Crafting Origins: Creativity and Continuity in Indigenous Taiwan

"Rukai Swing Festival, Taromak village", photo by Paul Voss

Creative Traditions: Crafting Contemporary Indigenous Identity in Taiwan
February 23, 2012 5:30 p.m. 
Salomon Center, Room 001, Brown University
Near the corner of Waterman and Brown Streets, Providence, RI

Anthropology graduate student Christy DeLair spent her summer in Taiwan collecting contemporary indigenous craftwork for the Haffenreffer Museum.  She shared some of her experiences during this presentation of her research.  Dominant narratives suggest that to be indigenous is to be stuck in the past, tied to tradition, and antithetical to ever encroaching development. In this view, indigenous cultures will disappear unless they are preserved in their historic forms and sheltered from the changing world around them. Yet indigenous artists in Taiwan are constantly challenging these preconceptions through their revitalization of local culture and the development of craft industries. In their daily crafting of traditional material culture using new materials, forms, methods, and designs, these crafters are also involved in creating new meanings and shaping new perceptions of indigeneity. While tradition and history remain significant, to be indigenous may also mean to be creative.  In conjunction with the Haffenreffer Museum and the exhibition, "Crafting Origins:Creativity and Continuity in Indigenous Taiwan."

Crafting Origins: Creativity and Continuity in Indigenous Taiwan 

The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology
Manning Hall
21 Prospect Street
Phone: (401) 863-2065
Hours:  Tues. - Sun., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Brown University holidays

This exhibit, curated by Christy DeLair (PhD candidate, Department of Anthropology), brought together a collection made by linguistic anthropologist Colonel George Shelley (Emeritus Professor of Chinese, English, and Cultural Anthropology, Norwich University) during fieldwork in the late 1960s with the Rukai tribe in Budai village in southern Taiwan, with contemporary crafts from indigenous tribes collected throughout Taiwan in 2011 by the curator on a grant from the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.

Origin Stories are generally understood as the myths and legends we use to explain where we came from as well as outline values for our contemporary lives. The Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan, thought to be the descendants of the first Austronesian-speaking populations, tell diverse stories of creation and migration, including ancestors being born from a clay pot and siblings drifting to Taiwan in a boat. Like legends of tribal origin, the stories told about indigenous material culture tell us not just how they came into being, but also offer insight into the values and perceptions of identities past and present. The objects collected here illustrate continuity with traditional motifs and beliefs while allowing and even celebrating the creative re-crafting and re-telling of traditional stories and meanings.