japanese colonial depictions of malikoda followed the broader dimensions of taiwan in colonial discourses. to understand these discourses, i find it useful to think of them as scale making projects.

as defined by swyngedouw (1997: 140), scale is “neither an ontologically given and a priori definable geographical territory nor a politically neutral discursive strategy in the construction of narratives.” scale making projects attempt to realize, fix, or shift scale through a variety of means, including but not limited to legal and discursive regimes, sociotechnical experiments and protocols, policy discourse, and fiction. as these projects define scale, they also dispose populations, agents, and institutions within and across scales. in the japanese colonial context, practices like malikoda served as “crossing points” (latour 2013) between colonial policies at the local level and projection of japan as a world power.

japanese colonial depictions of taiwanese indigeneity attempted to mediate contradictions between a mimetic relationship to western colonialism and a disaffection with the western model, often operating within the conventions of primitivism (tierney 2010, kleeman 2013, sterk 2011). until 1910, the japanese state had been bound to the west in semi-colonial relationships, such as unequal treaties. although early and mid 20th century apologists for japanese colonial projects desired recognition of japan’s parity with the west as a world power, they also argued that japan was not cut from the same cloth as western colonialists: the japanese state had not just imitated the west; rather, they claimed, japan was an asian power rescuing asians from rapacious westerners.

this position was a contradictory one. like other colonial powers, the japanese state had always to maintain the power to deprive colonial subjects equality with the colonists, particular in settler colonial regimes; yet, across this hierarchical division, images of uplift, development, and assimilation depict identification with subject peoples as other asians.


as a result, japanese colonial depictions of taiwanese indigenous people tend toward ambivalence: the insalubrious climate and savage peoples of the island were a workshop to which japan could export and refine its own modernity, projecting the japanese empire into a global framework; but taiwan also provided a reserve in which japan’s essential, yet disappearing, asianness could be discovered and rearticulated. thus taiwan exemplified japan’s status as a modern nation but simultaneously held the possibility to express atavistic impulses.

these contradictions and their musical mediation are evident in the work of kurosawa takamoto, as well as the appearance of malikoda in a documentary produced by the governor general’s office during the early 1940s.

as noted in recent works on japanese colonial literature (kleeman 2013, tierney 2010, tseng 2008), taiwan furnished images of the “savage,” at once domesticated and at the same time offering a possibility for reversion to headhunting and the “state of nature,” particularly for japanese discontents. headhunting fascinated japanese writers and their audiences and also entered policy considerations concerning good and vicious musics.

moreover, musical performances contributed to japanese colonial imaginations of taiwan. the sounds of musical pestles at sun moon lake, songs of the chiaoban mountain tayen, and the moon dance of the tianpu ‘amis all served as tourist attractions and in a variety of print, postcard, and film depictions of taiwan. the “takasago dance” (高砂踊) of the tianpu ‘amis, modeled on malikoda, also appeared as an official offering at shinto shrines (wang ying-fen 2008: 185-186; 318).

nonetheless, japanese colonial policy adopted remarkably different stances toward taiwanese indigenous musics. these stances suggest the contours of “constitutive deals” (kelly and kaplan 2001) made between the colonial state and specific indigenous communities, through which the nine recognized tribal peoples were constructed. as early as the five year plan for managing the savage tribes in 1914, colonial policy proscribed most traditional musics among the tayen (a group that then included today’s tayen, seediq, and toroko people), paiwan, and bunun. the lurid image of headhunting appears here as well, for this policy responded to a fear of headhunting raids as much as it issued from a disregard for indigenous aesthetics. the ‘amis, whom colonial officials considered gentler and more tractable than upland groups such as tayen and bunun, faced no explicit proscriptions of traditional music; and, as noted above, a version of malikoda became an offering at shinto temples. indigenous musics could thus be heard as siren’s song, a call to arms, or a contained and domesticated savagery packaged for imperial and divine appreciation.

1940日治時期宣傳片《南進台灣》 中文字幕完整版[(052748)10-55-06]

in her work on japanese colonial ethnomusicology, wang ying-fen (2008: 318) suggests that the takasago dance offering was likely a japanized version of malikoda. however, we should perhaps not focus on the relative (in)authenticity of the dance more than we should on the generalized adjective: not pangcah or ‘amis dance but “takasako” dance. in other words, the 1940s appearance of malikoda in shinto shrine offerings and colonial depictions of taiwan had already lifted the dance from specific indigenous communities to become a synecdoche for takasago people as a whole. in the process, malikoda mediated colonial power, an element that remains in kiloma’an ceremonies as pitahidang, a dance to welcome dignitaries. this particular and locally marked style of ‘amis dance had also begun to circulate as an icon of indigeneity in ritual contexts of display and political representation. this pattern would continue under taiwan’s new colonizers, the chinese nationalist party (KMT), who took control of the island following the end of the pacific war in october 1945.

in addition to a colonial appropriation of indigenous dance, the example shows circuits of mutual influence. a japanese dance troupe studied malikoda dances in 1940 and transformed them into a performance called “the burning earth” (wang ying-fen 186); during the 1930s and 1940s indigenous popular musics began to develop uder the stimulus of formal music education in schools and the availability of recordings of japanese and taiwanese language popular musics.

kurasawa, who toured taiwan making recordings of indigenous musics in 1943 disparaged these new forms of ‘amis musics. after a performance in karenko (hualien), he remarked that “from the performance one can gauge the lack of taste” of the colonial policemen and schoolteachers who “would instruct” the indigenes (kurosawa quoted in wang ying-fen 2008: 319). he also complained that the vulgar sounds of japanese popular music and its analogues on taiwan had infected the pure musics of the island’s indigenous people (wang ying-fen 2008: 417).

kurosawa’s remarks stem from a type of musical primitivism, and wang’s account from a desire to determine influences on taiwanese indigenous musics in the 20th century. nonetheless, both kurosawa and wang seem to have missed a crucial element of the meaning of the performance kurosawa witnessed in karenko.

in his journal, kurosawa notes that the performances of popular musics were organized as a bill with several acts, each representing an age or gender segment of the village. this organization corresponds with the organization of ‘amis social life by age grades more generally and, in particular, resembles the playful, competitive musical performances at ritual events. in ‘amis communities, church or family events feature rotating performances by specific age segments; among the a’tolan ‘amis, nearly an entire day of the kiloma’an is dedicated to performances of age sets competing in two performance categories.

if the spatiotemporal organization of musicking contributes as much as sonic relationships in the creation of musical meaning (small 1998), the categories of influence and authenticity do not serve us well in our understanding of ‘amis popular or traditional musics. what kurosawa witnessed was a competitive play with modernity (tsai 2010). extending this observation to the takasago dance, we could argue that this dance similarly played with and absorbed outside power–even as it became a circulating icon of indigeneity consumed in a variety of colonial contexts.