Fri, Jan 22, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Tales of the Tao

The Formosa Indigenous Dance Foundation of Culture and Arts has taken over the National Theater for a production about the traditions of Tao of Orchid Island and the modern problems they are facing

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

The Formosa Indigenous Dance Foundation of Culture and Arts’ latest production, Maataw: the Floating Island, will be performed three times at the National Theater in Taipei, beginning tonight.

Photo courtesy of the Formosa Indigenous Dance Foundation of Culture and Arts

The Formosa Indigenous Dance Foundation of Culture and Arts (原住民族樂舞劇) is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a new show, Maataw: the Floating Island (浮島), at the National Theater in Taipei this weekend, commissioned by the Council of Indigenous Peoples.

Well, technically. It is 25 years since the Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe (原舞者) was founded — the name was changed to the foundation in 2001 to better reflect the diversity of its work and for management reasons.

The troupe, which was founded by a group of friends in Kaohsiung in 1991, relocated to Taipei’s Xindian District (新店) a year later and slowly began to develop a reputation for its research and reconstruction efforts to preserve the traditional songs and dances of Aboriginal communities, as well as for its performances. From the beginning, the company adopted an almost anthropological approach, with troupe members, sometimes joined by academics, visiting elders to learn a community’s language, songs, ceremonies and other traditions.

Based in Hualien since 2007, the troupe is made up of performers from several communities, including Amis, Bunun, Paiwan and one from the Tao. However, just because they are Aboriginals themselves, does not mean they have an easy time convincing members of other indigenous communities to share their traditions.

Maataw is the story of the Tao of Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼). Not only is the production the first time the troupe has developed a show based on the Tao culture, it is the first time the story of the Tao is being presented in the National Theater.

For many in Taiwan, the Tao and Lanyu conjure up images of flying fish, men in loinclothes, bark breastplates and metal helmets — and Taiwan Power Co’s (Taipower) controversial dry cask nuclear waste storage facility.

Performance notes

What: Maataw: the Floating Island

When: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm

Where: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)

Admission: NT$500 to 1,000; available at NTCH box offices, online at, Eslite bookstore ticketing and convenience store ticketing kiosk

Maataw director Fangas Nayaw said he made his first trip to Lanyu in January last year to do research, while other troupe members made the first of what would eventually be three trips in May.

The Tao culture is different from that of other indigenous communities in Taiwan, and there were a lot of sensitivities to surmount, both in terms of detailing their traditions — the songs “belong” to families in the community — and because of modern-day political issues, such as the long-running controversies surrounding the nuclear waste storage facility and the government’s promotion of Aboriginal culture and ceremonies as tourist attractions, which has made many Tao suspicious of dealing with outsiders. Tao elders were initially reluctant to teach their songs and dances to troupe members.

“Maataw” in the Tao language means “islands floating in the sea,” and is used to describe an image of the solidity of islands in the midst of ever-moving ocean waves.

Nayaw said the show has four acts and its storyline is based on traditional Tao ceremonies, but it also incorporated some of the issues facing the Tao today.

Act I begins with the way the Tao start the year — with the “calling of the fish.” This is followed by the annual fish festival and the harvest festival, which includes the “hair dance” by the women and a rice-pounding dance by the men. Then there is the “Mikariag,” or what Nayaw described as the “Tao’s karaoke,” which begins with hand clapping, then the first singer starts a song, followers join in and then the chorus chimes in. Traditionally, a “Mikariag” would begin about 9pm and continue until dawn, he said. The final act revolves around the naming ceremony, when the community elder gives a newborn his or her name.

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