the siugulan river is not only a space mediating among communities and ethnic groups, it is also a turbulent, fluid and flowing space. we can hear this turbulence in both local history and in the shifting riparian soundscape

local oral history gives accounts of the arrival of european and fujianese merchants, who came in sailing ships to the river mouth. these accounts have some written documentation as well: a recent historical work on the “minnan pangcah” of laeno village (Ruan Chang-rui 2014: 100) refers to a qing period source, huang shu-jing’s 1722 “six investigations of savage customs” (黃叔璥「番俗六考」) that describes the river mouth as navigable for sampans. it is likely that the minnan pangcah, descendants of minnan merchants from tainan who settled in laeno, becoming nearly indistinguishable from the local pangcah population, came to laeno on such boats. ruan also cites sources concerning japanese sailors, who stranded in makota’ay in 1803 reported that they lived with a sinophone merchant. local gazetteers from 1877 and 1893 also mention ethnic chinese people living around makota’ay. these records likely refer to minnan pangcah (ruan 2014: 100). to more newly arrived minnan and other sinophone people, the minnan pangcah are simply “indigenous,” while to pangcah / amis in nearby communities, they are a mixed population. there are other families nearby that claim a dutch or spanish ancestor several generations back.

on the one hand, such narratives confound a modern tendency toward fixed ethnic boundaries; on the other, they belong to a mode of life that seems to fit this turbulent river with its murky tidal lagoon. all sorts of humans and non-humans, some friendly and useful, others irritating, come in from the ocean or get washed downstream to lagoon or into the ocean. as one of my friends in laeno tells me,

“we don’t really care too much about what ethnicity people are. if they come here and can get along, pretty soon, we become family. i know, for example, that my ancestors were pangcah but also hoklo and dutch who became pangcah. being pangcah is being part of our family”

of course, such a history of mixing is not without turbulence. makota’ay was the site of armed resistance against the qing imperial presence, a revolt we now call the cepo’ incident, which claimed the lives of every young man in the makota’ay / cepo’ communities save one. the legends say that when he went to report the loss up in cilangasan, a mountain refuge where the women, elders, and children had fled, the women, disgusted that he remained alive spat on him until he drowned. nonetheless, this place of turbulence at the river mouth is a place of mixing which resists fixed identities and common narratives. to the certainties of “sinicization” or the one-way assimilation of indigenous people “becoming chinese,” makota’ay suggests that the mixing and assimilation goes both ways, with settler colonialists absorbed into the murky mix. ruan chang-rui’s description of this history in laeno is a corrective to nationalist histories (and other settler colonial teleologies). it’s good to think

some humans and non-humans get washed over and get picked up, others can be flushed into the ocean. turbulence is a source of danger but also opportunity

we are in the “plum rains” of the late spring and early summer, so the river has been carrying more downstream. on particularly rainy days, hundreds of watermelons come bobbing down from ruisui, on the other side of the coast ranges. the ones that make it onto shore nearby laeno and cawi’ without breaking are a plum rain season treat. usually, however, they bust and turn into a salinated mush or get pushed onto the siugulan bar. even forest animals can get caught in the river and find themselves aswim in the lagoon or ocean, which raises the question: just what do you do with a muntjac that you catch when fishing? can you eat it? it turns out that there was a rule for that. the muntjac is permissible if it weren’t chased into the river by a predatory cat. when i heard the story of the muntjac found swimming in the ocean, i found it an almost surreal image, as i did the watermelons. perhaps i have watched too much of tsai ming-liang’s oeuvre. here at the siugulan river’s mouth, both are not terribly extraordinary elements of life in a turbulent place, makota’ay

turbulence: the siugulan bar holds traces of the things that get washed downstream and in from the ocean

the soundscape also shifts as we walk upstream from the bar. as the sound of waves recede we begin to hear the push of the tide against the river’s flow, sounds that change as the tide floods and, as they say in sowal no pangcah / ‘amis, sits (maro’ay ko kerah). in the lagoon, whirlpools and eddies of tidal and river water produce sounds different from the hiss of water flowing through the rapids upriver. i wonder if this shifting soundscape is an analogue of the turbulent history of this river mouth. over the next few weeks, i hope that i can fill in the details of these shifting soundscapes. as i do so, turbulence will likely remain one of the project’s key words

ruan chang-rui 2014 “the ‘amisization of ethnic chinese people in makota’ay” o lalood i cepo’: the cepo’ incident from the perspective of ‘amis history, ed. tsai chong-han. taipei: taiwan indigenous culture and education foundation. pp 97-115 [in chinese]