Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This presentation examines the 2016 dance theatre production Maataw: The Floating Island, a production based on the indigenous Tao’s singing and dancing traditions by the Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe. The Tao (達悟), one of the sixteen recognized indigenous groups in Taiwan, live on Orchid Island to the southeast of the main island of Taiwan. Through singing, their primary form of traditional music, they transmit their history, views of life, and taboos. As with other Indigenous societies, the Tao consider maintaining balance between the ecological environment and human society to have essential value. However, discriminatory policies applied by the Taiwanese government since the 1950s has resulted in young and middle-aged people lacking native language proficiency, and almost total abandonment of traditional singing practices. For example, most of the houses used as the primary cultural transmission sites were demolished during the 1980s. Additionally, an "intermediate deposit" for "weak" radioactive waste was established on the island in 1980. Unsurprisingly, radioactive substances moved beyond the confines of this dumpsite in 2009. This paper derives from research with Tao people since 2005, featuring participant-observation, interviews, participatory action research, dialogical knowledge production, and collective artistic interventions. Taking Maataw as case study, this paper discusses how the production integrates Indigenous tradition into the contemporary arts and the problems that emerge during such an endeavour. I examine how Maataw interprets the Tao’s past, and how political issues can be transmuted into movements and sounds.