playing aborigine (2): open and closed participatory practices

one way that we might productively understand disputes over ethnic chinese either feeling entitled to participate in or appropriate taiwanese indigenous dance is to consider an issue that seems to have been left out of most current ethnomusicological discussions of participation / participatory discrepancies: the relative openness or closure of a musical system

most of the work one sees on participatory performance, for example that coming out of the work of thomas turino, notes simply the distinction between participatory performance and performances of composed musical works realized–or presented–by specialized musicians for an (often paying) audience: in the former, there is no audience / performer divide and, in fact, the musical event succeeds or fails not entirely on the skill with which the work is realized, but primarily on the social density and engagement achieved. participatory performances thus aim at bringing just about everyone within the musical event as performers, at whatever level they might find themselves. likewise, a theorist of participatory discrepancies in music, charles keil, invests great importance in the power of participation to transcend nearly all social distinctions. this utopian approach to participation has been amply criticized by scholars, particularly by kyra gaunt, who has said that there is still much culturally discrepant–our stances and understandings of participation mean that music is a context for social differentiation as much as transcending distinctions

in other words, just because you can get down, doesn’t mean that you are down

here, i’d like to point out that participatory performances need not–indeed, often are not–all embracing in the ways envisioned in turino’s or keil’s hopeful theorizing. we can think of this inclusive or exclusive feature of participatory performance by attending carefully to the relative openness or closure of participatory performances, both as genres and over the length of a performance. this attention will let us see just how those outside ‘amis communities are included in dance and to what effect

the most notable feature here is that while most ethnic chinese think of the malikoda as a dance in which everyone gets to participate, norms for participation are not that simple. rather, the practice is relatively closed: (1) because it should never be performed by those who do not have a warrant to perform it or in contexts in which it is not appropriate; (2) because when visitors at kiloma’an are invited to enter the dance, there is a set protocol for including them, which marks them as outsiders whose inclusion absorbs them and mediates between these outsiders (as particular sources of power or value) and the community. the stances that ‘amis might take on malikoda, then, range from one in which as a sacred dance that mediates between the community and ancestors, no visitors should be included and no non- ‘amis should dance, and another stance in which visitors are included as a feature of hospitality, as long as the visitors respect that the dance can never quite be their own

in no cases can non- ‘amis initiate the dance, and certainly not at events meant to present “taiwanese culture”

indeed, one could not initiate the dance even to present “taiwanese indigenous culture” or “amis culture.” the reason is that unlike a variety of social dances and popular musics that circulate among ‘amis communities, malikoda are generally peculiar to individual communities. even in cases where there are close family resemblances of malikoda across several communities, each community claims its particular set of malikoda as uniquely its own. this claim of one set of unique malikoda for each single community forms part of the musical ideology of malikoda, and for good reason: malikoda, as ritual pieces that mediate among categories of persons (sometimes families, villages, ethnic groups, the living and the ancestors), also mediate between the community as a sovereign entity and its Others. and so malikoda, at least in the ideology of the practice, can never be shared across communities

malikoda is thus a closed musical system that admits some opening for a particular effect. that effect might be recognition (say, of the beauty, power, and fame of a community) but it might also be an opening to forms of outside value, such as political patronage. malikoda realize a type of layered sovereignty

it’s in this light that one can see why the issue is not merely one of heritage theft, but something deeper

i would argue that understanding malikoda in this way will also let us get at the number of competing social imaginations that surrounded the controversy concerning the use of spears versus umbrellas in the warriors’ dance (kulakul) during the 2015 kiloma’an in ‘atolan, but that would take just a little bit too much ink today

give me a few comments, if you will: i need to pull some of these thoughts together for a paper at the annual meetings of the anthropological association next month!

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