idangaw, hanto cima i tenok sa i no riyar,
tengilhan ko soni no kikai no tamina…
listen! so begins ciOrad’s （夏雨） “ocean diary” （海洋中的日記） an ‘amis popular song from the mid-1980s.
listen! my friends who are in the midst of the ocean, listen to the boat engines
the lyrics’ address seems ironic: after all, we listen in, friends who have never been on the boats as well as those who know the engine’s sound, the constant thrum of the boat propeller. Also listening in are the families of those on the boats, those waiting at home.
listen. listen to the engine’s sound
this instruction in ciOrad’s lyrics turns our thinking to propulsion, to movement, the pain of exile and the promise of homecoming. other songs, imagining a dialogue between a woman at home and a man on the boats even bid the boat engines run more quickly:
speed on, boat engines! when shall i ever get to Takaw? hontoni aitai, imoto no shikata.
bidding to the boat engines to speed and address to the beloved in japanese articulate movement, port cities, and home into a continuous space, a kind of “expansive indigeneity” hau’ofa epeli described in the essay “our sea of islands”
as we listen to and address boat engines, we begin to hear how this articulation transforms the sonic into the poetic, creating novel connections among experiences and sounding a place of self-fashioning. aware that soni, the word the lyrics use for “sound,” is a japanese loan word, from listening we begin to create a method of listening and knowing
this song is a parody of a song performed by a much better-known singer, that poet of working class and demimondaine taiwanese, a-ket-ah 阿吉仔. ciOrad’s production team were a capable crew, making a nearly identical instrumental backing track for ciOrad’s ‘amis language lyrics. only these lyrics and ciOrad’s distinctive vocal timbre give the parody away
what are we to make of this mimesis?
on the one hand, it tells us a great deal about musical taste among ‘amis people in takaw (打狗，即高雄), kilong (基隆), and in rural ‘amis communities along taiwan’s east coast. a-ket-ah’s song would likely have rung out from coin operated karaokes and from cassette tape players. it’s unclear whether the parody originated with ciOrad or with someone in these karaokes, betel stands, or other sites of informal performance among ‘amis. ciOrad does, however, version the song with a set of lyrics that describe the conditions that established ‘amis communities in takaw, such as caoya and siaogang. moreover, and more tellingly, ciOrad’s parody tells us to listen in to the forces creating a market for ‘amis language music: the boat engines propelled house building, new forms of consumption, and a type of ‘amis cosmopolitanism. the sound of the engines reminds us both of the economic limitations in rural ‘amis communities (the bulo) that pushed young men into the far ocean fishing trade and the desires that new forms of ‘amis life engendered. as the lyrics have it,
maeden a samaanen, konikaw sa ko ‘orip nomita,
adihayay to tolo mihecaan, a matayal i riyar a pakoyoc
what can we do? we are poor
for as many as three years we work
as orphans on the ocean
still, the lyrics also articulate an imagination that followed the engagement of the men in the far ocean fishing trade. much of this articulation is in the song’s form, as ciOrad’s song is not a hybrid–although he also produced many of these–“a fisherman’s diary” is not a reworking of traditional ‘amis song in a new genre. it is a parody of a popular song that first appeared in the language of the majority settler colonial population. a kind of import substitution perhaps, it might point to a set of lyrics one might sing in the karaoke when choosing the a-ket-ah track
musically, again, “a fisherman’s diary” is nearly indistinguishable from a-ket-ah’s production. as such it points us away from the neo-traditionalist or world music globalizing projects of late 1990s and early 2000s indigenous musicians who would capture taiwanese audiences in the island country’s post-martial law, multicultural public sphere. ciOrad’s song gives us something that sounds the same as taiwanese working class popular music but with a slight difference: it tells us to listen to the engines
propelled by boat engines, the song remains both within and without taiwan’s settler colonial culture, forming a set of connections de la cadena (2015) has called “intra-relational.” in ciOrad’s song, indigenous poetics have incorporated (and been included in) settler colonial society but have not disappeared into it, complicating and perhaps frustrating state projects that want “simple difference or sameness from indigeneity” (de la cadena 2015: 36)
this voice which remains not simply different nor similar but situated complexly across similarity and difference, indigenous yet participating in settler colonial popular culture and programs of social amelioration, might be usefully illustrated by coin operated karaokes where one selects a-ket-ah but sings ciOrad’s lyrics. we might also hear it in the awkward gap between claims of citizenship (“us ‘chinese’,” as some of my age mates say without too much irony) and a bid for recognition as other, attempts to stretch the framework of citizenship to accommodate the life plans and practices of austronesian people
we will also see this figure in the concrete houses that sprung up after the flood of fishing boat money in ‘amis communities along the east coast. bound with desires for a better life, here meaning a life relatively free from material deprivation and with greater educational opportunities and social advancement for one’s children, also connected to demands on the settler colonial mainstream to recognize ‘amis as full citizens, housebuilding, the songs of ciOrad, and other products of the far ocean fishing trade belong to a constellation of objects and practices i call “hopeful indigeneity”
the voice of boat engines does not sound much like what those who live in contemporary taiwan expect “aboriginal” culture to be. neo-traditionalists would have us avert our ears and listen to nalowan ho haiyan rather than the kok kok kok kok kok kok of the engine stroke as the boat zig zags across the indian ocean, rounds the cape of good hope, and enters the atlantic, pulling its net along the ocean bottom. but i suspect that listening to the boat engines will tell us much about the ways that an indigenous cosmopolitanism was voiced between homesickness and homecoming, on the boats but also in harbourtown and the bulo. as such, listening to the engines is a method for escaping the “culture trap” which would have us reproduce settler colonial and salvage anthropological desires projected onto indigeneity rather than describe the concrete (and steel rebar) and complicated matter of indigenous histories
as another song gives us the expansive gesture,
taiseiyo, taiseiyo o pifotingan niyam…
the atlantic is but our fishing ground