structures and modes of dwelling

concrete houses might have been modern constructions that reflected the political economy of the 1970s and 1980s, but they also fit within an entire set of cultural categories of different dwelling places, such as talowan, rarong, and kamaro’an, all of which have important contrasts to loma’, houses. this set of contrasts might give us a better sense of what people mean when they describe solafo, concrete houses, as “durable” and “comfortable.” in other words, although the notion of durability also informs state projects to reform (i.e., assimilate) indigenous communities, durability operates within ‘amis descriptions of loma’ and their associated modes of dwelling

a couple days ago, i went down to the ocean with a couple friends. unlike most of our jaunts down to the ocean to dive for urchins or shellfish, the event was for an extended family meeting, held about four times a year. ‘atolan ‘amis family associations generally include two or more surname groups, even when named for a particular surname. for example, the zheng family association includes many liao surnamed people; similarly, the huang surname group has shen surnamed members. anthropologically, we would refer to these groups as organized on both unilateral and affinal lines. however, because the ‘amis have over the past fifty years transformed from matrilineal to patrilineal kinship, the groups are in practice collateral. like age set groups and church organizations, the family associations hold bank accounts, take dues, and practice a ritualized roll call at all meetings. i had just completed constructing a new shellfish bag with one of my age mates and his brother in law; they told me that the family association event would be a good first outing with the new bag, so I gathered my equipment and went down to the ocean with them. We were to help provision that evening’s family association supper. because we set up a rarong, a temporary tent-like structure, at the beach, i began to think more about relationships among dwelling structures in ‘atolan

the duck blinds, deer stands, and beachside cabins of my youth on the Eastern Shore were not so far from me as i began to think through these relationships. cabins and duck blinds might be relatively permanent structures even if they are not home; some are even tricked out with a variety of amenities. although certain materials are more appropriate than others for such structures, the relevant categories might not be about materials or permanence in all cases, but a division of practices that i will call a mode of dwelling, which i will define as the types of affect, as well as the kinds of active life and rest appropriate to a kind of structure. just as those of us familiar with deer stands or cabins associate these structures with a particular kind of life, talowan and loma’ call to mind types of activities and feelings

rarong
groups gathering on the beach to gather shellfish generally set up a rarong out of black netting or synthetic canvas as a temporary talowan or place to rest from work. good sites near the beach are used frequently. nearby such sites one can find shell and urchin middens, cast off gloves, and Paolyta B bottles. The ashes and stones of a fire pit, likely holding charred fish bones, urchin spines, and other remains of beachside meals, provide a place to start new fires. There is often driftwood or dry bamboo nearby for this purpose; those serious about processing urchins on the beach may bring charcoal. Although the rarong will come down and those sitting in its shade will change, the sites are more or less permanent ones. Thus a kamaro’an (place to sit or dwell) might be a known, permanent site, even as the rarong, anchored as they often are to a truck, remain only a single morning or afternoon

Shade trees, a level and not too stony surface, and a good view of the ocean where the divers will descend (a safety consideration to be sure) are all useful qualities of these beachside kamaro’an. Deciding where to hold an event often depends on the availability of such spaces and who might have dibs. Moreover, the truck used to carry coolers, equipment, food, the black netting or canvas tent material, and people, is part of the structure: it is part of the moorings for the rarong in most cases. The structures provide shade in which one can have a nip of miciw after coming up from the ocean, share a beer with friends, process shellfish, eat, and take a rest. it’s not rare during pakelang, ritual visits to the ocean to end important work–whether economic, academic, performance, or ceremonial work it doesn’t matter–to see an entire age set or family sleeping off an afternoon in the rarong’s comfortable shade. although much of what gets staged from a rarong is work–gathering shellfish can be hot, tiring, and even dangerous–the rarong connotes pleasure and leisure, enjoyable moments with a groups of age mates or family at the beach

kamaro’an
kamaro’an derives from aro’, meaning seat / sit, dwelling, or remaining at a place. as the verb form maro’ay, it can mean to live or to stay somewhere, as in maro’ay kako i Amolika, I live in America; but it retains the meaning of sitting in phrases like, cima ko maro’ay ini? or ira ko maro’ay itira?, is there anyone sitting here / there? Maro’ ini!, sit here! is a commonly heard phrase at gatherings. And aemaro’ can mean someone who will inherit property–the one who will in the future sit or dwell somewhere. kamaro’an, the nominalized form of the verb maro’, means a seat, chair, or dwelling place. In this sense, ‘atolan ‘amis also say kamaro’an to refer the “seat” or “resting place” of a corporate group during ritual or other activities. the house where a kapot (age set) stays during the annual kiloma’an festival is its kamaro’an

Hence, rarong, talowan, and loma’ seem all to belong to the kamaro’an category. What distinguishes these structures as types of kamaro’an is their temporality and their articulation with social organization. Loma’, houses, are relatively permanent and also denote “houses” in the sense of kinship / family. Kamaro’an can be as temporary and ad hoc as a few flat stones or a piece of driftwood. And like the kamaro’an of an age set, even relatively durable kamaro’an–here a house where a family goes about its everyday life–might be exchanged for another “seat” after the event has ended. Like seats arranged in a circle when friends gather, kamaro’an can be gathered and stacked away into storage. In fact, setting up a rarong in the courtyard and arranging chairs–often the corporate property of a kapot–transforms a loma’ into a kamaro’an for kapot (and even family association gatherings)

lakancin's kamaro'an for the 2015 kiloma'an festival. photograph djh

lakancin’s kamaro’an for the 2015 kiloma’an festival. photograph djh


talowan
talowan are not always or even primarily temporary, however; most families have permanent talowan structures, provided they have the land to construct one; even ‘Atolan village has its own village talowan at Pacifalan, an important ceremonial site “in front” of the village

talowan are generally outside of the boundaries of the village and at some distance from loma’. Many have some equipment for cooking. places where people rest from agricultural or other work, they are also where families and friends gather. One of my age mates’ family maintains a talowan on their family’s agricultural land just in front of the village, behind Pacifalan. when building the structure, they were careful not to be too hasty, for fear that someone would report them. It is a now a large structure, with three linked buildings and a partially covered paved area. One of the buildings is a storage room, another a two story tall garage for their agricultural equipment. The combine thresher is, truth be told, a bit tall; so the extra height was necessary for it to fit. The talowan has electric for evening lighting, running water from an outdoor and an indoor faucet, and a refrigerator. It only lacks divided sleeping quarters and toilet facilities. The family can cook on a large propane stove or grilling equipment. The stove is not so different from the one at home, but it is mobile, for use either inside or outside. Usually, they cook outside, particularly in the summer, when cooking at home heats up the house too much

Generally speaking, one rests at a talowan in breaks from agricultural work or hunting, but would not spend the night there, except during the busiest part of the agricultural cycle or when hunting and gathering in the mountains over a several day period. Now such mountain talowan are rare. Families gather in talowan when it is too hot to cook at home, meeting there to rest after work. Or they might, like my kapot gather with friends at a talowan when also doing other tasks. My kapot called me over because he was smoking fish and wanted to finish work on my shellfish bag:

“and, by the way, can you buy two bottles of miciw and some beer? we are a bit low on supplies right now”

talowan serve as a refuge for men to get away from their house and for urban ‘Amis who have access to agricultural, coastal, or forest land, to escape the confines of an urban apartment. my friend’s father often sleeps in his talowan near agricultural fields that he rents not far from his apartment in Taoyuan, in the north of the island. talowan combine work, leisure, sociality, and escape! they are both utilitarian, pleasure, and ritual spaces. this complex of meanings probably explains why talowan appears in the names of several ‘amis owned bars: it connotes a retreat or resting place in the midst of work, a place of refreshment

but strictly speaking (my kapot’s talowan is one exception; i know of many others) talowan refers to a particular type of construction: a roof with no walls is the “ideal form” of talowan. in traditional house construction, of course, pamoco’, erecting walls, was the last and very important step; loma’ (houses) always have walls and must also have permanent, fixed places of cooking, sleeping, and hosting events

how might we distinguish the modes of dwelling across these structures? one way, as i’ve done here, is to talk about durability and temporality of structures; another, which i also outlined in this post, is by types of activity and affect. the crucial distinction between loma’ and talowan, however, is an articulation with kinship, particularly child birth and rearing. although one might sleep overnight in talowan and other structures (in the past, young men slept in the men’s house before marriage; i have spent the night under a rarong on the beach), this type of dwelling is relatively uncommon. and loma’, unlike talowan, are where one “raises a family.” interestingly, however, many of the pleasurable activities that people remember and associate with family happened not in loma’ but in talowan. now that many talowan look nearly identical to loma’, the differences in mode of dwelling still distinguish them. and of course, knowing more about modes of dwelling associated with loma’ can likely fill in the meanings of solafo, steel reinforced concrete structures, as they came to be the dominant type of housing in ‘amis communities, particularly in relationship to remittances from the far ocean fishing trade

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