Bodies of Representation and Resistance: Archiving and Performing Culture Through Contemporary Indigenous Theatre in Taiwan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Among many indigenous societies, social realities have been inscribed through various forms including oral, written and embodied ones. Correspondent modern institutions usually advocate cultural themes such the ‘past(s)’, triggered by both nationalistic identification and the post-colonial trend. Among many others, stage performance or theatre has been a vital practice through which cultural memory and indigenous epistemology are enliven and viewed as knowledge. (Taylor 2003; Welch 2019) While the trend of post-colonialism gradually sweeps across various countries, questions are certainly aroused, regarding to relationship between knowledge and cultural expression as reflected though indigenous peoples’ theatre. (Farnell 2008, Hu 2003, Schultz 2016) How has the knowledge of the past and the knowledge of self/other been enquired, embodied, and enacted?
This chapter is an attempt to continue the above-mentioned enquiry with the indigenous peoples in Taiwan as the example, whose ‘pasts’ had been mediated by colonial and nationalistic forces. There are two main discourses and discursive practices—tradition and archive—around which actions for revitalisation/ renovation are usually undertaken. In the Taiwanese context, tradition of indigenous peoples is mostly realised via expressive cultures embracing story-telling, craft, singing and dancing; archive for them, however, has been accomplished through technique of colonial modernisation including photograph, recording, notations, and scholarly writings. These two categories are inherently contrast but mutually referential; their relationship not only reveals a complicated and hierarchical rationality of technologies, but also throws much light on cultural sensibilities for creative forms.
The two questions in the call for contributions are especially relevant to my research: ‘What is the relationship between the live body and historical objects?’ and ‘How can embodied explorations of history bring archival records to life?’ I shall plumb these two questions through critical scrutiny of the process and products of indigenous performances in Taiwan. In particular I shall examine one theatrical work in which I have been involved: Pu’ing: Search for the Atayal Route (2013) It has been commissioned by the official sector, the Council of Indigenous People (CIP) of the Taiwanese government, produced and performed by the iconic group of indigenous theatre in Taiwan: the Formosan Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupes (FASDT, founded in 1991). The piece attempted to exploit cultural themes with contemporary theatrical technology and aesthetics by weaving music and dance with archive. It carries strong post-colonial tones, although differently approached by indigenous artists, and unravel the struggle between the present and the past, embodiment and textualisation and so on.
My article starts from a brief introduction to the history in terms of archiving and performances of indigenous music and dance in Taiwan, in which two trends of colonial modernisation—the Japanese and the western—will be elaborated and discussed. The former exploited realistic yet colonised representation of indigenous voices and bodies through modern technologies including photographing, audio and video recorders; the latter highlighted systems of abstraction such as notations and academic reductions. Both had contributed to selecting and shaping the body of knowledge that endorsed cultural interpretations of indigenous theatres.
Viewing theatre as social action underpinning the larger movement of revitalisation, I shall then summarise the change of approach and style of theatrical productions, parallel with the vibrant post-colonial social process that embraced both the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples during the 1990s and 2010s. The article will then focus on analyses of the theatrical work to highlight the formal and symbolic dimensions of ethnic culture and identity, in which the multi-layers of narratives are re-enacted through performers’ bodies. Seeing from an ‘insider’s point of view’, I as the producer for the piece then explore themes including representation and resistance, which contribute to the manifestations of contested powers intricated in tradition, archive and performance, on and off the stage.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMusic, Dance and the Archive
Place of PublicationSydney, Australia
PublisherSydney University press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)978-7143328675
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • dance, archive, Taiwanese Indigenous Peoples, pu'ing, representation

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