Fri, Oct 20, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Preserving the bounty of Taiwan's tribal heritage

After 15 years in Taipei, the Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe returns to its land and its people


Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe has staged hundreds of performances around the island and abroad.


With their imminent move to a new base in Hualien County, it will probably be a long while before Taiwan's foremost Aboriginal troupe, the Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe (原舞者), stages another production in Taipei. This weekend's performances at the Novel Hall (新舞台) will also be a celebration of 15 years of endeavoring to preserve Taiwan's Aboriginal ritual traditions. The troupe will present the finest of the traditional songs and dances from six tribes epitomizing the multifarious tribal cultures and social changes that Taiwan's Aboriginal societies have undergone in their long history.

Aiming to preserve and revive the fast disappearing tribal songs and dances, the company was established by a group of young Aboriginals from different tribes in 1991. Part of their goal was to reverse the public's perception that Aboriginal dance was simply a tourist spectacle, bringing out the great ritual and social significance that these acts represent.

Over the years, the company not only has staged hundreds of performances touring around the country, but also holds workshops to re-ignite the interest of young Aboriginals' in traditional dance culture through reinterpretations and integration with contemporary theatrical elements. The troupe has gained considerable international recognition and has performed at art festivals in the US, Belgium, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Each production is based on long-term field observations and participation. Assisted by anthropologists and tribal elders, troupe members and Aboriginal students are dispatched to different villages to study their rituals through the oral tradition. According to artistic director Faidaw Fangod, the duration of each visit to a village is limited to 10 days, to avoid disturbing the tribal life and traditions of their hosts.

Performance Notes:

What: “Recreating Our Dance” – 15th Anniversary Performance of Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe in 2006 (拾舞-原舞.十五-2006原舞者十五周年紀念演出)When and Where: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm; Sunday at 3pm at Taipei's Novel Hall (新舞台); Oct. 28 at 7:30pm at the Performing Arts Center, Ilan County Cultural Affairs Bureau (宜蘭縣文化局演藝廳); Oct. 29 at 7:30pm at Performing Arts Center, Hualien County Cultural Affairs Bureau (花蓮縣文化局演藝廳); Nov. 18 at 7:30pm at Performing Arts Center, Taitung County Cultural Affairs Bureau (台東縣文化局演藝廳)Tickets: NT$300 to NT$900 for Novel Hall performances, available through NTCH ticket outlets; Free admission for performances outside Taipei. For more information, visit

“Take the Saisiyat tribe (賽夏族) for example. Their ceremonial songs and dances are regarded as sacred and there is a prohibition on public performance. Teaching outsiders like us thus poses a big challenge to them. We spent lots of time communicating with local residents until the tribal leaders agreed to let us study the rituals after many private meetings,” Fangod explained.

Since Aboriginal tribes exhibit great diversity in terms of language, culture and ritual, one of the biggest challenges for troupe members is to overcome the language barrier. “The tribes' phonic systems differ greatly and there is no unifying model for pronunciation. It's a painstaking task to learn the languages, let alone to familiarize oneself with the diverse ways of singing in different tribes,” said Fangod, an Amis from Taitung.

Featured in the current show is the highly acclaimed 1991 production of Legend of Mountains and Seas featuring the mayasvi ritual from the Tufuya village of the Tsou tribe (鄒族), who live deep in the mountains, and the ilisin ceremony from the coastal Amis tribe (阿美族).

Containing well-preserved ancient language elements whose meaning is no longer fully comprehensible, the mayasvi is a sacred ritual held each year after millet harvest to plead for gods' blessing on the tribe's solidarity, exorcising the evil spirits and paying respects to the dead. The Amis ilisin ritual is held at the end of each year to express gratitude to ancient spirits and supernatural powers. The event is always boisterous since Amis believes the grander the ceremony, the better the harvest in the coming year.

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