Let’s listen to the sound of boat horns again.
boat horns featured prominently in a 1983 Hoklo song widely covered by settler and Indigenous singers. Tan I-liong’s (陳一郎) “A Song of the Sailor’s Love” (行船人的純情曲 kiaN cun lang e suncheng kiok) begins with nearly three full measures of synthesized waves with two long pulses of a boat horn entering close to the fourth beat of each measure. A lone keyboard then enters, followed by female backing vocals and, as is typical in early 1980s Hoklo language popular music, synthesized strings and flute
tan’s vocals, at the center and forward in the mix, express the complaints of a man headed to sea with no loved one sending him off. Backing vocals repeat the end phrases of each second line. Tan’s use of very tight articulation, plentiful melisma, and wide vibrato at the concluding syllable of verses and choruses place the song solidly within enka inspired Hoklo language pop. The first two measures of ocean and boat horn create the atmosphere of far oceaning, as does the reference in the lyrics to harbors and the “white, foggy steam of the boat” as it leaves, no friend in sight
the connection to far oceaning in the song expresses a common history of work on the boats. Tan was familiar with the trade, as Tan’s hometown of Tangkang （東港）produced many of the officers on Taiwan’s far ocean fishing fleet of the 1970s and 1980s
an apocryphal narrative relates that “Sailor’s Love” was even composed by a kiaNcun lang whom Tan met in his work as a nakasi. Soon after its release, the song established Tan as more than a nakasi singer sought after for weddings and other local entertainments. One of the most popular Hoklo songs of the 1980s, “Sailor’s Love” has been covered by many singers including Chiang Hui （江蕙）and Huang Yi-ling （黃乙玲）
later, the Tolik ‘Amis singer Sifon (吳之義Wu Chih-yi) would perform an ‘Amis language cover
in most recorded versions of the song—whether setter or ‘Amis–the boat horn enters before the lyrics or is intimated in a long pulse on a bass synth or piano chord. Apart from changes in tempo, lyrics, or harmonic rhythm, the boat horn thus remains a stable feature, an indexical figure of its identity as a far ocean fishing song.
part of the experience of send offs at the harbor, the boat horn traces common experiences of settler fishermen in Tangkang and in ‘Amis communities. This experience of kiaN cun / mifotingay links Tangkang and ‘Amis communities more closely than might at first be evident, as many of the far ocean fishing boats of the 1980s had Tangkang officers and ‘Amis crews
however, the boat horn registers differently in ‘Amis covers of the song which, in addition to their upbeat tempos and brighter timbres, include lyrics that differ in emphasis and address. In Sifon’s version, for example, the fisherman’s beloved goes to the harbor to send him off with tears. In keeping with ‘Amis poetics of longing, moreover, the singer imagines that the moon resembles the face of the loved one at home and the sun her body. This imagination strengthens the mifotingay’s heart, causing him to call out, “wait for my return” (tala’en ko pinokayan ako)
in Tan’s original, the implied listeners are other kiaN cun lang. Tan’s addressees thus hear the boat horn not from the docks but on the boat. The atmospheric quality of the horn, that it passes beyond the spaces and bodies of intended addressees to unratified listeners (perhaps on the docks or on other boats), signals the betrayal and absence of the beloved, who is not there to hear the horn or to send off the singing subject. Tan’s song registers the boat horn as an interior voice to which kiaNcun lang listen in a kind of exile or solitude
by contrast, ‘Amis versions register the boat horn in a way that conjures a shared space in which the singer and addressee affect each other through shared—if mediated–hearing, sight, and feeling. The boat horn thus sounds a common history of leave taking and reunion, shared by ‘Amis and settler communities engaged in far ocean fishing, but with a contrasting sensibility and structure of feeling
this contrasting registration suggests a paradoxically conjoined yet discrepant temporal orientation
for example, when I hear the song at a coin-operated karaoke the boat horn connects to narratives like the one Siki told me about running away from home to send off his brother. Sifon’s registration of this sound calls to mind stories that women in coastal ‘Amis communities told me about village loudspeakers announcing a phone call from distants ports or, if the women lived in Takaw, their daily visits to an announcement board where they could check the last known location of the boats and projected return dates. The women placed the sounds of the harbor within these daily activities of waiting. Sifon and other ‘Amis singers capture this temporal orientation in their versions of far ocean fishing songs
in both Hoklo and ‘Amis versions, there is a stress on a kind of fatality. Sifon’s lyrics contain the line, “But as I am a man, I must become a fisherman, what can I do?” However, this fatality, connected broadly to transformations in Taiwan’s economy and the position of ‘Amis men as exploited laborers (Tu 2007: 120), clashes with settler temporalities and affects. The boat horn sounds far more than the narrative of heroic labor and futurity found in Tan’s version; it resonates with a broader sense of dispossession, of entire families moved to Takaw, houses abandoned in the niyaro’. Where there is futurity in Sifon’s version, it resonates with particularly ‘Amis experiences of place and kinship
The ethical commitments voiced here remain distinct even if we sing Sifon’s version from Tan’s karaoke track
interplay between address and boat horn creates this space. In its exteriority of address, Sifon’s ‘Amis version amplifies the boat horn as a social atmosphere, or at least a household one. Unlike Tan’s version, the boat horn does not augment the interiority of the song’s address to interpellate listeners as the misunderstood and suffering (picheng) subject of Hoklo popular music. It situates the boat horn in strategies of household reproduction that require men but that remain, in spite of colonial arrogation of kinship reckoning, largely matrifocal