malikoda in japanese colonial discourses (2) : “don’t call us savages”

1940日治時期宣傳片《南進台灣》 中文字幕完整版[(004050)10-50-18]

one of the most powerful examples of the colonial circulation of malikoda can be found in a 1942 film produced by the governor general’s office, “southward advance from taiwan.” a film aimed at educating a japanese public about the importance of taiwan for the development of the greater east asian co-prosperity sphere and to attract investment, settlement, and tourism, “southward” depicts a tour around the island on taiwan’s rail system. at each stop along the route, a narrator describes local products and scenery, underlining taiwan’s value to the empire. taiwan appears as a magical key with which the japanese empire will unlock the vast riches of the “south.” images of indigenous musical practices configure and illustrate the film’s narrative.

our first glimpse of indigenous dance appears in the film’s introductory sequences, in which a narrator gives an account of taiwan’s climate and historical background. alternating between a distant and close up shot of ‘amis men performing malikoda, the film’s narrator calls taiwan the “empire’s first southern checkpoint” and a “a precious island paradise.” a version of the latter phrase, “this is the taiwan of everyone’s imagination” appears in large white subtitles superimposed on the image of the dances at the end of this scene, followed by the title “now,” after which scenes of military parades and official buildings appear.

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as such, the indigenous dancers stand in for a romantic vision of the island’s natural bounty and history, an imagined paradise that precedes the “now” of economic development. the scene’s musical track unsettles this reading. rather than a musical track that would sit easily within the film’s diagesis, the indigenous dancers appear to be dancing in synch with a tin pan alley style jazz track, placing the dancers within an ambivalent imagination laminated with, or perhaps even issuing from, modernity. the film thus fashions taiwanese indigeneity within scale making projects aimed not just at primitivist recovery or ethnographic analysis (for example, arguments about the kinship of contemporary japanese with the southern primitives) but also japan’s projected modernity, made evident in the ambivalent relationship between modern popular culture and indigenous bodies.


we can see the contours of this project in the film’s depiction of indigenous people in a scene set in taitung, on the island’s east coast. the scene now shows a group of ‘amis women dancing. again, the soundtrack does not correspond to actual malikoda songs that would normally accompany this dance. but instead of the jazz of the first scene, we hear a simple rhythmic pattern played on a rattle and bells that resembles the sound of dancers in regalia. “this dance is something that we civilized people are incapable of,” begins the narrator. then the narrator continues with a description of “takasago people”:


we metropolitans are fascinated by the takasago people. currently their population is 150,000. originally called “savages,” now their name has been changed to “takasago tribes.” they are taiwan’s indigenous people. in the past, they had the evil custom of headhunting, but today have devoted themselves to culture. those who do not understand this fact might think that the savages still go on headhunting raids, but nothing could be further from the truth. in fact, although we have filmed this group dancing, they do not want people to think that all they do is dance this kind of dance. the dancers in the film are young men and women in the youth and women’s corps. they were concerned that taking a day off from their work to dance for the film would have a negative impact on the village’s prosperity. thus they at first refused to dance for the film. they want to leave behind a primitive life and move towards economic development. they have put their energy into expanding irrigation systems and to all sorts of labor service, and have studied the virtues of hard work, savings, and thrift. there are even some of them who have studied in universities or technical institutes and become policemen or teachers.

after this introduction, the scene changes to an image of indigenous women clad in kimonos. “if one were inadvertently to call them savages,” the narrator continues as the women bow toward the camera, “their faces would darken and they would say, ‘we are also japanese.'”

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in this scene, desires for recognition as a modern imperial power on the part of japan seem displaced onto the bodies of indigenous women who plead their japaneseness to a public that might consider them “savages.” depiction of the dance represents both a tradition and a weight to be left behind as the women wish to “get into culture” and “do more than dance all of the time.”

the film employs malikoda as a dominant, if residual, token of takasago identity beside the ongoing transformation of indigenous communities as they are incorporated as laborers and low level functionaries within the capitalist economy and imperial state. presumably, the work of cultural representation was unpaid and arguably would present a stereotypic image that the youths wished to displace.

nonetheless, malikoda had currency within colonial discourses through which indigenous people could become visible as both japanese and indigenous, as erstwhile headhunters now into culture, thrift, and savings. something that of which civilized, metropolitan viewers are incapable, malikoda could contain the values of both tradition and modernizing desires which, although impinging on the women, are not entirely exogenous. a symbol of indigeneity for metropolitan audiences, malikoda mediates colonial power in both directions, establishing a claim for public recognition.

the practice of malikoda establishes community through the mediation of social difference and inclusion. yet,  the dance first began to circulate as a symbol of indigeneity (rather than an icon of community) in contexts of colonial representation and display: wherever indigeneity could articulate with scale making projects of the colonial state.  these circulations of malikoda served colonial purposes and would also come to mark relationships between indigenous communities and the state after the end of the japanese colonial period.  malikoda has also emerged in the scale making projects of indigenous people, particularly artists but also political activists. the symbolic weight of malikoda to “indigenous dance” is one of those colonial products that articulate indigenous politics as well as colonial projects of representation and governing indigenous people.

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