Tradition and Christianity: Controversial Funerals and Concepts of the Person among the Paiwan, Taiwan
Tan, Chang-Kwo, Oceania
The relationship between tradition and Christianity has been a prominent theme in anthropological writings on Oceania. Since the early 1980s, scholars have begun to address the trend of burgeoning interest in the politics of tradition among Pacific peoples. The use of kastom, 'custom', as political symbol in Melanesia was examined in a collection edited by Keesing and Tonkinson (1982), and the relationship between kastom and Christianity is a central issue in many studies (Tonkinson 1982:302). The relationship has been either perceived as fundamentally antithetical (Jolly 1982), or as in a state of satisfying symbiosis (Burt 1982). This issue was further explored in Jolly and Thomas (1992), and various notions of kastom were considered, some of which were excluded (Otto 1992), and others of which combined with Christianity (Thomas 1992) were considered. The relationship between local tradition and Christianity has also played an important role in shaping the face of local Christianity. In a volume dedicated to ethnographic appraisals of Christianity in the Pacific (Barker 1990a), Barker proposes that Pacific Christianity can be better understood in terms of popular religions, which consist of a combination of indigenous and Christian ideas and forms (Barker 1990b: 10-15, see also Chowning 1990). At the level of organizational distinctions and politics, the divisions of Christian and traditional domains may seem rigid, yet people are often involved in both domains and can tolerate considerable ambiguity and inconsistency (Macintyre 1990).
In this paper, I address the issue of the complex and dynamic relationships between 'tradition' and Christianity among indigenous peoples in the Pacific. Using the term 'tradition', I refer to the indigenous cultural and religious practices that existed before evangelization and persist in contemporary life, as well as a construction of the past (or continuity with the past) deployed for political empowerment. By 'Christianity', I mean the Christian ideas and rites experienced and practiced by indigenous peoples, as well as the social and political organization recognized as 'the church'. I am particularly interested in exploring the relationship between tradition and Christianity as it is mediated by controversial funeral practices and underlying concepts of the person among the Paiwan, an indigenous people of Taiwan.
Taiwan is better known as 'Formosa' in the international literature of history and anthropology. The speakers of Formosan languages, (1) the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan, inhabit the northern border of the areas in which the Austronesian-speaking population is distributed (Figure 1). Their population is about 43,0000, 2% of the total population in Taiwan; these aborigines constitute the minority ethnic groups in the contemporary political structure of Taiwan. Historically, their ancestors have had contact with Christianity since the Dutch tried to colonize Formosa in the 17th century. Mass conversion to Christianity took place after the Japanese colonial government retreated from Taiwan at the end of World War II. (2) The majority of the aboriginal population has converted to Christianity. This population includes both Protestants and Roman Catholics, and today most aboriginal Christians are members of the Presbyterian Church, the largest and most influential Protestant denomination in Taiwan (Huang 1996). In many villages, however, we can still see aborigines resisting the campaign of evangelization and abiding by their ancestral customs. Under the leadership of traditional authorities, the performance of traditional rituals has become a highly-charged context for constructing cultural identity. Recently, these efforts have been encouraged by the Taiwanese government, which has come to recognize Taiwan as a multicultural society and has begun to endorse the expression of cultural differences through preserving local traditions.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
During my fieldwork among the eastern Paiwan between July 1997 and November 1998, I found that funeral rituals have become a central site for constructing Paiwan identity for local adherents of traditional religion. From holding a wake for the deceased to calling his/her spirit back through shamans' power, funeral rituals unfold as a series of events in which all that is positive in being a Paiwan is exhibited and celebrated. (3) On the other hand, for the regional church authority the funeral is a serious matter because it explicitly addresses the fundamental doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the afterlife of believers. Though local customs should be respected and tolerated, paganism and superstitions are not allowed to be mixed into Christian services. Nevertheless, many elements in traditional funeral rituals can be identified as pagan and superstitious by the church authorities. Funerals have thus become the locus of tension and controversy between adherents of traditional religion and Christians. In the following, I will describe the ethnography of a village in which adherents of traditional religion and Christians live in the same area but in separate quarters, and whose relationships and interactions offer a valuable opportunity to observe the complex relationship between tradition and Christianity.
THE ETHNOGRAPHIC SETTING
The Paiwan, speakers of the Austronesian language of Paiwan, are the third largest aboriginal group in Taiwan, comprised of approximately 68,000 people living in the rural and mountainous areas of the southern end of Taiwan (Figure 2). Their settlements are scattered along Mount Tjagaraus (or Kavulungan), the legendary homeland of origin myths and the oral histories of many Paiwan tribes. Using this mountain as a reference point, the Paiwan divide themselves into several subsets. The ancestors of the eastern Paiwan are supposed to have migrated from the settlements of the northern or central Paiwan no later than the 17th century, according to Japanese scholars (Utsurikawa et al. 1935). The Paiwan are surrounded by Han Chinese and other aboriginal groups including Rukai and Puyuma. Inter-ethnic marriages, barter and trade have been frequent since the Tsing Dynasty (Tsai 1998).
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Paiwan social organization can be best described as a 'house-based' society which has been widely documented in Southeast Asia (Levi-Strauss 1983, 1987, Fox 1987, Errington 1987, Carsten and Hugh-Jones 1995). There is no kinship organization like clan or lineage, and the house (umaq), including the material building as well as the inhabitants living inside, constitutes the basic and enduring social unit (Chiang 1993, Tan 2001b). As a form of property, the house is inherited ideally by the firstborn (vusam) regardless of gender, while other junior siblings will be married out and establish their own houses. Siblings born in the same house share a strong sense of solidarity even after they have been married out. In a village, houses are mainly connected through the idiom of siblingship, which can extend to include the entire community (cf. Carsten 1997).
The Taiban village in which I conducted fieldwork is located in the hills, 200-300 meters above sea level, near the Southeast coastal region of Taiwan. The village site can be reached by concrete roads along the foothill from a nearby town. Like other aboriginal villages, the settlements and farmland of Taiban are enclosed by Reservation Land. The policy of Reservation Land, which originated in the Japanese colonial policy of aboriginal land, has been implemented by the Taiwanese government since 1948. Its purpose is to protect the livelihood of aborigines and to foster the control of aborigines, a major consequence of which has been to transform their pattern of livelihood from shifting cultivation to settled cultivation. Under current regulations, everyone with the ability to work, male or female, is entitled to have 0.6 acre of wet farmland, 1 acre of dry farmland and 1.5 acres of forestland. However, it is not easy for young married couples to acquire enough land to survive if they want to stay as farmers in the village. As a result, about 20% of the population are migrant workers, who find their livelihood in big cities as wage laborers (Tan 2001a).
This village is comprised of two major settlements: Tjauqau, which has 49 households and 249 residents, and Laliba, which has 116 households and 420 residents in 1998. Historically speaking, Tjauqau and Laliba have different origins and their own systems of leadership, and are dozens miles away from each other. It is the resettlement policy of the Taiwanese government that forced them to migrate to their present adjacent locations to form a single 'village', the basic administrative unit in the state structure. They are still separated by a valley, which marks the boundary of their religious differences. The majority of Tjauqau residents are adherents of kakudan and palisi, which are ancestral 'laws, customs' and 'taboos, rituals' passed down from generation to generation. They hold the indigenous leadership of chiefs and shamans in high regard; they interpret the meanings of kakudan and direct the performance of palisi. In Laliba, by contrast, 'chief' is only a nominal title, and shamans have all either died or converted. Most residents have turned away from their traditional religion and have accepted Christianity. The Presbyterian church is the center of social life, and its pastor and elders are leaders of the community.
Tjauqau and Laliba residents also have developed wide kinship networks and marriage ties since they have inhabited the old settlements, and now they are connected by a concrete road which fosters contacts between the two groups. They often receive invitations and attend one another's events, and the funeral is one of the rituals they feel obliged to attend. Migrant workers, in particular, see returning home to attend funerals as a serious obligation and a channel for maintaining ties with their kinsfolk. However, as a result of their different religious affiliations, they hold different opinions on the right way to conduct a funeral. Presbyterians consider funerals held by Tjauqau followers of traditional religion to be 'idol atrous' and show their attitude of defiance and disrespect during funeral processions. Conversely, during Presbyterian funeral services, Tjauqau residents make noise outside the mourning setting rather than joining the congregation. They perceive church practices and ideology as a threat which will destroy their traditions, and vehemently criticize the Presbyterians for 'abandoning the ancestral way'. The funeral thus constitutes a symbolic field, which both expresses and mediates the antagonism between Tjauqau adherents of traditional religion and Laliba Presbyterians.
I propose that Tjauqau can serve as an example of the type of Paiwan society in which traditional religion remains active, and 'tradition' is an effective symbol in local projects of cultural and political empowerment, whereas Laliba is the type of society in which Christianity is dominant in most aspects of social and religious life. In this article, I try to elaborate on the differences in ways of dealing with death and conducting funerals between Tjauqau and Laliba and relate the explicit domain of the differences in their funerals to the implicit domain of the differences in their concepts of the person.
DEATH, FUNERALS AND CONCEPTS OF THE PERSON: THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS …
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Publication information: Article title: Tradition and Christianity: Controversial Funerals and Concepts of the Person among the Paiwan, Taiwan. Contributors: Tan, Chang-Kwo - Author. Journal title: Oceania. Volume: 73. Issue: 3 Publication date: March 2003. Page number: 189+. © 1999 University of Sydney. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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