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  Literature and Artistic Development

The History of Documented Aboriginal Music (Rung-Shun Wu)


         Documents recording Taiwanese aboriginal music can be found as early as the Ching Dynasty, however, extensive academic survey and in-depth research in academics only began during the period of the Japanese occupation period. This article traces the research on aboriginal music from 1985, and reviews the history of the aboriginal music research in three periods: (1) The aborigine policy during the period of the Japanese occupation (2) from the survey and collection of folk songs in the 1960’s to the lifting of martial law, and (3) from the establishment of academic institutes in the 1980’s to the present. The development of the research on aboriginal music is summarized as follows:  


1. The Japanese occupation period (1895-1945): The Investigation Committee of Old Taiwanese Customs, a government organization, conducted a 20-year field survey and published the Survey Report on Taiwanese Aborigines, which included a detailed report on aboriginal songs, dances, and music instruments. Following the survey, musicians, such as Hisao Tanabe, Saburo Makoto, Chang Fu-hsing, and Takamoto Kurosawa etc.,  devoted efforts to the survey and collection of aboriginal music, Kurosawa stood out among them for his remarkable achievement as his research was the largest in scale and covered the longest period of time. In addition, he introduced data and research on Taiwanese aboriginal music to the global community of folk music.

2. The early years after Taiwan was returned to the Republic of China: In 1966, Shih Wei-liang and Hsu Chang-hui initiated the Folk Music Collection Movement. It was the first island-wide, collaborative survey and collection of aboriginal music, and approximately 2000 songs were found and recorded.

3. Academic research papers: Under the instruction of Prof. Hsu Chang-hui of the Chinese Fold Arts Foundation and the Graduate School of Music in the National Taiwan Normal University, many graduate students published research papers on the music of aboriginal tribes. Later on, as more colleges and universities launched graduate programs in music and ethnomusicology, the number and quality of research papers were considerably enhanced. Although most of the papers were studies of the music of a single tribe and were thus unable to give a full picture of Taiwanese aboriginal music; nonetheless the music system of each individual tribe was constructed, which was a noteworthy contribution to the field of Austronesian music.      

4. Interdisciplinary studies: In addition to researchers from music schools, folk music enthusiasts and scholars in other academic fields, such as those of anthropologists, and linguists etc., started to devote efforts to research on aboriginal music, and collaborated with music scholars to complete a significant number of cross-discipline research. These interdisciplinary studies were one of the prominent breakthroughs in the study of the aboriginal music in the recent 10 years.

5. The dedication of aboriginal researchers: The first aboriginal scholar dedicating to the aboriginal music studies was Lin Hsin-lai of A-mei tribe. Lin is a professor in the Music Department at the Teachers College of National Taitung University. He participated in the field investigations during the Folk Music Collection Movement and later devoted himself to studies of  the music of the A-mei and Bei-nan tribes. Following Prof. Lin, more scholars of aboriginal background have devoted themselves to research.  With the advantages of accuracy in the language and ease of access for field investigations, they are particularly notable for the lyrics and for the analysis of the internal logic of ritual forms.

6. The development after the 1980’s: Infused with modern music styles and the mores of contemporary life, aboriginal music showed a new look after the 1980’s. It gradually moved from its traditional from to that of a new-era music in telling the stories of the experiences of aboriginal people in the cities and attracted a large non-aborigine audience. In addition, the influence of the aboriginal movement in the past lingered on in the new music of the 1980’s; and  the aborigines’ rage at long exclusion, deprivation and suppression were carried in the lyrics of the new music, either sung in a tone of aggressive accusation or soft sorrow.

            Taiwanese aboriginal people have gradually found a relatively equal standing in society in recent years, and are now recognized as one of the four major ethnic groups. More aboriginal musicians are devoted to the production and creation of new aboriginal music, and many musicians, individual singers as well as bands, are very active and popular in live music pubs; some even succeed in the field of pop music and becoming pop stars.

            In conclusion to this article, the following suggestions are provided for future studies of aboriginal music. The first is that there is a need to break away from the monograph format, and to invite more attention to issues concerning cultural adaptation and interactions with other ethnic groups. The second is to encourage cross-tribal studies on single subjects, such as the religious elements in aboriginal music.  Lastly, to encourage cross-regional studies, reaching aboriginal music in other parts of Asia. And, being the possible origin of the ancient Austronesian culture, the building of Taiwan as the hub for studies of Austronesian music and culture is an imperative goal for the future development of aboriginal music.


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