holding the hand of the other

i’m working these days on a paper for IASPM’s inter-asia music conference. the next few postings will be drafts, ideas, and other work toward the paper. please comment!

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the malikoda has a knack for showing up wherever someone wants to make claims about indigeneity, but particularly in those contexts in which non-indigenous audiences need to be brought in somehow, becoming part of the spectacle. these contexts include tourism, official visits, political protest, and concerts. usually in these contexts, the dance is called the “general assembly dance” 大會舞 in reference to its power to gather people into an assembly ordered by age and gender distinctions. our stress on the dance as “traditional,” i fear, has led us to miss its role in ‘amis articulations with outsiders. what would it look like if we saw the dance as a tool for mediating across social differences, including exogenous agency?

at the album release party for ado’ kaliting pacidal’s 2012 release sun and moon, malikoda provided the buoyant and all embracing end to an evening that had no lack of audience participation, including an unplanned appearance by this ethnographer

as we in the audience linked hands and danced, it was hard not to feel that the evening was transformative, that ado’ had brought us together into a broader community held together in unified steps and interlocked hands. in less formal concerts, ado’ has added a dance lesson or otherwise planted competent dancers throughout the audience to facilitate malikoda as the finale to her performances

similarly, when activists attempting to block the planned demolition of an urban indigenous village turned to the malikoda. squatters founded the village on the outskirts of taipei nearly 40 years ago, and thus the village was home for more than a generation of ‘amis people in taipei, in spite of its informal origins. protests against the demolition drew a broad group of activists, including many non-indigenous musicians and young people concerned about urban planning. malikoda brought this diverse group together as a part of the village and its struggles

these deployments of malikoda parallel the use of malikoda as the finale in tourist spectacles at cultural parks, jointly held and competitive “unified harvest festivals” in taipei and kaohsiung, and a theme park that shamelessly riffs on indigenous material–nearly anywhere indigenous people are represented and embodied

in addition to the malikoda as practiced, malikoda also appears in art, including the 2011 animated short, “malaccay / family reunion.” dealing with issues of industrial labour, competitive consumption, and assimilation, the film tells the story of a family unable to return to their hometown for the annual festival. the daughter of the couple, who work in a fish processing plant and as a truck driver in takao, dreams of lion dances and other icons of ethnic chinese festivity when told that the kiloma’an is “just like new year’s.” workers in the plant fill orders in a night-long shift, their boss not allowing them to take a vacation unless they finish all the work. when the elders in the village realize that none of the young people can come home, however, they get into the man’s truck and take the kiloma’an to takao, where the boss is shamed into joining in the dance circle. the film concerns the dreams and life circumstances of three generations of ‘amis people living between city and village today, yet the director frames the film’s narrative in founding myths of the kiloma’an, showing in dreams how these myths persist yet face threats from the dominant society. it is a complex film, but true to form for a film titled malaccay (becoming as one), the malikoda fills the film’s final scenes

when indigenous musicians, such as ado’ or suming rupi, employ malikoda in stage acts, they adapt the form, but this adaptation is not particularly innovative: the dance is not a simple circle dance but a “becoming as one” that mediates and reproduces social distinctions. as those returning for the harvest festival perform the dance in a’tolan and other ‘amis communities, dancers take great care in the strict ordering of dancers by age sets (kapot or slal) and gender; moreover, drawing visitors or other outsiders into the circle follows a protocol. if this protocol is more loosely observed in protests or concert, it reflects the different aims of these contexts. nonetheless, the dance works to produce difference and to mediate across it, first within the age set organization of a community, then outwards to guests and other others. it is not surprising that the dance should appear when questions of indigenous difference from the dominant society are the matter at hand. thus, the dance already exhibits a kind of reflexivity. contemporary indigenous musicians have articulated this embodied, and reflexive, mediation of indigenous difference to globally circulating popular music forms

many observers of contemporary indigenous music view this articulation–the use of malikoda within a popular music format–as merely commoditization of indigeneity, abetting the consumption of a reified indigeneity akin to dream catchers and other items of native american kitsch in the united states. at least one would be arbiter of taste, one of the cantometrics crowd, has gone out of his way several times to condemn the work of these contemporary artists as flawed (would link to his comments, but they seem to have been excised). we might wish to suspend such a judgment, however, and on the model of “malaccay” ask how the malikoda already embodies a set of articulations with and accommodations to a variety of others, including the dominant settler colonial society. in other words, we would look for the imagination of global circulation to which contemporary pop malikoda responds in taiwan’s colonial history. to pose this question, we need to turn to the construction of malikoda within japanese colonial discourses

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