), or Pacifalan, the Amis word for the cape about thirty hectares big, fringed by a cliff that drops straight down to the Pacific Ocean.

 

It is considered as a sacred land by the Amis people, for legend has it that Pacifalan was where the ancestors of the Amis first landed. However, it was never regarded as sacred by the Taitung government, the land’s official owner. In the past, it almost became a landfill, and when that idea failed to manifest, it was scheduled to become a holiday resort. The death of playwright Chen Ming-tsai (陳明才), who drowned himself in the ocean in 2003 in protest of the development project, prevented the land from going down that road. Near the cliff of Pacifalan, a huge black driftwood pillar striped with red, green, and white stands in commemoration of the playwright.

In 2017, the land was designated as traditional territory by the ROC government, meaning that that the consent of the local indigenous residents is required before any attempts of development are made. Such an arrangement was an attempt at transitional justice to amend the wrongs that colonial governments did to the indigenous people, for back in the Japanese colonial era, the indigenous territory was labeled as “ownerless land” and claimed by the Japanese government as public property — an arrangement which was inherited by the ROC government.

It was thanks to this transition that the festival’s slogan changed from “welcome to the country of Dulan, where people provide the best scenery” — reflecting the multiplicity of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes — to “grow your own flower on your own land.” Education of the audience on the land’s indigenous name became a schtick for all the hosts involved in the festival, “what is the name of this place? Repeat after me, Pa-ci-fa-lan!” and the audience would echo with glee, to which the host would tease in response, “I will test you again later!”

The 2019 Amis Music Festival was held at Taitung’s Dulanbi
The 2019 Amis Music Festival was held at Taitung’s Dulanbi, the sacred land of the Amis people, where the ancestors of the Amis first landed.

 

The festival founder, Suming Rupi, mentioned that the festival offers non-indigenous people an alternative option to enjoy indigenous culture, for traditional indigenous ceremonies such as the Amis’s Harvest Ceremony are mostly events reserved for the indigenous people only. The festival is mostly manned by indigenous males from the Dulan community, who together constitutes the community’s “selal” — a military-esque system that divides males according to age, to which different duties are assigned, and to which absolute top-down obedience is required. With the infringement of modern life, duties such as hunting and defense against enemies are no longer required, so the selal is only activated during rituals or disaster relief, or in this case, the making of music festivals.

The lineup featured indigenous musicians of different styles, most of which were Amis; there’s Amis Kakeng, the band that sported traditional Amis bamboo percussion instruments; I’Sai, the young Amis rap group; Outlet Drift, the Amis grunge band; Ilid Kaolo the jazz singer, and Dungi Sapor the techno DJ. There were also several foreign acts from pacific countries whom Suming became acquaintances with during his tour around the world, such as Tindoki (Indonesia), Lyrik Kanak Gong – JahK – Aïriddim (New Caledonia) and Bobby Bununggurr (Australia). At night, the stage became a talent show for indigenous performers. There was the judo team from

Chunri elementary school versus the cheerleading team from Dulan Junior High, there was the organizer of Adju Music Festival (Adju was the term used by Paiwan ladies to call their lady friends, which was later applied to homosexual indigenous men), who shared an intimate story between him and another indigenous male with the audience. Another stage featured an astonishing amount of indigenous groups from different communities or organizations, each giving a performance of 15-20 minutes, most of which involved group singing, dancing, and chanting. Suming mentioned jokingly that he and his buddies had spent almost a year visiting different communities to get them to come, spending an insurmountable amount of alcohol money and bus fare. Giant bazaars selling indigenous delicacies and arts & crafts were another highlight of the festival, where wild vegetable stew, roasted boar, rice wrapped in leaves and topped with shredded flying fish could be found.

Amis performance on the Amis Music Festival
The lineup featured indigenous musicians of different styles, most of which were Amis.

 

There was another tent where intellectual conversations on indigenous affairs took place. Musicologist Eric Scheihagen shared with his audience indigenous folk music recorded on vinyl records during the 60s and 70s. He described how record company staff would drive a truck loaded with musicians into indigenous villages and ask around whether there was anyone in the village who could sing, and they would record right then and there. One song he played was called the “Fish-catching Son in Law” (捉魚女婿), and he explained that the Amis lyrics was basically “this son in law of mine can’t even catch one fish, what good is a son in law like this?” to which the host responded, “it’s indeed a very serious problem when an Amis man does not know how to catch fish.”

There was also the indigenous rights group The Person with No Name (沒有名字的人), formed by several young people who come from the Pingpu (平埔) — the indigenous peoples that formerly lived in the plains regions of Taiwan, as opposed to the mountains. Most of these peoples have not yet received official recognition by the ROC government because their culture has been severely undermined thanks to four hundred years of colonization by the Han Chinese and the Japanese. Those who identify themselves as a member of one of the seven to twelve Pingpu peoples and wish to be recognized not only have to “prove” their identity to others, but also have to face the accusation of other indigenous peoples, who suspect that they just want more resources from the government. The Person with No Name gave a talk at the festival to introduced their eponymous book that is soon to be published, documenting the narratives of twenty-one Pingpu youths, who “discovered” their identity one way or another (usually a bought of suspicion would lead them to look into their family’s household registration transcript from the Japanese colonial era)(*1), launching them onto a quest in search of cultural identity, a quest that also challenges the ideas surrounding cultural insignias — if a culture does not have a predetermined dress code or language, does it necessarily mean that it does not exist?

Panai Kusui has been camping out at the 228 Peace Memorial Park for more than 1,000 days, in protest of the “Regulations for Demarcating Indigenous Traditional Territories”.

 

Award-winning indigenous folk singer Panai Kusui and law professor Wu Hao-ren also came to give a talk. Panai has been camping out at the 228 Peace Memorial Park for more than 1,000 days, in protest of the “Regulations for Demarcating Indigenous Traditional Territories” presented by the legislative yuan in 2017, which excluded private property under the claim that people’s right to property must not be violated, thus taking away one million hectares of land from the originally estimated 1.8 million that was to be designated as traditional territory. While such a decision overlooks the fact that a lot of private properties were once public property owned by public enterprises that had later undergone privatization, Wu Hao-ren further argues that it is not the indigenous people who should be made an exception to the ROC government’s property laws, but the capitalist nature of ROC’s property law itself that should be challenged.

“We must discard the existing law,” he said, “It is responsible for the major problems of globalisation. Do you still have public property here in Taitung? Almost none right? At least in Taitung County. Every government in Taiwan, starting from the six special municipalities, are all selling land. That’s because our finances, from the central to local governments are broke. Who are they selling it to? Of course, to big corporations, not normal citizens. Private property has already demonstrated that it is incapable of protecting the land. Only when you treat land as something other than property, will you start to respect it.”

2016 Amis Music Festival in Dulan tribe
The entrance of the 2016 Amis Music Festival in Dulan.

 

Note

  1. In the Japanese colonial era, most of these indigenous people would be registered as “familiar” (熟), in contrast to the “unfamiliar” (生) that is reserved for indigenous people living in the mountains.

 

The Author

味王Wèi Wáng means “king of taste.” It’s also the brand name of a MSG that can be found on the racks of 7/11s in Taiwan.

DJ Wèi Wáng is a writer/DJ/noise artist/event organizer based in Taipei. She started DJing in the early 2000s and transitioned into noise in 2018. She is behind the label politicalNOIZE, which seeks to use electronic music to give voice to the oppressed, and has released an album under that label titled No. 40, Section 2, Daguan Rd under the alias PCkid. She is also the brainchild of the series event NOIZE DJ Mahōjin, a sound system jam in which two pairs of amps are placed against each other; one controlled by a DJ and the other controlled by a noise artist. She is also the founder and editor of the Chinese/English bilingual party literature zine I Had a Dream Last Night, which focuses on stories that happened in parties in Taiwan. As a writer, she has written for publications such as Subconscious Restaurant and Entering Tone on the noise and art scene in Taipei. Her own noise involves stealing audio from everyday life and turning them into minimalist compositions with DJ software.

 

DJ Wèi Wáng is a writer/DJ/noise artist/event organizer based in Taipei. She started DJing in the early 2000s and transitioned into noise in 2018. She is behind the label politicalNOIZE and is also the brainchild of the series event NOIZE DJ Mahōjin, the founder and editor of the Chinese/English bilingual party literature zine I Had a Dream Last Night, a writer for publications such as Subconscious Restaurant and Entering Tone on the noise and art scene in Taipei.