The island of human and alien
By approaching the local community to pursue their daily lives, I noticed that the faith of Tao plays a very central role in the society. Apart from Christian practices, which serve rather as a platform for collective events and social gathering, the ancestral belief of Tao is deeply ingrained in the social as well as everyday life of each individual. Excepting legends of various divine figures, Tao respect the existence of ghosts/spirits as well as miscellaneous supernatural creatures. Due to the expectation of coexisting with them, the Tao have arranged particular rules to conduct their shared lives on the island. In Lanyu, there are certain areas which are deemed to be living spheres of different creatures or spirits. Only in case of necessity, people are allowed to access into these areas, and yet they will need to get a “permission” of the unknown occupants. Via a proper ceremony, which can be a short, certain speech or lighting a cigarette (instead of an incense stick), one requests for a permission of accessing into the area. Tao people believe that in case they are not welcomed, a discernable sign such as a noise or fall of a branch would be conveyed by the spirits/creatures. This way of mutual sharing and expecting of natural resources with imaginary beings reflects the philosophy of a peaceful unity of human and nature. Nevertheless, there are still other mysterious figures which symbolize the fear of a parallel unknown world in the culture of Tao.
One of the most scary characters from Tao legends is a creature called “Fonggo” (spelled according to phonetic). In the local community, there are numerous tales of Fonggo which are told by Taos over generations. In these narratives, Fonggo was embodied in varied forms of animals or other mythical creatures and is supposed to be dangerous and offensive. Among different versions of the appearance of Fonggo, the depiction of a “half-human, half-goat” creature has been approved by most Tao people, who claim to have been witnessing it in the reality. It is indeed not surprising that Fonggo has been associated with a goat in such frightening legends. In the tradition of Tao, goats and pigs are a valuable part of the family property which means that Tao people would spend lots of time in their daily life for caring and breeding these animals. The image of a goat transforming into a demonic creature is not only weird but terrifying.
The way of transformation from an ordinary part of life into a dangerous, monstrous organism is fascinating. From an artistic point of view, I even perceive its internal link to the complexity of the painful process of ‘modernisation’ on Lanyu, which is solely conducted by external political forces. Histories such as the former existence of Lanyu farm has demonstrated another cruel form of transformation – from the political exclusion of a certain social or ethnic group to the powerlessness of each individual, from collective rage and violence to the personal emotions and memories.
As history transforms into the individual perception, maybe, the fear of Fonggo has become a part of the memory of each individual, who has suffered in a silent history…