Voices of and along the river hold histories for Cepo’ Pangcah while holding them to their histories, creating a space in which one can live but demanding something other than recognition, something more like care
melice, a cepo’ pangcah woman who fishes the river mouth with a safang, has become a somewhat unlikely environmental educator and activist. her “netizens” (or “internet friends” wang you 網友) developed from an ethics of locality that grows from practices of listening and caring for the river. thus i see it as a way to develop a politics beyond that of recognition, particularly in interethnic contexts
what is melice’s story?
melice says that the river mouth saved her life
like many of her generation who came of age in the early 1990s, she left home for middle school and lived in Taoyuan, in Taiwan’s urban North, into her late 20s. Later, she returned to her home town of Cawi’ because her mother, then ill, required help around the house. She took jobs in daycare and as a docent on whale watching tours that depart from a small harbor a few kilometers up the road from Cawi’. She also became part of the Comprehensive Community Development programs that sprang up in rural Taiwan in the mid to late 1990s
at the time, she battled nearly catatonic depression
for years, she had forced herself to speak “proper” and hide her Indigenous accent, as well as her skin from the sun, lest she not pass as Paylang in urban contexts. To perfect her accent, she read the newspaper very carefully, using the dictionary and phonetic symbols,
Bo Po Mo Fo
De Te Ne Le
these years of trying to pass set upon her like a weight which she could manage while working on the boat, where settler tourists praised her accent, saying that they “couldn’t believe that an Aboriginal woman could speak so well!”
leaving work, she lacked motivation and forced herself to perform routine tasks. Fortunately, she says, she didn’t drink. She knew that if she did, she would have gone permanently insane (malamaapa’)
one day while out on the boat she finally saw her community sitting there at the mouth of the Taradaw
she saw Lokot sitting there in the river mouth, with Ci’icepay to the south and Kakowangan to the north. The dolphins called her attention to Cawi’, sitting there underneath Ci’icepay, and she realized its beauty and fragility
tet the real change for Melice was when she began to misafang in the river mouth. In daily interactions with the river and ocean at Cepo’, net in hand, she began to let herself be cured. The voice of the river, the sound of the net as it dipped into the current, the springing sound of pudaw against her net all spoke to her. From a child who found pudaw “terrifying” (kepa) and longed to eat meat bought in a market, she has become an unconventional environmentalist, gathering her organization of netizens to protect the river
in her narrative Melice registers everyday voices, including her own, to animate the river and the niyaro’. After describing how she had labored to correct her accent out of shame, she related how her return to the niyaro’ was an experience of unfamiliar voices:
but there are no so-called ‘hot topics’ in the bulo. There isn’t anything really, just
pu da: w…
you know, the men go down to fish and it’s “Many? Many!” (adihay? adihay!)
and the women are about the same, “how was your man’s catch today? Many? Many!”
today of course, other people address her as she picks pebbles out of her own catch, adihay?
however, in her narrative adihay? a:dihay! signals Melice’s status as an unratified listener. As we listen, we collaborate with Melice to animate along with her the niyaro’ as a figure from which she felt estranged
such embedded conversations about pudaw belong to the everyday life of the niyaro’, whose inflections and practices Melice began to understand as “culture”
to become reacquainted with her niyaro’ she set out from the river mouth, from the conversations—adihay? a:dihay!—which voice, for Melice, a broader set of practices associated with misafang, including forms of care for the river that grow out of the knowledge one acquires along with fish as one uses one’s nets.
adihay? a:dihay! thus reoccurs in Melice’s narrative as a sonic index for her motivation to know and to protect the river mouth which holds niyaro’ sociality