The first encounter with the charming island Lanyu and the Tao people

- A report about my stay in Lanyu for the artistic research project "creative (mis) understandings" from August 28, to September 21, 2019 –


   I'm used to planning everything carefully before a trip, but when I tried to travel to Lanyu starting on the 23rd of August, either because of the typhoon, ships and airplanes were suspended, or train tickets were sold out, so I was only able to fly on the 26th to Taitung, and tried to take the ship to Lanyu. But because of the problem with the driftwood in the harbor, I had to wait for 2 days in Taitung, and on the 28th afternoon, I finally arrived in Lanyu.

My plan was useless and I had to change everything flexibly, this unpredictability was my first impression of Lanyu.

Weiya and Johannes picked me up from Kaiyuan Harbor, we drove along the west coast to Iraraley. There I lived with Chien-Ping's (郭健平) sister Guo, Yuegui (郭月桂).

My second impression were the ghost stories, innumerable ghosts (Anito) exist everywhere in the woods, in the caves, in the cemetery or in the wild. I think this belief exists because of the fear of the unpredictable nature and the intruders.

But Guo, Yuegui told me that after Christianity was introduced, the fear of ghosts should have been overcome long ago.

   I was very glad that during this three-week stay I got to know not only the beautiful nature, the blue sea, the tourist attractions, the traditional houses and boats (Tatala) but also many very interesting and different people:

Kuo, Chien-Ping (郭建平), the famous specialist of traditional Tao music and language, activist against the nuclear waste storage site and government repression of indigenous people showed us around Lanyu and explained many things to us. He showed us for example the former prison in Iranmeylek and told the story of the detainees who were imprisoned there and did a lot of crime in Lanyu, and also the nuclear waste storage site. He told us many local customs and traditions and criticized the inappropriate policy and actions of the Taiwanese government. He considers the Chinese influences very negative.

His third older sister Guo, Yuegui (郭月桂) is an elder of the Presbyterian Church, a fanatical Christian and passionate teacher of Tao language. I got the impression that she considers the Chinese and Christian influences at least partially to be positive.

Her daughter Dayin (達恩) - a very talented and culturally-minded young woman studied English in Taipei and is now studying law, so she can fight for the rights of Tao people later. She works as an English teacher in the middle school in Lanyu, is a literary prize winner, writes very beautiful poems and essays about her homeland.

Her cousin, Kuo, Chien-Ping's daughter Si Pehbowen (Kuo, Zheng郭 箏), a fantastic dancer and innate artist. As a young girl, she makes a great effort to nurture the traditional Tao culture and continue to deliver it to the younger generation.

The 85-year-old old man Lin, Xinyu (林新羽) with whom we interviewed, lives with his wife in a beautifully renovated traditional underground house. He was public opinion representative of Lanyu, member of parliament, activist against the nuclear waste storage site and demolition of traditional houses.

He told us that he became a Catholic missionary with 22 (or 25), the Swiss priest Giger Alfred (紀守常, 1919-1970, people call him Father of Lanyu) especially liked him, because he is very honest. Giger Alfred hoped that Lin, Xinyu could take over his legacy and continue to help the indigenous people.

Sinan Sakayan is an extremely fine, warm and sensitive woman. She tries hard to teach the Tao language to young people and showed us different kinds of pedagogical methods for mother tongue teaching. She taught us many customs about the Tao women in earlier times and writes beautiful children's books in Tao language.

A few young domestic and foreign scientists who also research other Taiwanese indigenous peoples, have exchanged interesting experiences and ideas with us; Many locals who gave me a lift on the way and told me many fascinating things about Lanyu.

From these persons, I got to know an enthusiastic, idealistic and honest mentality of the Tao people.

   In addition I was very grateful that within this short time I experienced some very interesting musical events:

We interviewed Sinan Sakayan's aunt, she is a blind old lady, sang many wonderful songs for us and told us folk tales andlocal customs of Tao. She spoke with us about the life of women such as marriage, birth, parenting and her sweet marriage life with her husband, I was very touched by her expressive voice and her stories.

On the 12th of September we experienced a whole night of singing for a house inauguration from a guesthouse in Ivalino. The guests sang from 4 pm for an hour and then they took a break and ate together, there was pig meat, chicken meat, meat soup, sweet potatoes and taros, everything was cooked in the water and served in large basins. At 7:30 pm they started singing again, it lasted all night until about 6 o'clock in the morning. I thought that it must be the well-known Song type "Raod". In the morning, eight pigs were slaughtered, the men from the whole village came to help, pig meat and taros are given to all villagers.

The workshop for women (達 悟 學堂) took place on the 15th of September at night in the Catholic Church in Iraralay. The catholic preacher and known Tao singer Xie, Yongquan (謝永泉) started the workshop, there were about a dozen elderly and older women who can sing the traditional songs and numerous young people, they were partly locals and partly tourists.

The old women sang songs about work and life (Anood and Ayani), and also the famous clap song (Mikarayak), everyone was very enthusiastic. For me, these songs are musically much more diverse and interesting than the songs of the house inauguration in Ivalino.

It was really a great pleasure to experience so many different types of Tao songs.

   One hundred years ago, the indigenous people of "Tao" in Lanyu were considered a living fossil from the Stone Age and explored. Their singing wasn´t art, but an important part of everyday life.

As early as the second half of the twentieth century, the Tao tradition was vastly changed by the influence of the Chinese people and the Christian mission.

In recent years, through tourism and politics, the nature in Lanyu is heavily burdened, the traditional culture of Tao is much weakened, but the economic situation is significantly improved.

This change creates big tension and confusion for the cultural identification, environmental problems, social relations, generational problems and the importance of the arts.

   This summer, our work team has collected a huge amount of photos, video-audio recordings and notes of interviews. This data includes the interest and opinion of the oldest to the youngest generations of the Tao people. With this material, we will present the current situation and the areas of conflict of the Tao culture and create a spiritual connection and a meaningful context with the modern Western art.