for those of you who can’t make it to this year’s meeting of the ICTM study group in the making for music and dance in Indigenous and post colonial contexts –being held next week at the campus of Donghwa University in Hualien, I’ll give you the talk in a series of blog posts here. Feel free to give me your comments
In July 2020, the Mangkota’ay Pangcah Nation held its annual ilisin in spite of pressures from settler governments in Hualien and Fongbin to cancel. During the pandemic, practices like holding hands to dance might have alarmed the government as these practices could possibly transmit the virus. However, government insistence to cancel—not limited to Hualien County but also prevalent in Taitung and in the urban centers where ‘Amis / Pangcah also reside—was motivated equally by a semiotic ideology in which ilisin or kiloma’an, the annual ritual of ‘Amis nations, is voluntary and creates a spectacle amenable to tourism and political representation.
Although Pangcah also employ images of the ritual dance, malikoda, in self-representations, the dance exceeds these images. A means to create ethical relations among people in the community, with the ancestors, and with guests, malikodais both compulsory and not primarily a spectacle. Rather, ‘Amis metaphors of the dance stress embodied qualities of weaving and interconnection. Tensions between malikoda as an icon / image, which make it a circulating token of indigeneity, and embodied, indexical qualities of the dance surface in intercultural contexts such as the politics of managing the pandemic and in the ways that Pangcah / ‘Amis contemporary artists communicate with their largely settler audiences.
In this talk, I will discuss ways that one Taiwanese contemporary installation and performance artist, Rahic Talif (Mangota’ay Pangcah), employs malikoda as a method in critical art practice. As he dances across large canvases applying paint with his feet, Rahic reflects on ways that Pangcah aesthetics might be maintained in dialogue with colonially derived materials. An intervention into Pangcah modernity that refuses to sit within either neo-traditionalist or salvage modes, Rahic’s use of malikoda as method criticizes mainstream semiotic ideologies in which dance is “cultural content” or “image.” In doing so, his work suggests a means for ethnomusicologists to become more responsive / responsible in our work with Indigenous musicians.
From the Japanese colonial period onward, malikoda has circulated in colonial imaginations of Taiwanese indigeneity.
A genre of dances performed holding hands while moving in a spiral, malikoda is closely associated with annual rituals (kiloma’an / ilisin) and has become a musical symbol for Taiwanese Indigenous Peoples. However, even across Pangcah communities, each community has its own relatively distinctive malikoda. Malikoda are generally not shared across communities. Thus settler notions of the dance as a single form representing all Taiwanese Indigenous people diverge from most Pangcah understandings of the dance as specific to particular communities, appropriate for performance in relatively restricted contexts, realizing relationships to the land and ancestral presences, and asserting sovereignty.
In his allusions to the dance in his visual art practice, Rahic works across the contradictions between settler and Pangcah understandings and deployments of malikoda.
For the settler majority, malikoda serves as both an iconic performance of indigeneity and as a participatory form that promises transcendence of ethnic division. As the settler state has attempted to reimagine and rebrand itself in the wake of the island country’s democratization, moreover, Taiwanese Indigenous people have also served as a resource. Images of indigeneity circulate as markers of a multicultural, post-Chinese public culture domestically and increasingly appear in contexts of national representation abroad.
rahic’s work generally
Generally, Rahic avoids explicit figuration while employing Indigenous language and modes of developing relatedness as part of his process. In Journeys in the Space of 50 Steps (2014 – 2019), Rahic performed everyday labour in the intertidal zone, gathering (mipodpod). Pangcah people usually gather shellfish and sea vegetables. Rahic gathered plastic flip flops and a variety of trash to make his pieces, for which he also observed, remembered, and sang at the ocean’s edge. Most of this process is invisible in the works, which are relatively small drawings of ocean scenes with the stamp of a sole of a plastic flip flop impressed upon them, along with Rahic’s writing. In my collaboration with Rahic as a sound artist, I recorded and presented part of this process, but kept it opaque, a trace that supplemented but never attempted to translate or otherwise fit Rahic’s process within an immediately digestible format. Although Rahic wanted some of his process to be audible, he wanted it to remain a provocation to his audience to develop different kinds of relatedness to the ocean.
In Rahic’s work, avoidance of figurative depiction is particularly marked when he turns to dance, as ‘Amis dance has been the focus of much image making. Rahic avoids depicting malikoda directly, employing it as he did gathering, as a method.
In keeping with this practice, I will also avoid the expected mode of ethnographic presentation and exegesis.
I will not play a clip of a recording
I will not show a video
I will not share a transcription
I will not describe dance gestures or do a musical analysis.
Rahic’s malikoda is, apart from its traces on canvas, none of your business.
Dance has entered Rahic’s work in subtle ways. For example, in a 2019 description of one of his sculptural installations Rahic described the ocean as a teacher:
The ocean never stays its dance; it continues without pause, and yet the intensity of its waves always changes. Likewise, the malikoda should never stop. It keeps its pulse even as the tempo changes constantly. Like waves, it may be tranquil for awhile but then suddenly breaks through and washes away all before it. The ocean teaches us. The malikoda trains the youth to remain in motion and suddenly overwhelm those arrayed against us. The ocean teaches us through the dance, and our dance should resemble the ocean.
Although malikoda often enters his work, the pieces that I describe here are the first ones in which Rahic employs dance directly as a mode of painting. Through the work, he questions relationships among ritual, Pangcah aesthetics, and tourist spectatorship, as he asks, “What is the colour of malikoda? Of “culture”?