Pursuing Taiwanese-ness: the contemporary music practices of Taitung indigenous people

Yang-Ming Teoh
This research is an ethnography exploring the contemporary music practices of the indigenous people of Taitung, a southeastern county in Taiwan. Indigenous people make up a large proportion of the population of Taitung, and their music has in recent years been used in international and local events to potray a unique Taiwanese identity. I discuss how indigenous and other Taiwanese have collaborated to create this identity - the Taiwanese-ness - and how they have done so with tangled webs of
more » ... erns for authenticity, hybridisation and Otherness. I examine two opposite approaches in heredity and maintenance of the tradition: first, sticking to locality, and therefore passing down the tradition in a functional way; second, endorsing and appropriating transnational pop practices in order to garner commercial success. I argue that living experience - the familiarity to a musical culture which Mantle Hood (1982) considered the way that enabled ethnic groups to understand and evaluate their own musical traditions - is essential and irreplaceable. Hence, affiliation to a homeland, as depicted through notions of mountain and sea, becomes a key element in the self-identity of musicians as 'indigenous' (yuanzhumin in Mandarin, meaning 'original inhabitants'), and that the homeland, as the place of ancestors, allows indigenous groups to safeguard their traditions. However, indigenous Taiwanese are comfortable with and uphold a shared culture that was brought to the island by Han migrants, and this is evident in the influences of trans-cultural commercial and global Mandopop. Musicians tend to apply elements of their traditions such as indigenous languages, pentatonicism, ancient songs, specific rhythms and the incorporation of non-lexical vocables, wherever they can, using a bricolage approach. At the same time, musicians enrich the music culture, keeping tradition alive by adding to it in reciprocal ways elements from the outside, but also introducing the po­tential for cultural 'grey-out' as elements of traditional music [...]
doi:10.25501/soas.00032470 fatcat:o33zwmlmfzagrcpzdjvsoyyv64