registering riparian voices in practices of working the river mouth leads to forms of care that exceed environmentalism as normally configured
melice understood her concern for the environment as a product of knowing and caring for the river mouth which saved her from depression
in 2013, she had begun to see how fishermen from other communities (and some from Cawi’), some misafangay but mostly reel anglers, left large amounts of garbage on the beach behind them. Compounding this litter was the barrage of plastic water bottles and other trash coming downstream from the river rafting terminal just below the new bridge. Large catches of eels in the open ocean just beyond the river mouth and unrestricted gathering of crabs both reflected market pressures in which a haul of eel larvae in the season might be fungible as “a new motorcycle.”
melice saw these pressures as a threat to the river she had come to love, but she also perceived a threat behind consumer and state environmentalism.
movements to manage the pudaw fishery began to gather steam after settler environmentalists loudly proclaimed that they would never eat pudaw. In Taiwan, management would likely mean intervention of the national government and a complete moratorium on fishing the river mouth
more than just the loss of income, for Cepo’ Pangcah, such a moratorium would mean the end of those practices that hold them to the river, which in turn holds them.
around the niyaro’ environmentalism is not a popular word. The suggestion of environmental activism is colored by legal restrictions and their threats to local lifeways. Thus, the work of Melice’s “netizens” does not employ the term environmentalism, and I suspect occupies a different discursive space
the care for Cepo’ that Melice’s netizens cultivate grows from their frequent nights of fishing in which their practices of understanding fish behavior, feeling and hearing wave and current patterns through their nets and bodies, and feeling gratitude for what the river offers all create forms of ethical commitment as well as useful techniques
to frame beach cleanups and other environmental activism within local norms, the netizens incorporated as a civic organization, Cepo’ Protection Association (Cepo’ chuhaikou shouhu dui) in a 2017 ceremony in which they signed a compact, performed a ritual to invite the blessing of the ancestors on the group’s work to protect Cepo’, and collected several bags of trash–sorted as is now common in Taiwan, into different classes of recyclables. Beginning from monthly meetings to clean up and socialize, the netizens have since negotiated with other misafangay and rod and reel fishermen to create a set of shared norms
now the group strives to produce a local consensus and institutions that will permit the group to perform some governmental functions, such as setting seasons, issuing licenses, and monitoring the pudaw fishery. Although the creation of such institutions will require further negotiations with the settler state, Melice and her netizens describe their work as an extension of Pangcah practices of interacting with the river and each other in relationships of mipaliw, or shared labor
from melice and the netizens i’ve learned much about how to hearken to the river, making the river the focus of ethical attention. thus in my installation work, I focus on ways that I might interpret safang as more than just a technology for catching fish—hence the length of the poyo or tails of the nets and the suggestion that safang mediate between people and Taradaw as a source of new life
as I used my hydrophones to capture the sound of the net in the water, I also attempted to give the safang a kind of voice otherwise inaccessible to those who never enter the river mouth safang in hand, making the safang an artifact that will resonate in the space of an art installation
but this attention to register voices, something that I’ve learned from my time at Cepo’, might tell us something of importance to Native / Indigenous studies more broadly
given its relationship to stance, voice not only entails an attribution of consciousness to a sounding subject, it also hails hearers as listeners, those who “hark to” and generally maintain stances on the vocal subject. Might this harking to a voice differ from recognition as normally conceived, both in its expansiveness—there are a wider variety of voices to which we hark than subjects of recognition—and its reliance on a more horizontal, less procedural ethics? If so, we might think of how we might better register voice as a part of ethnographic practice