Amis Music Festival

[Mata Taiwan] The Amis Music Festival with no program listings: Dialogue with the world through a most genuine tribal village!

Written on 11/18/2016

If someone tells you that he is going to a music festival with hardly any prior announcement of the program details, and you will not find any program listings on site on the day of the event, can you imagine? Or will you doubt how it could be possible for someone to spend money for a performance when they don’t know what the programs are?

Tell you what, there really is such a music festival in Taitung’s Dulan tribal village. Not only has it entered its 3rd edition, the number of participants is increasing, and the scale of the event is getting bigger and bigger; even the event organizer himself is surprised to say, "We did not publicize our programs at all and you just came!"

What exactly is the charm of this music festival to attract audience from Taiwan, and even from all over the world, to gather here again and again?

A Music Festival owned together by the local Amis people in Dulan

In 2013, Amis singer Suming Rupi (舒米恩) organized the first ever Amis Music Festival in Dulan tribal village, where he was born and grew up in. Planned and prepared with the tribal village and the local Amis people as the main subject of the music festival, it is very different from the various music festivals commonly seen throughout Taiwan in recent years, and this year is already its 3rd edition. After several years, we see the uniqueness of the Amis Music Festival growing stronger while celebrities halo effect wanes, which is quite different from what the general public imagined of a music festival.

After the performance lineup for the 1st edition was announced, I think it was still more or less celebrities like Suming, TOTEM (圖騰樂團), Dakanow (達卡鬧), and Ado Kaliting Pacidal (阿洛·卡力亭·巴奇辣), which attracted the attention of the audience.  The unexpected appearance of Matzka, A-Lin and others on stage that day further surprised the audience. In reality, however, the protagonists of the Amis Music Festival has never been these celebrities, but the tribal village and the local Amis people. Just as the promotions in these past few years repeatedly express: "Our music festival is very unusual, we don't play the celebrity card, because everyone who can go on stage are the stars of the tribal village."

The Amis Music Festival is really such a stage. It is not some big celebrity’s exclusive stage — it is a stage belonging to the local Amis people.

In this 3rd edition, which celebrity will or when they will appear is no longer what the audience is most concerned about. At least not to some of the audience I spoke with that day; some don't even know what the Amis Music Festival is about, they just came.

Here, what everyone enjoys is the entire ambience of time and space, rather than a specific performer or specific performance, the "no program listings, no site map" arrangement has turned out to be an ingenious way to help audience delve into the Amis Music Festival.

Imagination of tribal village that is not limited by the program listings

Without a program listings’ guide, audience will be more likely to open up and be in touch with various programs and music, and not set limitations (in other words, they will not be able to pick performances).  Although they can still decide within a few minutes after the performance begins whether or not to continue staying in the audience area, at least the choice won’t be made just by looking at the program listings. When there is no site map to tell you where every place is in the venue, you will have to move your body around to different corners to explore the places yourself — People, events, objects, and even time and space environment become open and free of limitations, which is in fact a very important attitude to have in cross-cultural/cross-ethnic communication, isn’t it? 

Through careful observation, we will discover that the vast majority of audience in the Music Festival are non-Indigenous people. I believe some came with imagination that the event is "very tribal/very Indigenous," and the Amis Music Festival more or less responded to some of these "very tribal/very Indigenous" imagination: The vendor's booth set up in the Dulan Junior High School sports field sells all kinds of tribal handicrafts and folk style clothing accessories, there are also booths selling grilled meat on stone (石板烤肉), fresh fish soup (鮮魚湯), pork blood soup (血肉模糊湯), and other local delicacies; you will even find tribal special alcoholic beverages in the booths.

To those who have less opportunity to be in touch with Indigenous people in their daily lives, everything sold in the booths embodies their imagination of tribal villages or the Indigenous people; but can real Indigenous people or tribal village only be confined to the limits of these imaginations?

On the contrary, I think the Amis Music Festival itself either intentionally or unintentionally challenges the limits of this "very tribal/very Indigenous" imagination.

From the program arrangement, you will find a wide variety of different types of programs, including singing, musical performance, play, dance, and even gymnastics; with performers spanning across all age sets. The stage blurs the line of what many have imagined how things should be — Who says Indigenous people can only sing their Indigenous language songs or ancient traditional songs, and not Chinese songs they wrote themselves, RAP or Chinese pop songs of other singers? Who says Indigenous people can only dance traditional dances and not modern dance, ballroom dance or street dance?

Who says elders in the tribal village can only chant ancient traditional songs and can't rock? Who says tribal village songs can only be presented in the simplest ways and not in experimental metal style?

I believe that in the Dulan Arena (Dulan Junior High School stadium) that night, the horizon of the audience were opened by what was presented in this stage; not only do we see the varied poise of the Indigenous people, we even genuinely cheered for each segment of the performance on stage.

Amis Music Festival as another possibility for tribal autonomous development

Let’s widen the horizon a little — if we see the Amis Music Festival as another possibility for tribal development, I think it also challenges everyone’s imagination of what tribal development should be; especially our imagination relating to the development of tourism industry and fast-food-like tourism model which comes and goes quickly.

When we talk of tribal village development these days, we usually think of sightseeing tourism right away, and such tour frequently ties its schedule with the annual rituals. Although more and more local tribal people are aware of the impact to the tribal village, these voices are easily drowned out in the name of tribal development. Of course, Dulan tribal village also face the same situation with its annual rituals being interfered by tourist crowds.

However, by presenting again some of what outsiders have imagined of the Harvest Festival (豐年祭), the Amis Music Festival might just be able to bring about a solution for the tribal village; and even bring about a better mode of development.

The Harvest Festival (豐年祭) of the tribal village and the Amis Music Festival have a lot of similarities, but there are also some aspects that are absolutely different: In both events, we can see tribal autonomy (自主性) and subjectivity (主體性). Traditional songs and dances, and various performances of local tribal people are also important components of the two; and both have booths selling all kinds of goods and food as well.

However, to a present-day tribal village, the Harvest Festival (豐年祭) is the most important period of the year, and even have sacred meanings; and, thus, frankly not suitable for outsiders to observe and even to intervene. It is not the best timing for getting to know the tribal village. During the Harvest Festival (豐年祭) period, local tribal people usually do not have time to greet everyone, and the singing and dancing and various performances at this time is definitely not meant for the tourists.

This is not the case in the Amis Music Festival, where it has very clearly set the tone to invite friends from outside the tribal village to come to the village (the term used in the Amis Music Festival is "welcome to our country") as guests, to appreciate the local flavors and friendships. Guests from everywhere do not have to worry about interrupting the local tribal people at the wrong time and space; and can get to know more about the tribal village in a more comfortable way through the music, performances, food, handicrafts and other medium.

More importantly, everyone’s consumption here can really stay in the tribal village.

Hardly any space available in the tribal village during the Music Festival

There is a subtle link between tribal rituals and vendors doing business: The annual rituals bring in tourist crowds, which naturally attracts vendors, but very few people ever thought of the fact that if the people in the tribal village are busy with the annual rituals, then who will have time to set up the booths to do business? Many vendors are actually people from outside the tribal village, so on the surface the tourist crowds may be consuming in the geographical space within the tribal village, but the earnings from the booths will not really be able to stay in the social network within the tribal village.

The Amis Music Festival also responded to this issue: All the booths within the venue are screened and selected by the organizer. Some booths are set up by the local tribal people or age sets, with a small number by people from other tribal villages. There are also booths set up by students of Dulan Junior High School and Dulan Elementary School on that day. A number of different themed tribal handicraft workshop experience activities are arranged for the day after the music festival (which needs to be paid separately, and not included in the music festival tickets). Consumption of the participants during the activities can then go directly to the individual or groups.

On that day, there are a few vendors selling goods in the booths they set up outside the entrance of the venue. The organizer especially explained to everyone that the booths outside the venue are not arranged by the organizer, and encouraged everyone to try to consume within the venue, so that consumptions can stay in the tribal village.

In addition, the music festival's program lasted from noon to late evening that day, and many of the participants perhaps have never stayed in any tribal space for such a long time. Since the event often ends after 10 o'clock in the evening, regardless of whether participants will take the following day to join the handicraft experience workshop arranged in cooperation by the organizer and some local workshops, most people will choose to spend a night in Dulan tribal village or at least in Taitung, and some people will take the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Taitung.

In recent years, whenever it is time for the Amis Music Festival, bed and breakfast accommodations within and near Dulan tribal village have hardly any space available. Without pre-booking several months in advance, it is impossible to spend a night near Dulan tribal village. Various types of businesses in and around the tribal village more or less also get a share of the business brought about by the music festival crowd.

The Amis Music Festival opens up another path for development of tourism and industry in Dulan tribal village, but is this transferrable or replicable in other tribal villages?

The state and condition of each tribal village is different, and no development strategy can be applied to all tribal villages, but I think we can still find some key points from the experience of Dulan tribal village that can serve as reference, such as the ability of tribal organizations to mobilize, the establishment of the tribal village’s subjectivity (主體性) / dominant role (主導性) in the process of tribal development or planning activities, sense of identity and cohesiveness within the tribal village, external communication skills, and so on. With these foundations, tribal villages may then perhaps be able to open a path for tribal development that is different from what is imagined now.

Change the world through music and arts, and eventually return to the tribal village

In its 3rd edition, the Amis Music Festival continues to break through frameworks. In addition to the local tribal people within Dulan Village, this time the performance unit came from a number of ethnic groups across Taiwan, from the neighboring tribal villages of Hualien and Taitung to those from tribal villages on the other side of the mountain, including Tainan’s Kabuasua (吉貝耍) tribal village, Hsinchu’s Smangus (司馬庫斯) tribal village, and even includes the Tokeshi Youth Association (渡慶次青年會) who came all the way from Okinawa’s Yomitan-son (讀谷村).

I think that as long as the Amis Music Festival can continue on year after year, it will eventually become a cross-tribal, cross-ethnic, and even cross-national music event — every year at this time, local tribal people or non-Indigenous people from everywhere will naturally be drawn by the music and arts to come here.  They may take part in the performances, may have the opportunity to use this stage to tell their own stories, may seize the opportunity to communicate cross-tribal, cross-ethnic issues, or perhaps just be an audience who enjoys music, who is visiting the tribal village for the first time; everyone can share a wonderful time here and get to know each other. Who says art and music can't change the world?​

That afternoon, the activities in the venue continued; but when I chose to give myself some time to walk into the streets of the tribal village, I found that outside the lively and loud event venue, there was another part of the Dulan tribal village that is still running in the usual routine of daily life : several people sitting in front of the grocery store chatting, a woman drying things under the roof of a house, a scooter carrying a child in the front foot platform area slowly driving by, shops on the streets of Dulan Village getting busy with their own business.

Somehow, these relatively quiet scenes touches me immensely, perhaps because these scenes remind me that the Amis Music Festival is only a part of Dulan tribal village; the time and space outside the music festival is yet another poise of this tribal village.

The tribal village does not exist only at the time of Harvest Festival (豐年祭) or the Amis Music Festival. It has always been there, turning and changing with the world. It also will face impact and challenges arising from interactions between the contemporary society and the tribal village. As to the various poise of this tribal village, let’s leave it to everyone to encounter in different moments and situations.

Report: Mata Taiwan, 2016/11/18

Title: The Amis Music Festival with no program listings: Dialogue with the world through a most genuine tribal village!

Article: Snayian

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