Mayaw Biho and the Indigenous Image Movement
Associate Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences,
National Chiao Tung University
|In addition to its spotlight
on the American director Victor Masayesva, (a member of the Hopi Tribe)
the 2007 Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival’s Director in
Focus program will also highlight local talent. We are delighted to introduce
Mayaw Biho, a documentary director and member of the Amei Tribe, and three
of his films, Children in Heaven, Carry the Paramount of
Jade Mountain on My Back, and Dear Rice Wine, You are Defeated.
The director was born and raised in the tribal village of Chihlo, in Hualien, from which he departed in order to attend high school. As a college student in Taipei, Mayaw Biho began directing such movies as ’Spring Sun’ is Our Name, As Life, As Pangcah, Children in Heaven, and Gi-Lahatzu. Upon graduation, he became an independent filmmaker, working on Formosa Aboriginal News Magazine, Our Island for the Public Television Service, and Words of Life on Super Television.
Interested in more than just the recording of copious images of aboriginal
life, over the years Mayaw Biho has also worked actively in the cultural
movement for the advancement of aboriginal social status. His films
highlight contemporary politico-ethnic issues, such as the Taiwanese
First Nation’s mission for the reclamation of the original aboriginal
names for people and places. In addition to promoting the world’s general
awareness of them, Biho attempts to arouse the consciousness of the
island’s indigenous peoples themselves, and harness their collective
power through his image-performances. In 2000, Mayaw Biho helped organize
Taiwan’s first festival of tribal film, the Real Pang-cah Amei Film
Festival. Then, in 2005, he was an instrumental player in the “Get Our
Real Names Back” movement, which included commercial film productions,
the distribution of documentaries, the launch of a website, and the
“One Hundred People Reclaim Their Aboriginal Names” political action.
Mayaw Biho uses this question as a jumping-off point, endeavoring to
then directly pipeline the aboriginal experience to the audience, conveying
aboriginal identity and belief systems via portrayals of tribal society,
economics, and politics. Mayaw Biho’s “image-movement” explores the
political potential of aboriginal self-representation, using new media
as a tool for advancing the community’s political hopes. He shows how
aborigines are creating a new sense of self, one meant to withstand
the flux of greater political authorities, national identities, and
social cultures that swarm around them.
|Playing House with the
Children in Heaven
Every year, the Taipei County Government sends a wrecking crew to demolish
the impoverished tribal village that is situated under Sanying Bridge,
due to its violation of the Irrigation Management Law. With police protection,
excavators and trucks invade the riverbed land, razing the wooden houses
and demolishing the entire village, with not even one patch of asphalt
spared from their destructive authority. The debris is then hauled away
in an efficient and singularly muscular display of governmental administrative
|Mayaw Biho’s film portrays these events
through the eyes of the village’s children. The children are boundlessly
creative in their elaboration of fun and play, despite harsh surroundings.
(A small inner-tube propped on a half-open door serves as the hoop in
their game of basketball.) After their hamlet and homes are destroyed,
the children survey the ruins. Rummaging, they gather random boards, a
hammer, and some nails, and fabricate for their beloved dolls a new home,
which also serves as temporary shelter for the children themselves.
The world, as seen by the children, is presented
through black-and-white photos and color film. The still photos offer
a sketch of village life while the color film, on the other hand, uses
sound and movement to provide a running commentary. The “voices” of
the children are silent, expressed through subtitles. Their unspoken
narration and internal monologues, actually written by the director,
harmonize with the voice of singer Parangalan on the soundtrack. Experienced
together, these silent, sung, and narrated voices are very evocative.
|After experiencing repeatedly the
destruction and rebuilding of their hamlet, the children know that soon
they will once more get to “play house,” ---with the nation, police, and
administrative powers. The lyrics of Parangalan’s song NoNoNo ---“not
alive but not dead, not real but not fake, not drunk but not sober, am
I in heaven?”--- express immeasurable frustration and irony.
|Carry the Paramount of Jade Mountain
on My Back
Children today probably know nothing of the story of Yu Yu-jen, let alone that of the bronze statue of him that once graced the summit of Jade Mountain.
In their youth, Wu Sheng-mei and Chuan Kuei-mei, from the Tungpu Bunun, were two outstanding mountain guides who had the arduous job of carrying the Yu Yu-jen statue up the mountainside. Aborigines often served as guides and porters, helping climbers lug burdens through the thin atmosphere of high altitudes. Such strenuous activity eventually took its toll on the guides’ health, the excessive burden often resulting in irreparable leg damage.
Wu and Chuan worked together with the China Youth
Corps during the 1970’s. In 1978, they were given the responsibility
of carrying the bronze statue of Yu Yu-jen to the top of Jade Mountain.
The statue, itself, weighing over 90 kilograms, was packed in a wooden
crate which brought the total weight of their load to about 115 kilograms.
The two also took turns carrying the statue’s base, which was made of
Ensconced on the mountaintop, the statue of Yu Yu-jen served as a kind of political totem, in line with the country’s Chinese identity and the political ideology of the time. With the lifting of martial law, Taiwanese nationalist feelings escalated and many people were eager to free themselves of everything “Chinese”. During that period vandals removed the head of the statue and, not long after, the rest of it, base and all, was shattered and cast into the valley from its mountaintop post.
When Wu and Chuan learned that the statue which
they had so arduously labored to usher homeward had been destroyed,
they were saddened and perplexed. Although not clear in their minds
about what Yu Yu-jen represented, they knew that the newly aroused Taiwanese
native consciousness that had spurred people to destroy his statue had
nothing to do with them, either. Aborigines have an outsider’s stance
regarding the ebb and flow of the island’s political rivalries. Regardless
of who is in power, to the island’s aborigines Jade Mountain is marked
with the footprints of their ancestors, a landmark evoking “home.”
|Grandfather Says You’d
Better Drink That Entire Bowl of Rice Wine
In the film, “Dear Rice Wine, You are Defeated”, a grandfather insists he does not trust the rice wine from the Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor Corporation. Suspecting contamination, he is afraid to drink it. Because the brewing process happens behind factory walls, the older generation is wary of rice wine produced by the TTLC. Grandpa knows that his people, the Pang-cah, brew many kinds of rice wine themselves. “Since it’s made by us,” he says, “you can see the people who make the yeast, and those who brew the alcohol, and see what ingredients they add…”
The idea that rice wine is harmful to your body takes on two levels
of meaning in the film. One is that rice wine by its nature damages
health, while the other is that specific ceremonial rituals stylizing
its consumption can be harmful in themselves.
Many Pang-cah are convinced that one kind of rice wine is flawed and objectionable, while the second type of rice wine, produced within the community, is safe and acceptable. However, these two kinds of rice wine are now often confused, because people cannot distinguish them based on appearance. Members of the younger generation who have not been through the relevant tribal rites are especially unaware of the differences between the two.
Grandpa says, “You must finish all of the rice
wine in that bowl.” In the tribe’s initiation ceremony, a member who
drinks all of his rice wine is thus mature enough to shoulder larger
responsibilities. The ceremony also represents resistance to the foreign
rice wine because it underlines the differences between the vital tribal
wine and ---that other wine. The wine takes on ethnic significance,
validating the spirit of the tribe and serving as a symbol of resistance
to mainstream stigma and political repression.
|From this film, we can learn some of the motivating goals of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples’ movement: the return to ancestral tradition, and the protection of tribal soul. In addition, the movement attempts to break through the framework and stigma imposed upon aborigines by outsiders, in order to develop individual and tribal self-confidence, self-determination, and autonomy. Broadcast on television, or shown on a movie screen, these images of indigenous people returning to the tribe and one of its traditions (albeit one that is being interrogated by contemporary value-shifts ), can effectively be turned into political capital, serving as an energy to re-unite the tribe and propel it forward. They can also serve as a bridge of communication with outside social groups, the government, and the future.|