PASSING ON THE SPIRIT OF TRADITION
House launching ritual on Lanyu (3.8.-10.8.2019)
During our time on Lanyu we had the privilege to participate in a house launching ritual hosted by Chien-Ping's family for the family hostel. Because the date for the ceremony was brought forward, we had to arrive on the island earlier than scheduled. We were told, that the change of the dates of ceremony was made due to the schedule of the Austrian team members. Thus, according to the fact, that Tao believe the spirits (Anito) could interrupt the ceremony, the change of the date may throw them off, so they stay away.
Launching ceremonies are part of the life cycle rituals in Tao society. They are held after the completion of a house or boat. This constitutes an obligation for the family father in the Tao society which improves his social status in the community. Traditionally the highest goal is the completion of a house with four doors (apat so sesdepan) and a boat with five sets of paddles (alima so avat). The doors in the traditional houses are placed side by side so this influences the size of the building.
Today the Tao build concrete houses, but the launching rituals are continued according to tradition. In the past years these rituals have become less common because the life of the Tao community has changed in this globalized time era and with many outside influences. These issues are elaborated here:
Shared concerns and questions
Keeping Traditions Alive: Between Folklorization and Transformation
The ritual took several days and we could participate in most of the steps.
House entering ritual (asdenpan o vahey): In the morning of the ritual the owner positions a weeping fig branch in the direction of the sun rise and the wall of the new house. The branch symbolizes the growth of the family into a big tree.
Harvesting the taro (mangap so ora)
Around 7 days before the actual singing ceremony, the women went in traditional clothing to the taro fields every morning, where they changed into their work clothes. They recited two prayers - for the deceased family members and against the spirits. They harvested in the flooded fields which are irrigated by a complex water-pipe system from one field to the next. The taros are later used as gifts for the guests.
We were allowed to help, but being inexperienced we mainly cleaned the taro instead of harvesting. Harvesting the taro is women's work, their male family members helped in the end of harvesting to transport the taros home.
The men caught goats in the morning. Since the goats run free on the island this is quite tricky. The method is to chase the herd into an area at the beach, surrounded with nets, almost like fishing, the men then catch the goat and bind their legs. Finally the goats were brought into a fenced area next to Chien Ping's house.
"Counting the stones" and inviting the guests (mey veysen)
The men met in the house of Chien Ping and "counted stones" representing the guests to be invited to the celebration. They discussed, which families, which persons to invite. This was a lengthy process with many people involved with a sophisticated counting system.
In the evening we experienced the first night of singing from 10pm until the sun rise at 5 in the morning. Usually one man started a song and the others joined in a kind of soloist-response structure. The songs are all stories about Tao life.
This is a song that was created by Chien Ping’s mother:
I go to the beach to collect crabs
All the other women still sleep
I’ve already finished and I go to the Taro field to check the water
The other women don't find any crabs because I found so many
The soil that I dug in the Taro field is many storeys high
Chien Ping invited the guests from other villages. Traditionally the guests are invited in ceremonial clothing with a ritual sword. The people from the home village are invited just by saying to ko mey liktow do vahey tan (I passed your house).
Stacking the taro in front of the new house (manmo so soli)
In the early morning some men, old and young, met in traditional Tao clothes (grey-white striped wests) in Chien Ping's house. Three of them brought their silver helmets with them. The silver helmets are part of the ceremonial clothing. According to oral history they were made by silver which was collected from Spanish sunken ships and Japanese coins.
People from Chien Ping's family came and constructed wooden boards around the house. The house got a tilted wooden frame, on which they started piling up taro.
Welcome ritual for the guests
After all the guests arrived Chien-Ping's family stood in front of the house all in beautiful traditional clothing and accessories. His brother in law sat beside Chien-Ping. The men start singing as a welcome to the guests for several hours.
In the evening Chien Ping’s family and some guests meet in the living room for singing again. We experienced the second night of continuous singing. Part of the traditional accessories are swords. There was quite a big diversity ranging from modern knives, to traditional Tao swords and even a Japanese bayonet.
Almost all songs were in Anood melody type. Anood means "song" in the Tao language. The function of this melody type is to pass on facts and individual or collective stories. Some guests sang songs in Raod melody type. Raod are songs that are an integral part of a ritual or ceremony. One elder Tao from village Ivalino, Hsu Yong-Fa sang a song, which can only be performed during the launching ceremony of a house with four doors. This triggered some discussion, since Chien Ping didn’t build a traditional house with four doors but rather a hotel. Some men regard it as problematic to sing this song. According an interview on September 16, Hsu told us that this action would be accepted in the village Ivalino. This shows the controversies that arise from the change of lifestyle in the Tao community.
Distributing the presents
When the sun rises on August 10 the pigs and the goats are slaughtered. At the end, similar to the taros, they spread out all the meat in portions on the street. Every guest is called by his name and receives a portion of meat.
This concludes the ceremony.
Knowing that this is a ceremony that is very rarely experienced by outsiders I feel very grateful to have been able to participate in the ritual. This gave me the opportunity to get a glimpse into the Tao traditional life and beliefs, as well as music practice and an impression what challenges arise trying to bring these traditions into the “modern” world.
Fieldwork on Lanyu Summer 2019
Discussions about Ethics in "Creative Misunderstandings"
During the first year, a lot of concerns and questions about research ethics were in focus of this project. All members are sharing the position of an anti-colonial approach and equal exchanges in knowledge production. Nevertheless the financial support and institutional structure of this artistic research project are to a certain extent predefined in the frame of “Western” academic research. How is it possible to realize such a project in an anti-colonial manner? A controversy among the group arose, in which the main question was: how would the Tao benefit from this project?
Although this project aims not to exploit Tao culture, how far is it possible to avoid the historically assigned roles?
How can I be involved?
In the process of finding a personal subproject Sandeep Bhagwati reflected on his own role as researcher and summarized some of his concerns. Among his key points were (26.4.2019):
a) I do not sense any way to get a deeper insight into the infrastructures and structures of Tao music without serious ethnomusicological research.
b) I have always engaged with people who were professional musicians. There would be no equality of intent and purpose, and – more importantly - there would be no agreement on why we are doing this.
c) I have no clue as to what I could do within this project that would not be a blatant colonialist move.
He also questioned the power imbalance in the project pointing out:
that we, with our substantial funding, would profit much more from any such encounter compared to the Tao: we would have our resonance space in Europe, where we can translate our experiences to audiences, concert organizers, academic readers. Everything we do "there" can thus be amplified to further our careers and status ‘here’.
Some contrasting opinions came from other group members:
If we do nothing the Tao culture will disappear because other influences (like the Pop industry) are too strong and the generation gap is already very wide. We can contribute to a strengthening of the Tao community by connecting their past and future. (Johannes Kretz, 31.5.2019)
In the given context we can either abolish anthropology or accept the inherent colonialism and since a lot of good can come out of this project we decide to work with it and do the best within the framework. (Bernd Brabec de Mori, 26.3.2019)
We are all in „in-between states“ in one-way or the other. We live in an ecosystem with many levels of power, we are the powerful group in this context, but in other contexts we are the powerless. We all carry the colonized country and colonizing country inside us.
(Wei-Ya Lin on 31.5.2019)
It is part of the project to ask these questions. It is about how we act, how we ask questions and how we deal with these questions. (Wei-Ya Lin on 26.3.2019)
After the first research phase in Vienna 24 Tao expressed their wish to come to Europe to act as mediators for their culture. They would like to do concerts, performances or show documentaries at different institutions. This can be seen as a first positive outcome towards an empowerment of the Tao community. (Daliah Hindler on 15.11.2019)
What is music?
The discussion about the role of the researchers and the academic field vs. the reality of the Tao opened up a space for questioning and challenging the definition of the terms like Music and Composition. In opening up to different forms of perceiving the world, it is necessary to broaden definitions and to question so-called academic perspectives constantly. In addition, artistic researchers challenge and question the term Knowledge. In Artistic Research one can understand knowledge production as a process, in which tacit knowledge e.g. is as valuable as explicit knowledge.
Drawing from these discussions, we observe a constant reflection of our own roles and concepts. This seems to continue as ongoing discussions among the project team-members. Since we did not explicitly specify the outcomes of the project, we will have to ask ourselves permanently: how can we ensure the sustainability in this project, especially in accordance with the Tao values, Tao ethics, Tao research and all our cooperation partners.
We will keep you posted.