Another thing I learnt the day before the finishing ceremony is that women were the actual ones to make decisions. This is because after the decision to farm for the ceremony, it is the wife who is in charge of the taro farm. I also learned later that the reason why most meetings and celebrations are hosted by men and disallow women to join is to protect the women. After some more investigation and interviews, I understand that Tao cherish and protect women, who are able to bear life.
Even though I haven’t thought clearly about the story behind these answers, and I know too little, I think people from all over the world have the same cherish and respect for the life bearing mothers.
Watching the finishing ceremony from the start to end, most of the time I was bothered by how I couldn’t simply see the process or learn as I was passing down this responsibility. Instead, I couldn’t stop but think about the past and present of the elders, appreciating the ceremony with curiosity. I always had the feeling that I did not belong here. My observation was far, in fact, these ceremonies were separated from life, and the gap could not be closed.
For instance, that weird sound from that night, I was sure that I heard it, but I wasn’t sure if this sound belonged in my space. I just remember that the sound appeared during unison, there was the sound wave like resonance, but without lyric. The clear sound reaction and the feeling I couldn’t explain are like how I consider my life and culture. It seemed easy to understand yet vague and full of uncertainty.
Was there resonance for only one song? Or perhaps I did experience something unnatural? Was it enough that everyone resonated with the impassioned feeling? Or was all human past, present, and future insignificant?
Sometimes I wonder if I am too serious about the basics of culture, if actually we don’t need to think so much, we only need to keep the experience and knowledge as it is. Perhaps when we observe spirit in too much detail, the spirit no longer exists. Or if what we are trying to preserve is something that belong to us, but we’ve never possessed? It is just like if we are asked to find our mother whom we have never met. Simply because of the word “belong”, it is enough to make us want to possess. From this, we have the feeling to want to be sure of our identity. Therefore, we can’t stop but keep searching for our connection with culture.
The sun was up, I could almost no longer bare the tiredness from being awake the whole night. However, the work was not over yet. We needed to prepare breakfast for our guests. An aunt who came back from Taiwan had me take the Manto bun she bought, but then the other aunt was angry and insisted on preparing traditional food such as sweet potatoes, taros, and fish. They had some quarrels. I needed to go in between their different orders. I thought I should be used to this decision conflict since it was like this every time we had celebrations at home. I don’t know if this is just our family, or this is coincidently a conflict of cultures.
This reminds me that there are many changes and conflicts during our fish ritual in the recent years. It has become more and more chaotic and out of order year after year. The division of the fields is also another reason people fight with each other. All annual rituals and celebrations seem to have been interfered by the modern regular time schedule. It has made people not knowing what to do any more.
No one from the young generation, without observing the moon and deciding things based on the sun, knows how calendars were set. When people relied on stars and sun to tell the time, did they cherish the land more?
These questions make me nervous. It is the same as left and right. In Tao culture, there is no concept to tell left and right. Instead, we name every land, and when we tell directions, we describe with the directions of other villages, directions of the ocean and the mountain to explain the concept. As I am used to the concept that never existed in Lan-Yu, it is harder for me to understand the older generation. It also makes me wonder how people from the past feel the time when they look up at the moon every day.
The concept of time, which is abstract and controversial, is made of human, natural physics, and life. To some degree, it influences how people feel the information of this world.
When the sky was bright, everyone started to open the gate and kill the pigs and goats, and then drained the blood and divided the meat. After about ten minutes, there was blood everywhere. Other than the working males, there were also Tao children, tourists, video recorders, and helpers. This morning, I almost forgot to think about the spirit of the house and the purpose of the celebration. For a long time, I could only look at the blood, not knowing what to think of life. As I was watching the killing, I felt like I had never really known what life was. Until death was right before my eyes had I understood why life was life? The death maybe made me afraid, I was not sad. It was more like a feeling of cherish from respect.
Many people came to help kill the pigs and goats and divide the taros. I knew later that the finishing celebration should be helped by the entire village. From this, I can feel how a finishing celebration is able to build the social status of a Tao person. Working seven days nonstop, having the ability to give out food to every family in the village, it is surely a huge work.
I was in a weak mental state because I didn’t sleep and drank a bit in the morning. It reminded me of something I read from a book about how the aboriginals in the amazon forest hurt or torture themselves to get a higher social status through the gain of super power. They believed that humans would enter another world when experiencing extreme pain and losing their sanity. After they met the “goddess” (many claimed to have the experience but could not prove itthey got another name and gained the power and status different from normal people. When they got back to the tribe, they became the new leader. I don’t know if this recording is true, but can’t stop connecting the spiritual activity with my extreme tiredness. If I had eaten some betel nuts and worked more and drank more, perhaps I would have felt like I saw the spirit of all…? Haha!
In the morning after a few days, I was woken up by a terrible scream. My father was killing a goat outside our hostel. Ashes covered the air, scattered on the grass, and flew into the house. The stain of blood was obvious on the grass. I was sleepy, but when I saw the ash, I knew that father still believed in the religion passed down by the ancestors. The offering for the spirit of the house is still needed, it means to offer the blood for the house.
He secretly found a pillar in the house to talk and pray to the spirit of the house. Then, he dipped some goat blood in the corner, because the finishing celebration was for the new built hostel. Actually, we shouldn’t have celebrated it in the hostel, but in order not to stain the hostel, we decided to host it in our old house. It also means that the hostel was not blessed, which was not a good thing. Perhaps it was coincidence, but before he dipped some blood in the hostel, the work here was not going well indeed. Everything seemed to go much better after his prayers.
Notes and thoughts on investigation
House Launching Ceremony
The day before preparation, I went with my mom to invite people to harvest the taros.
On the first day, women were all dressed up. In the past, they walked in these clothes into the field and then prayed for blessing and harvest. There are several kilometers in between the field and the village, however. Modern women, because of the busy life style, no longer have the strength to devote in such activity, and they are adapted to riding motorbikes. Thus, they walked to the beach, then everyone got on the bike and left.
That day, most women worked smoothly in the mountain. Going up the mountain, standing in line, praying, then finding a corner to get changedIn my eyes, them changing cloths next to the field was a representation of the western painting. I found it beautiful, but I didn’t know how they felt about their own action and the situation they were in. I only felt like they were in a different world than I was.
After putting on the working uniform, women with more experience with field work started first. Before long, there were already two big bags of taros to be washed. Young or inexperienced women went to the water and started to wash the taros in fear that people would notice their inexperience. I first took many photos, and then I observed the details of their hand actions, the curve of their bodies when they bend, their concentrated faces, and constant chatters. These repeated actions were engraved in their bodies. There was a trace of life that I couldn’t describe. I also don’t know if I think it is beautiful, or I am simply curious about how they feel about these trivial things.
Through only a few days of collecting taros, I didn’t improve a lot on my farming skills. It seems that in people’s eyes, it was only a simple thing to complete, and they didn’t put much of their minds on education of traditional work. Right, after all, us young generation will probably go and farm after this. In fact, future Tao kids will have no purpose to farm taros, will they?
Heavy work from time to time for me has become an entertainment for modern life. However, as our bodies have adapted to modern life, nobody would want to go back to heavy work every day. I was thinking what those women who went up to the mountain everyday were thinking and what concepts they held.
Another activity after we were back from the mountain was to watch men in the family catching the goats. Before catching, male elders will count how many people will come and help, how to divide taros and meats as gifts, where to invite people and who, in order to decide how many goats are needed. I asked my older brother and knew that each elder had their own job. Each person has an important role that might seem unimportant in the work of the finishing celebration. For example, some are in charge of making the plan to catch the goats, others with more experience do the action, those with less experience help to chase the goats. My sister’s husband was in charge of throwing stone to make sure of the number of gifts on the day of dividing food. The process requires the skill and experience of catching goats, as well as being familiar with the relatives and friends, all are unfamiliar to me. Perhaps because it is the job of boys and so I never could join, or because I never need the knowledge in my world.
The day the ceremony started, piles of taros were outside. These were the result of our hard work, including the imported taros our relatives living on Taiwan island prepared. The first main action in the afternoon was “welcoming the guests”. The whole family dressed up and waited outside the house for all guests to come. They got in according to the closeness and their status. It was interesting because I have never seen everybody waiting in line. In the past where there were no standard time and public transportation, did people wait in line to get in like this? Men with iron helmets opened the helmet a bit and touched the helmet with the host to greet. This reminded me of the Maori people from New Zealand greeting by touching their foreheads and noses. My father said, “this way, I can make sure if the person under the helmet actually is who I invited.” I had no idea if he was joking or not. Like this, the iron helmet suddenly became interesting. Why was there the design in the past, what was the first person who designed it thinking?
After everyone sat down according to their status, an uncle started to sing, then my other uncle, then my father. They sang for about 30 minutes.
I didn’t know what they were singing about, so I looked at the guests. I realized a grandpa from Ivalino had a gift knife with him, which he wore not so often. It was rather thin and long, the hold was also thin, it looked very different from the regular gift knives. I have always thought that it was from the Japanese people when we were colonized by Japan. Later I knew it was made by himself, it was called: Ipacakakad. When I attended the finishing cerebration in Ivalino, I realized that this type of knife was suitable for cutting meat with skin when killing pigs.
Everyone went back home and rested after the greeting, guests from outside the village could go visit other relatives and friends at this point. When the night fell, men went into the house according to their social status, preparing for the night singing. Through this singing, everyone could have a better understanding of each other’s experience and status.
Around midnight, someone sang a song that wasn’t supposed to be sung at the finishing ceremony, everyone was discussing about it. It was clear that it was a violation of some taboo or rule of manner, but I didn’t really know what was going on. Not understanding mother tongue and the lyrics, these ten hours were actually a bit difficult for me. Most of the time I tried to spot some words that I understood, and I imagined some dance moves to go with the music. As long as I kept imagining the dance moves, these songs were quite interesting. I didn’t know why, but compared to other music, old songs for me were easier to imagine. The singing style where there were no decorations nor changes felt like a new life after a long time of suffering and training. It was an infinity that human created, which makes it seems like after the song is born, it lives on for a hundred years.
We had to sit through the whole night without sleeping nor lying down. It was really energy and spirit straining. Sometimes, I could only use a lot of questions to fill the time.
Were all elders there curious about each other’s stories?
Did those stories also have hundreds and thousands of years of wisdom?
How many songs were sung many times so that everyone can sing it nowadays?
As old songs are about to become extinct, how may Taos are willing and have the ability to create lyrics?
Was creating lyrics easy and a daily activity in the past?
Is it a brand-new beauty that I have never felt when I feel the words through the Tao language system?
Did someone think about composing new songs in the past?
Did the old melody come from waves, strong seasonal winds, streams, or birds and insects?
How was the action of singing first created?
Did the ancestors in Batan also sing like this?
Whenever I hear that another culture also has a similar melody, I feel like I’m traveling through time. I am really curious about the beginning and changes of our songs. I can’t stop but become curious, if I had never experienced any other types of music other than old songs, how would I feel about modern music? Would it be like how the elders feel when they hear young people’s songs? If I want to do an experiment, I will need to forget many sounds that I am used to and like. I would also have to listen to and sing the old songs year after year. Or even I would need to be reborn again to experience another type of song or sound.
One night, we mentioned the hierarchy of Tao. To explain to me about the social relationship of Lan-Yu, my 55-year-old father, my 40-year-old aunt Lai-Guang, and the 60-year-old Jian-Hung spent quite some energy. The main point is that the social relationship in Lan-Yu is more of a sequence rather than hierarchy. We decide who talks first according to people’s physical work performance, their age and the amount of finishing celebration they have experienced. Because people all know one another, this sequence is agreed to by everyone. This sequence is set and changed later in our lives, this means that at the beginning we are all equal. I consider it sensible and fair that the host and speaker is decided by ability and experience. People should do what they are able to do. If someone tries to be someone they are not, others will notice sooner or later. Perhaps it’s because this is a small place and everybody knows each other. Or perhaps in the past, there was no way to pretend to be someone they were not. In contrast, we have so many things, identity, status, and ability that can be coated with words in the modern life. Our world is comparably broader, yet vague.
Sometimes outsiders describe the Tao to be humble and simple. Perhaps it is not because we understand too little of the outside world, it is because the elders have the simplicity and they are real. It exists through culture of life that they are used to. However, this type of life is not so simple because elders are used to being trusting. Of course, this characteristic exists in my grandpa’s generation, which is for me especially precious in this complicated world. This will avoid time wasting on pointless lies. Yet it sounds way too utopian. After all, modern life is rather complicated and difficult, many times the lies have become a source of security.