Amis activists in Hualien County have blocked a performance by members of a minority ethnic group from China’s Guangxi Province set for next week’s Ilisin ritual in the villages of Fata’an and Tafalong after challenging the county government, accusing it of disrespecting and humiliating the Amis Aboriginal culture.
“The Ilisin is the most important, the most sacred and the most serious religious ritual of the year for us Amis, and while we may invite people from our sister villages to attend the ceremony as guests, they may watch, but they may not take part in the ritual or in the dance,” said Nakao Eki Pacidal, an Amis born in Tafalong who now lives in Fata’an. “If people who are also Amis, but are from a different village are not allowed to take part in the ritual, how would we allow people from another country to be in it?”
She said the Amis have a very village-oriented culture, with each village considered a separate entity.
“The Ilisin ritual is held to express our appreciation and respect to our ancestors; of course others who don’t share the same ancestry would not be allowed to take part in the ritual,” she said.
The dispute came after the county government arranged for the Guangxi group to take part in the Ilisin in Fata’an from Thursday to Saturday and the Ilisin in Tafalong from Friday to Sunday.
The announcement immediately upset younger residents of the two villages, who together started a campaign against the arrangement, saying that it is disrespectful and humiliating to the ritual.
In addition to not wanting an outside group to perform, Namoh Nofu, also a native of Tafalong, said that traditionally, the date and the activities in an Ilisin would be decided through a ritual similar to divination.
“The county government or the township office has no authority in deciding the dates on which we should have our Ilisin; not even our tribal leaders could make the decision on their own,” Namoh said.
After the younger residents voiced their concerns, the tribal leadership in Fata’an quickly called a meeting and decided to reject the county government’s arrangement early last week, saying that they would not welcome the Guangxi group in their Ilisin, Nakao said.
However, the campaign was not as smooth in Tafalong initially.
“Tafalong is more conservative and the tribal politics are more complicated there, so it’s not as easy for the young people to persuade the tribal leadership to change a decision,” Nakao said. “Especially when Hualien County Councilor Yang Chin-teh (楊金德) is a native of the village and he may need to give full support to Hualien County Commissioner Fu Kun-chi’s (傅崑萁) policy decisions in exchange for Fu’s support for him in the county councilor election in November.”
However, Tafalong leadership decided yesterday to call off the Guangxi group’s participation.
“The young people in our village say that they feel disrespected if the Guangxi group takes part in our Ilisin and we accept their opinion,” said a tribal leader, Tu Wen-chao (杜文昭), via telephone. “We therefore decided that we would not welcome the participation of the Guangxi group in our Ilisin.”
Nakao welcomed the decision, but added that if the county government still insisted to have the Guangxi group in the Ilisin on the day of the ritual, “we would not rule out the possibility to resolve the problem in a violent way.”
Namoh said this is not an isolated case in which the county government has attempted to turn Aboriginal cultural events into commercial or tourist “products,” and said that similar disputes might happen in the future, if county officials do not change their mentality.
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