Let’s begin, as do many pop songs, with an everyday scene of leave taking

In 1976, my friend Siki sneaked out of his house with enough money for the bus fare over the mountains to Takaw. His mother guessed that he was headed to the harbor and rushed along the next day. His elder brother, also wanting to see his second brother off, went AWOL from an army base in Hsinchu

At the harbor to send off second brother, the three desired to watch the boat disappear over the horizon, but the shape of the harbor placed the boat beyond their vision within minutes. All that remained present for those on the docks was the sound of the horn, lingering in the space between those leaving and those who would wait the three to five years for men on the boats to return

A staple in 1980s Taiwanese Indigenous popular culture, this scene from the far ocean fishing trade replayed at the harbor, appeared in stories (cf. Sakinu 2011), and resounded in popular music

The far ocean fishing trade still operates out of Takaw (Kaohsiung) and Kilong (Keelong). For ‘Amis (Pangcah) people, members of one of Taiwan’s 16 recognized Indigenous groups, the apex of the trade was in the early to mid 1980s, when nearly every man in ‘Amis communities embarked on the boats in conditions both hopeful and inflected by indenture. By then, running the boats (跑遠洋) became a normal stage in a man’s career, fitting neatly between graduation from middle school at 16 and compulsory army service at 19 or 20. Far oceaning remade ‘Amis townscapes, funding concrete houses, inspiring pop songs, and compelling movement between niyaro’ (hometowns) and diaspora communities near fishing harbors. Hearing the boat horn in popular musics of the 1980s brings this history to mind

In both ‘Amis and settler popular musics, boat horns sound as an index of far oceaning, voicing experiences of taking leave and return

Recorded or synthesized horns and even long pulses in a bass line thus trace a common history of industrial development, global fisheries labor, and migration

By now, this common history includes Taiwanese people of Indigenous and settler backgrounds, successive colonial states, and even the Southeast Asian workers that have replaced most Indigenous labor in Taiwan’s far ocean fishery. Nonetheless, the ways that boat horns register in Taiwanese Indigenous popular musics complicate if not unsettle this common history

Thus, when it sounds in ‘Amis pop songs of the 1980s, the boat horn resembles what Dwayne Donald (2012), working in the Canadian context, has called an “artifact,” an object whose location at an interface between Indigenous and settler communities allows it to bear conflicting perspectives that remain “simultaneously and paradoxically antagonistic and conjoined” (Donald 2012: 543)

With this sense of paradoxically conjoined and antagonistic artifacts like boat horns, I listen to ‘Amis popular musics. ‘Amis musicians often create versions of sounds already circulating in dominant national (Japanese, Mandarin) and settler (Hoklo, Mandarin) languages. These indigenous versions configure a double voice, at once entangled with the politics of assimilation and also sounding a means of refusal. By focusing on artifacts like the sound of boat horns, I wish to explore the role of sound in establishing distinctly Indigenous temporal orientations

Resonating through artifacts like the boat horn, the songs’ double voicing creates resources for rethinking the dominant categories of Settler time (Rifkin 2017)