Sun, Sep 30, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Calculated to please nobody

Mayaw Biho, an Aboriginal rights activist, says he has no political agenda, yet campaigns for the use of Aboriginal names; he documents the lives of marginalized people, yet says he doesn't care whether their traditions live or die

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Mayaw Biho, filmmaker

PHOTO: IAN BARTHOLOMEW, TAIPEI TIMES

Mayaw Biho (馬躍比吼) is one of Taiwan's most prolific Aboriginal documentary filmmakers with over 20 films, varying in length from around 10 minutes to over an hour, and many unfinished projects awaiting funding to his name. At 37, he has created more than enough work to annoy the powers-that-be both in the government, as well as within the Aboriginal establishment. He attributes this to his refusal to take sides. "I simply record what I see," he said.

This is, perhaps, an understatement, for Mayaw Biho admits to a broad social agenda that relates to the empowerment of Aboriginal peoples through a greater understanding of their culture and unique identity. His campaign for the use of Aboriginal names has received the most attention in recent years, and he has repeatedly denounced the government for its petty bureaucratic obstructionism on this issue. He also accepts that elders within Aboriginal communities have played their part in hindering the reversion to Aboriginal names. "If they agree [to the name rectification], this suggests that what they have been doing for all these decades has been wrong," he said, stating his position in a way calculated to please nobody.

Although Mayaw Biho uses his Aboriginal name almost exclusively, and relates closely to his identity as a member of the Pangcah community, which he regards as the correct designation for the Amis, his own ancestry is mixed. His father is Han Chinese, while his mother is Pangcah. "I come from a mixed background, so I never saw things from just a single perspective," he said. "When I was young, the things my father told me would usually fit in with what my teachers taught me at school, but when I grew up, the stuff I found interesting - that was closer to me - was from my mother's side ... . So in my work, I avoided mainstream ideas, and tried out different ways of looking at things. It can be a hard road, but I am determined to follow it, because it is also where you can find happiness and enjoyment."

Before becoming a filmmaker, Mayaw Biho worked as a photographer. While serving in the navy, he recorded the doings of various high-ranking military officials. "My access to these officials, the way they acted, was all about special privilege. It was another world completely, and I felt that it was very unfair," he said.

Another experience that struck him as unfair came after he completed military service and was studying at Shih Hsin University (世新大學). On a photo expedition to Taitung, he teamed up with a number of hobbyists who wanted to take photos of Aboriginal people in their full ceremonial regalia. "They brought a couple of bottles of rice wine and some cans of coffee ... . They asked a number of old women if they minded being photographed. The woman were delighted to be asked, but this whole situation made me feel uncomfortable ... . That we were able to conclude such a transaction with a couple of bottles of rice wine [seemed wrong], and the photos we took were fake. And the fact that the old women were so delighted to pose made me even more uncomfortable."

One of Mayaw Biho's first projects, Children in Heaven (天堂小孩), remains an important artistic and political statement. Only 13 minutes long, but combining material taken over three years, the film is a visual chronicle of an Aboriginal community that lived under the Sanying Bridge (三鶯大橋) in Taipei County. Their homes were demolished repeatedly by the government, but the group persisted in rebuilding. The only commentary is provided by children, and the images are set to the soulful strains of Kimbo Hu (胡德夫) singing Am I in Heaven? (不不歌). The short film drips with irony, and though very different from his later, more conventional documentary films, it shows Mayaw Biho's disinclination to obtrude himself into his films.

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