¡§Amis Hip Hop¡¨:

The Bodily Expressions of Contemporary Young Amis in Taiwan

 Futuru C.L. Tsai(½²¬F¨})

Institute of Anthropology, National Tsing Hua University


Please do not cite without permission from the author


This paper employs ¡§hip-hop¡¨ as a metaphor to analyze ¡§play (around)¡¨, ¡§modern dance¡¨, and ¡§traditional dance¡¨ as performed by the young men of the Amis village of A¡¦tolan in Taiwan. It argues that these Amis young people have been creating an alternative style of bodily expressions which derives from a complex interplay of global hip-hop music, Amis socio-cultural concepts, and pan-indigenous identity.Many scholars of Taiwan regard contemporary indigenous play and modern dance as ¡§losing tradition¡¨ or ¡§just for tourists.¡¨ In this perspective, only traditional dance with its ritual implications can have profound cultural meanings. However, the bodily expressions of Amis young men represent their own subjectivity, located somewhere between ¡§modernity¡¨ and ¡§tradition¡¨. This paper examines four aspects of their performance style. First, their modern dance performances merge with worldwide pan-indigenous cultures within the global traffic in culture (especially through the mass media); Amis young men represent pan-indigenous identity through the design of their dance steps and incidental music. Second, by means of its collective expressions of the body, dance is a socialization process for young Amis. Not only does it revitalize the age organization of the Amis society, it also represents a sense of belonging to an age set and village, and the ethnolinguistic group that is the Amis people. Third, the young men create dances with prominent images of females, especially mothers. Fourth, the play of the young in their private sphere may be the basis of dancing; the play-time of those in the same age set is their most creative time, merging hip-hop, the dances of other indigenous peoples, and the concerns of village elders in the village context. By so doing, they are creating an alternative style and form of hip-hop.

 Key Words: Amis, Dance, Gender, Hip-Hop, Youth Culture 

¡KThe girls of Ali Mountain are as beautiful as the creeks; the boys of Ali Mountain are as strong as the mountains¡K

(From the song Green Mountain [Gaoshanqing])


The very popular song ¡¥Green Mountain¡¦ is probably the ¡§best¡¨ reflection of how Taiwanese society regards the indigenous people of Taiwan. Indigenous men are vigorous, like a big mountain, and the women are comely as a meandering creek, which implies that the indigenous people are living a ¡§natural¡¨, ¡§pure¡¨, ¡§simple¡¨ and ¡§marginal¡¨ life. This article does not describe contemporary Amis youths¡¦ body expressions in the genre of ¡§hip-hop¡¨, but rather employs it as a metaphor and a model in order to interpret the body expressions of Amis young men in A¡¦tolan village, eastern Taiwan.[1] I argue first that how people misinterpret the contemporary dances of Amis young people in regarding them as representing a loss of ¡§cultural traditions¡¨ is based on an imaginary of ¡§nature¡¨, of the ¡§pure¡¨, ¡§simple¡¨, and ¡§marginal¡¨ bodies of indigenous people. Secondly, however, the body expressions of Amis young men represent a complicated social and cultural context, within which they create an alternative style and form of ¡§hip-hop¡¨.

        Public stereotype regarding indigenous peoples in Taiwan has mostly come from the mass media, which represent the viewpoints of non-Han. In this view, indigenous people live on the ¡§periphery¡¨, far away from Han society, and therefore, in contrast to the civilization of the Han, indigenes are ¡§natural¡¨ (Wang Sungyin 1998: 232). Indigenous dances in particular represent the imposition of an inflexible view of the nature of the indigenes. However, the ¡§natural¡¨ images of indigenes can be separated into two parts, which are both contradictory of and correlated with one another. The first is the public view, which sees indigenous dances as joyful and is connected with tourism (see Lin Minmei 1997; Huang Guichao 1994; Li Hungfu 2001a, 2001b). The other is the emerging worries of the ¡§intelligentsia¡¨ that commercializing the ¡§natural¡¨ dances of indigenes translates into losing their ¡§cultural traditions¡¨. Therefore, studies of indigenous dances have focused on dances in rituals and ceremonies (e.g. Li Hungfu 1994, 2000, 2001a, 2001b; Min Liguo 1997; Zhao Qifang 1997; Liu Fengxue 2000; Huang Shiun-wey. 1987). Nonetheless, as Maurice Bloch (1989, 1992) suggested, the social cognition of rituals and non-rituals exist simultaneously in a society. If we study a society only through the unchangeable cognition of rituals, we will oversimplify social cognition in such a way that we can only understand the rituals, not the cognition of non-ritual events.

Although we cannot deny that indigenous dances are regarded as commodities of tourism these days, somehow, if our study of them only focuses on ¡§traditional dances at rituals¡¨, we will only achieve a surface presentation of the society concerned. Moreover, simply distinguishing ritual from non-ritual is unrealistic. Thus, a discussion of the bodily expressions of contemporary Amis young people in terms of their everyday lives is necessary. This paper analyzes the socio-cultural meanings of three kinds of inter-related bodily expression performed by young Amis people in A¡¦tolan village in Taiwan, including ¡§play¡¨, ¡¨modern dance¡¨, and ¡§traditional dance¡¨, as those bodily expressions form an ¡§alternative¡¨ Amis hip-hop.

Before proceeding further, it is necessary to point out that Amis hip-hop is not directly related to the genre of ¡§hip-hop¡¨ as normally understood (involving, e.g., rap-style recitation, hip-hop style dance movement, scratch-and-mix DJ performances, etc.), but is both a metaphor and a model. That is to say, the bodily expressions of contemporary Amis young people in Taiwan are subtly related to hip-hop, which originated in African American youth culture¡Xthe key is ¡§difference¡¨. Amis young men represent their subjectivity differently from what the public imagination dictates. Furthermore, the ¡§difference¡¨ consists of a pan-indigenous identity created by them designing their dance steps and incidental music, dance as a socialization process for young Amis by means of collective bodily expressions; females play a critical role in the dances of young male dancers, plays of the young merging hip-hop, and traditional dance steps within the Amis socio-cultural context. In doing this, they have created a unique style and form of ¡§Amis hip-hop¡¨, and not consistent with either the public¡¦s or the scholarly imagination, nor even with older Amis¡¦s styles of dancing.


Youth, Body and Hip-Hop

Youth cultures have not been given much attention in anthropology since the 1950s. Only recently have they been taken up again due in part to the dynamic, unbounded, and postmodern concept of culture in contemporary theory. The most important concept here is ¡§agency¡¨, which has led scholars to comprehend the agentive creativity of youth cultures among other topics. Anthropological studies of youth cultures during the first half of the twentieth century focused mostly on the socialization process, but tended to ignore the actual agency of young people themselves. Compared with anthropology, sociology, although paying more attention to youth cultures, saw them as sub-cultures within a framework of class conflict, based on the concept of rebellious youth. However, approaches to the study of youth cultures have recently changed to focus on the cultures created and practiced by young people themselves (Bucholtz 2002). Most anthropologists study culture from the perspective of adults or older informants over a long period. First, this implies that only adults or elders can represent ¡§their¡¨ cultures; secondly, it also suggests that the young people represent a generation that is foregoing ¡§traditional cultures¡¨ by living in the ¡§modern¡¨ world. Following these assumptions, it is easy to see how the body expressions of contemporary Amis youth might easily be regarded as ¡§losing culture¡¨ by the public and some of the intelligentsia, who see culture as a pre-set concept based on ¡§traditions¡¨ or ¡§rituals¡¨.

        However, the point of bodily expressions is not the body per se but the meanings of the body (¡§as signifier is to signified¡¨) (Hayles 1993: 181). If we ignore the meanings of the body, we will be handing over power and control to others (Stone 1991). Therefore, if the public and some of the intelligentsia regard the body expressions of contemporary Amis youth as losing culture, based on imagination but not on meaning, this would represent the power of control.

        Hip-hop originated as a way for youth to express their subjectivity and difference from the power and control of ¡§others¡¨ through their bodies. Hip-hop culture stemmed from the music and dance styles of African Americans, has spread around the world with global flows as a unique cultural product and become one of the popular cultures of contemporary youth around the world. Hip-hop culture is interwoven with the sense of being ¡§cool¡¨ and of ¡§difference¡¨ (Osumare 2001), and with will of fighting¡Ketc. (George 2002[2000]: 9), thus providing young people with a common identity and representing different races and ethnicities. Representing ¡§difference¡¨ signifies an expression of subjectivity, which has been crossing the boundaries of states around the world. Young people of many countries have also been developing their own ways to express their subjectivity by interweaving global hip-hop cultures. For example, Jamaicans construct the nationalism of anti-colonialism and a global identity through dancing, the process of seeking a national cultural identity along with the representation of nationalism in art forms (Thomas 2002). Similarly Mexican youth living in the neighborhoods of New York and New Jersey develop dances (sonideo bailes) that are ¡§something new, exciting, and completely modern¡¨, all in places where young people socialize, to express a shared identity as Mexican American (Ragland 2003: 338).

        However, technological and economic processes simultaneously bring about consequences in the form of capitalism ¡V that is, American hip-hop culture exports its dancing and musical styles by parasitizing the American hegemony of capitalism. On the one hand American hip-hop leads the fashions and identities of youth, without adopting the rules of the general public or of adults; on the other hand hip-hop is being led by the nose by the hegemony of capitalism, which has exported it to the rest of the world and thus constructed hip-hop as another kind of hegemony (Osumare 2001). Thus, if young people in different places want to create real subjectivities through ¡§hip-hop¡¨, not only to create their own styles but also to avoid the hegemony of American hip-hop, they need ¡§real¡¨ autonomies of the body. If bodies can be regarded as media, suggests Eric Michaels (1994), they can provide an example of ¡§autonomy¡¨. The key to the autonomy of Aboriginal media in Australia is that the Aborigines can manage their media in relation to their own cultural context. Michaels describes how the Warlpiri manage their own media through their own kinship system. It is only from the viewpoint of this kinship system that we can understand how indigenous peoples produce and receive media. Similarly, realizing that the body of youth is indeed media and that the autonomy of any media comes from the cultural context of the society concerned enables us to comprehend how youth express and experience their bodies.

        In short, the subjectivity of youth may be based on the autonomy of their bodies within their specific cultural context. This is exactly the origin of African American hip-hop. To understand this process among young Amis, it will be necessary to enter their socio-cultural situation to understand and interpret their subjectivity and how to represent it through bodily expressions.


The Socio-cultural Context of Bodily Expressions of Amis youth

The definition of youth differs with different societies and cultures (Bucholtz 2002). The category of ¡§youth¡¨ in A¡¦tolan Amis society is indeed different from that of Euro-Americans. Historians have argued that the category of ¡§youth¡¨ is a relatively recent construction ¡V up to the nineteenth century in Europe, children were generally treated like small adults, and ¡§youth¡¨ or ¡§teenager¡¨ were not marked off as special in-between stages of life until after World War II. For the Amis, age-grades have been an important part of the social structure for a long time, so the category of ¡§youth¡¨ (kapah, which also means ¡§beautiful¡¨ and ¡§shining¡¨) has a different history and different associations. Therefore, it is necessary to identify who the youth are in the socio-cultural context of A¡¦tolan Amis.

The Amis are the largest population of Austronesian-speakers in Taiwan, with a population of over 140,000 as of the end of 2003.[2] Most of them reside in eastern Taiwan. ¡§Amis¡¨ is their self-designation, especially for those who live in the southeast.[3] Typically, the focus of the society and culture of the Amis is on the age organization, together with its functional aspects of military, training, and politics, and the kinship structure (Chen Wende 1985). Although the societies and cultures of the Amis have much diversity in different areas due to different historical and geographical circumstances, the age organization and the kinship system,  which is matrilocal and matrilineal, are still the critical distinguishing features of each Amis village. This includes A¡¦tolan, a large village located on the southeast coast of Taiwan, facing the Pacific Ocean.[4] According to local stories and the names of the historical age sets, the Amis have been living in A¡¦tolan for over two hundred and fifty years (Huang Shiun-wey 1991; Huang Shiun-wey and Luo Sumei 2001). Basically, A¡¦tolan still maintains the age organization. When a boy reaches the age of about twelve years, he can participate in the age organization as one of the Pakalongay (teenagers who serve others),[5]and every five years, he will go up one grade along together with his kapot (the members of the same age set).[6]

Gulliver (1968) identified two kinds of age system, one an age-grade system signifying individuals¡¦ social roles according to their ages, the other an age-set system implying that those who are of the same age form a group like a corporation with specific duties, in which they will remain until the end of their lives (i.e. one goes through a series of different age grades during the course of one¡¦s life, or else one joins one age-set which remains with one throughout life). The Amis age system is generally regarded as age-set rather than a system of age-grades (Huang Shiun-wey 2005: 52-53). However, in A¡¦tolan, the age organization works as both a system of age grades and an age-set system. The naming system of the age sets is the creation system, whereby every five years a new age set will be established with a collective name given to it by the village elders. For example, Laciensi is the collective name for the age set of those who passed the rite of passage and became Kapah in 2000. As mentioned above, the name Laciensi was given for ¡§the millennium¡¨. Besides the unique name for each age set, several age sets are categorized in the same age grade: from the youngest to the oldest, the grades are Pakalongay, Kapah, Matatapalay, and Tu¡¦as. In the age organization, each kapot should obey the orders of the age set above it: the upper age sets are responsible for training and looking after the lower age sets. The overall structure of the age organization of A¡¦tolan is given in Table 1 below:[7]


Table 1. The Structure of the Age Organization of A¡¦tolan Amis (as of 2003)


General Grade Names

Name by Duties

The Unique Name of Each Age Set

Estimated Age in Years


(People who are near the ancestors)


(Old men)


(Men who take rest under the shadows of stone.)


Above 78






(Men who teach the men still inside the men¡¦s house)





(Middle age men)


(The pillars)




(Accompany the Tukal)




(Seeds germinating)




(Making fire by rubbing wood)




(Gearing the village)








(Watchers [those who watch and learn])




(Young men)

Sakakaay no Kapah

(Older brothers in the grade of youth)



Saka tosa no Kapah

(Third level of the grade of youth)



Saka toro no Kapah

(Second level of the grade of youth)



Safafaay no Kapah

(Younger brothers in the grade of youth)






(Teenagers who must serve others)



It can be inferred that in A¡¦tolan the age grade of Kapah represents youth, with four age sets, Lakangcing, Lakayakay, Lakenca, and Laciensi, which are thus the subject of this article.

The interaction of these age sets is based on the principles of age and generation in the age organization system (Chen Wende 1990). Political affairs in A¡¦tolan are basically controlled by the age grades of Matatapalay and above. The kakita¡¦an (chief) is selected from Lasfi or Tukal. The kakita¡¦an chooses some other older men from Lasfi and Matatapalay to act as his advisors or counselors, responsible for decision-making. The Mikumoday is in charge of executing the orders of the chief and his team, while the Kapah is managed by the Mikumoday to achieve the orders. The political system of the Amis in A¡¦tolan is thus generally governed by the elders. Within it, the Kapah must comply within a hierarchy that provides a ¡§similar¡¨ environment of developing body expressions of hip-hop culture in the United States.

The body expressions of young A¡¦tolan Amis reflects age and generational relationships, especially in the malikoda (a style regarded as the ¡§traditional¡¨ Amis dance, in which the dancers take each other by the hand.)
















         Figure 1. The malikoda dance of the A¡¦tolan Amis.


The malikoda is esteemed as relating to the strict ritual hierarchy (Li Hungfu 1994, 2001a, 2001b; Min Liguo 1997), physical training (Zhao Qifang 1997, Lin Minmei 1997), and the function of uniting people in the village hand in hand (Min Liguo 1997). The malikoda requires that people line up in accordance with the hierarchy. To the Kapah, they would be asked to perform the malikoda in unanimity and with majesty and great power. This kind of traditional dancing is regarded as one of the best representations of Amis culture by many scholars. However, it is not the only dance in Amis culture, especially for these Amis young men in A¡¦tolan. If we value the malikoda as the ¡§purest¡¨ dance in Amis culture but ignore the others as merely symbols of a loss of culture and of secularization, we might easily miss the whole system of social cognition (Bloch 1989). Amis young men have developed many forms of body expression, which blend local character and other features, but which include so-called modern dances and plays.

Besides the malikoda, there are also other kinds of traditional dances which are not based on the age organization. The modern dances and plays are the forms of bodily expressions that others consider indicate a loss of culture. However, they are exactly the forms in which the Amis express differences from the imaginations of the public and some scholars, as well as from the forms of body expressions of the elders in A¡¦tolan. In fact, the modern dances, the traditional dances and the plays are inter-related body expressions, but they take on different forms on different occasions and with different spectators. The stage performance is the most open of fields, and it is separated into two parts by the Amis youth at A¡¦tolan: one takes the form of traditional dances, the other of modern dances. As for the plays about the Amis youth, they are usually not ¡§performed¡¨ on a stage. This raises the question of who the body expressions of Amis youth are being exhibited to. In another words, who are the spectators? This is a critical context in understanding the body expressions of Amis youth. Here I focus on the plays and the modern and traditional dances of Amis youth in A¡¦tolan and consider the complex relationship between these body expressions and the spectators.



The various plays of Amis youth may happen anywhere and at any time that Amis youth congregate. The forms of plays vary, from the simplest, re-creating songs, to various complex body performances. For example, the lyrics of the Christmas song Jingle Bells is re-created as follows, and Amis youth sing it to seemingly ¡§nonsensical¡¨ body movements:


My age is young; my body shape is slender; Mama asked me to kill the chicken, so I¡¦ll pull out the chicken¡¦s hairs (pubic hairs); pull out the hairs; pull out the hairs; I¡¦ll pull out the hairs; pull out the hairs; pull out the hairs; I¡¦ll pull out the hairs.[8]


        Once, two members of the kapot Laciensi visited the upper kapot Lakayakay and asked advice from them one night during the annual harvest festival, a custom of A¡¦tolan Amis.[9] After Lakayakay had given a lesson to Laciensi and Laciensi had served rice wine to Lakayakay, the members of the latter asked their lower kapot, Laciensi, to perform something to please their kaka (older brothers and sisters) before they left. These two young men of Laciensi then immediately performed the re-created Jingle Bells in front of their kaka, singing the song with the body movements following the re-created lyrics as above. When they sang the words ¡§my body shape is slender¡¨, they drew a calabash shape with their hands and twisted their hips to symbolize the shape of the female body. When they sang ¡§pull out the hairs (pubic hairs)¡¨, they simply approached the vice leader of Lakayakay, while unexpectedly trying to pull out the vice leader¡¦s pubes, which was trying hard to prevent this without showing any anger. All the members of Lakayakay sitting alongside were extremely happy to be viewing this scene. Everyone knew that it was merely a play. The play obscured the hierarchical relationships between the upper and lower kapot, although it was initiated within those relationships and because of them.

        Another kind of youth play that implies competition among kapots is basically a team play. For example, another night during the annual harvest festival, all the Kapah observed the custom of gathering in front of the sfi (men¡¦s house) to practice the malikoda as usual. Breaks from practicing were devoted to plays. On one occasions, the oldest of the kapots, Lakangcing, asked the lower kapots to act out some entertaining performances for everybody. Each kapot performed at the center of the square one by one. The first kapot was Laciensi, who immediately assembled in the center of the square, one of them standing in the front of Laciensi acting as the ¡§conductor¡¨. Then they sang the very famous children's ballad, Fly Lady Fly, to interpretive body movements:


Butterfly, butterfly, beautiful butterfly; wearing golden ornaments on your head; wearing garish clothes; you love flowers; and flowers love you too; you can dance; flowers have the sweet honey.


While they were singing this song, all of the members of Laciensi followed the conductor¡¦s body movements. The whole play was similar to one of the famous ¡§team plays¡¨ (Tuan kang) of the ¡§China Youth Corps¡¨ (Jiou guo tuan),[10] with its imitative movements (Dai dung chang). However, unlike the imitative movements of the CYC style, Laciensi did not ask everybody present (the other kapots in attendance) to follow their movements, but only Laciensi. Everyone was laughing heartily at that moment. Their play has subtle differences from the imitative movements of the CYC style, in which the conductor would ask everybody present to follow the conductor¡¦s dance together. If a follower laughs loudly instead of participating in the imitative movements, he is regarded as ¡§unsocial¡¨ or ¡§antisocial¡¨. This is different from the atmosphere of Amis youth in an awkward predicament, even though the forms of the Amis play and of the imitative movements are similar. After the performance by Laciensi, Lakayakay also came into the center of the square, and performed another play whose form was similar to that of Laciensi, but with a different song and different body movements. Their body movements seemed even more ¡§illogical¡¨, including merely rolling on the ground and barely singing the song, but using nonsense words instead. The Lakayakay received more laughter than Laciensi. After Lakayakay¡¦s performance, Lakangcing performed, and then Pakalongnay.














 Figure 2.  The Fly Lady Fly Play by Laciensi (2003).

The person on the right was the conductor.


There are two contextual distinctions between the CYC style of follow-along moves and the Amis youth¡¦s play. First, the most important distinction is that the Amis youth¡¦s play is based on hierarchical relations. Secondly, however, all the members of each kapot know each other very well; in other words, the Amis youth¡¦s play is performed in private, with body movements and voices to please everyone. Moreover, the Amis youth¡¦s play reflects the subtle competition among the kapots. The more laughter a kapot receives, the more it claims the status of ¡§the good kapot¡¨. The Amis youth¡¦s play respects the hierarchical relations in the age organization system, but it also permits the creation of unbounded body expression.

The plays among the kapots could also be transferred to the inner kapot, which is a play within the kapot. The plays of the A¡¦tolan Amis youth are varied and innovative. The ¡§spectators¡¨ of a play¡¦s body expressions are the ¡§people on their own side¡¨; in other words, they are basically performing for themselves. Everyone is not only a spectator, but also a performer. Furthermore, ¡§people on their side¡¨ still can be sorted into several levels, from the most private occasion (the inner kapot) to the semi-public arena (plays among several kapots). The plays of A¡¦tolan Amis youth represent an outward similarity to the public youth play, but there are remarkable differences. The differences stem from Amis youth re-creating their body expressions based on incorporating external body expressions into the Amis cultural context.


Modern dances

The A¡¦tolan Amis¡¦s definition of ¡§modern¡¨ and ¡§traditional¡¨ dances is based on whether or not a specific dance must be coordinated with a specific song. A modern dance is one where the dance movements and the song are independent of one another; the traditional dance, on the contrary, is one where they must be combined. This means that a modern dance can utilize audio equipment such as compact disc or cassette players, and the dancers do not sing themselves; the traditional dance, by contrast, requires the dancers to sing the song themselves while they dance, without any accompaniment. The A¡¦tolan Amis greatly value the modern dance. Indeed, the modern dance competition during the annual harvest festival is one of the most highly regarded competitions for each kapot. Several weeks before the festival each year, somebody in each kapot takes charge of selecting the music and arranging the dance steps, which the members of the kapot practice every night. Since most of the young people work outside A¡¦tolan village, they usually start practicing their modern dance several days, or even just one night, before the festival. On the last night before the festival, each kapot practices its modern and traditional dances until midnight, and some of them even practice all through the night.

        The modern dance competition at the A¡¦tolan annual harvest festival has been separated into two groups since 2001, those of youth and middle age. Perhaps because Laciensi have been the Kapah since 2000, they have won first place in the modern dance competition for two years running. Their modern dances were in different styles from the older kapots and attracted huge applause. Some older kapots therefore proposed that the modern dance competition should be separated into two groups according to age grades to be fairer, otherwise the middle age kapot would always be the loser. The proposal was accepted by the kakita¡¦an and his advisory team. Some older kapots of Kapah such as Lakangcing, Lakayakay and Lakenca, gradually stimulated by Laciensi, began to work hard selecting the music and designing an arrangement of modern dance steps that could compete against their safa (younger brothers and sisters), Laciensi. Especially since 2002, when Lakenca and Lakayakay were combined into a temporary kapot because of a shortage of members, they have been very aggressive in arranging and practicing their modern dances. On the last night before each annual harvest festival, most of the members return to A¡¦tolan from elsewhere in Taiwan and gather together to practice. It would be completely wrong to assume that these older ¡§young men¡¨, who are not professional dancers, feel tormented by having to practice and memorize the steps and tempos of the music, while simultaneously sweating in the hot and windless summer nights, with all their mothers and aunts sitting around them, laughing and poking fun at them. They do not regard it as toilsome and embarrassing but actually practice with ever-increasing vigor. They are entirely focused on the competition that is to take place the following day.

        The modern dances of Lakenca, Lakayakay and Lakangcing are becoming better and more varied under the pressure of fame; they do not want to be the losers forever, and would feel especially embarrassed to be beaten by their safa (younger brothers). For example, in the modern dance of Lakayakay in 2002, their music consisted of two parts: the first consisted of African music with a strong beat, the second of an Amis folk song. The steps of their modern dances were choreographed within these two parts. In the first part, they held two bamboo sticks in their hands and followed the African drum beats, twisting their waists, holding the sticks, and so on. Suddenly the music switched to the Amis folk song with light beats and a brisk rhythm. Their movements also became spry and vivid. Furthermore, they danced toward the kakita¡¦an and the advisory team, announcing loudly one by one that they were the Amis braves of A¡¦tolan. In the next step they blended a unique dance, the kulaku or ¡§bravery dance¡¨, using umbrellas as symbols of spears and shields, and danced around the square. When they passed the tents of each kapot, everyone was going crazy for their dance, and even some of the dancers¡¦ mothers began dancing with them. Lakayakay took second place that year.[11]

In 2003, Lakayakay came back again after their defeat. The modern dance of Lakayakay was still being arranged by a member nicknamed ¡§Iron Coach¡¨.[12] That year, the modern dance of Lakayakay was also separated into two parts: the first part was collocated with the Amis folk song Zacateca, which was re-created in the genre of New Age music by Enigma as Return to Innocence; the second part followed another African-style music with a strong beat. The longer bamboo sticks were used in the dance, tied with turtledoves¡¦ feathers to signify spears. In the first part of the modern dance, Lakayakay came on stage with the steps transformed from kulaku, guarding a little boy who was the nephew of one of the kapot. This little boy was carrying a ¡§wild pig¡¨ on his shoulder, actually a pink toy pig, but considered a wild pig. Once the pig had been set down at the center of the square, the music suddenly turned into the African style with intense beats. Their body movements also became extremely exaggerated, Lakayakay dancing around the pig as hunters. The dance integrated many other dancing elements this time, including the ¡§traditional¡¨ Amis dances, the steps of a popular group from Korea called the Cool Dragons, the stretching of tongues of the Maori haka, and twisting the waist and hips like an African butterfly. Most of these dance steps were gleaned by Iron Coach from watching the Discovery channel. The Lakayakay dance certainly won enormous applause again that year, although it took only third place. According to a village elder who was one of the judges, the reason that Lakayakay did not win first place as the people of the village expected was as follows: ¡§Lakayakay performed very well; however, your members¡¦ steps were untidy. If you had enough time to have more practice, you would win first place¡¨.

        It is obvious that Lakayakay reached a level of achievement in the modern dance competition that could be attributed to both the pressure of Laciensi and the arrangements of Iron Coach, as well as the involvement of the whole kapot. Before 2002, Lakayakay always gave up in the modern dance category, and then were usually given a dressing down by the upper kapots or the elders, totally without effect. However, things have changed since Laciensi underwent a modern dance revolution.

        Laciensi have won first place in the modern dance competition for several years since they officially became a Kapah in 2000. They ranked number one from 2000 to 2003, and again in 2005. Only in 2004 did Lakayakay finally take first place, but Laciensi took an oath to win back first place in 2005, and they did. Basically, Laciensi is still the best kapot in terms of modern dance, but nobody knows what will transpire once the new kapot is fixed after the end of 2005, and how the situation will develop in the modern dance competition.

Laciensi was named in 2000, most of its modern dances being arranged by a woman whose nickname is ¡§Strawberry¡¨. She was the classmate of some members of Laciensi when they were Pakalongay from 1995 to 2000, and Strawberry has been with Laciensi ever since. Laciensi could always defeat their kaka (elder brothers) in the modern dance competition because of Strawberry¡¦s critical role; not only did she major in dancing arts in college, but she is a sort of ¡§under the table¡¨ leader (Tsai 2005). In addition, the members of Laciensi respect the modern dance competition very much, and they always try to overcome any difficulty by practicing their modern dance several days before the annual harvest festival. In 2000, the Laciensi passed their initiation ritual to become Kapah, and also performed two modern dances, the first one a transformation of the Maori haka, a popular dance among baseball players in Taiwan,[13] the second a blockbusting modern dance for the competition. The latter was arranged by Strawberry, the incidental music being a brisk song transformed from a Puyuma folk song by a female singer called Samingad (Ji Xiaojun ¬ö¾å§g), herself a Puyuma.[14] Their modern dance, with this song, integrated several movements, including dances in Slavonic folk style, the female dance moves of Amis elders, some hip-hop styles, and some other original steps devised by Strawberry. The next year, Strawberry chose another song, by Biung, a Bunun singer.[15] The Laciensi still incorporated many elements of Amis traditional dance steps, including the malikoda and original steps, into their modern dance.

In 2002, Laciensi¡¦s modern dance commenced with a song about a baseball game sung by a Han singer, Zhu Toupi. For the dance, Strawberry designed body movements inspired by the Flying Fish Dance of the Tao (Yami) people of Orchid Island,[16] and referring to a wrestling episode from Laciensi¡¦s initiation ritual in 2000. For their modern dance in 2003, Laciensi also selected Zhu Toupi¡¦s music but re-created it based on an Amis folk song. This time, the dancing style was as cute as the movements of children. From 2000 to 2003, Laciensi always won first place in the modern dance competition at A¡¦tolan. Although they were defeated by Lakayakay in 2004, they came back in 2005 with another modern dance that integrated some hip-hop styles and a lot of modifications from original Amis dance steps in A¡¦tolan. Their dance was similar to that of Lakayakay, who also integrated many different elements into their modern dance. Even though both kabots transformed the traditional dances of the malikoda, or the elders and women, into their modern dances, they both performed them at an ever-increasing tempo.

        As for Lakangcing, however, they are growing old, heading toward middle age, and so they do not feel the same urgency to compete with their safa in the modern dance. Instead, they are faced the pressure of losing the traditional dance competition. But surprisingly, Lankangcing selected English-language dance music for the modern competition in 2003. Their modern dance was mostly a reprise of the cheer-leaders¡¦ moves, but integrated with a tug-of-war session in the opening. The biggest success in their modern dance performance was this tug-of-war, due to the fact that the performers consisted of several ¡§families¡¨, and then won the applause. Comparatively speaking, the cheer-leaders¡¦ dance style did not obtain as many cheers as the tug of war. The aspect most different from the performances of Laciensi and Lakayakay was Lakangcing¡¦s inclusion of their wives and children in the dance. Most of the members of Lakangcing are married, and their wives started to appear either in the modern or traditional dance competition. The dancers of Lakayakay and Laciensi were still mostly male. However, the dances of the other groups represented the complex image of the female in A¡¦tolan Amis culture, discussed at length below.

        The modern dance competition is usually held on the first day of the annual harvest festival at A¡¦tolan. Generally speaking, about seventy percent of the spectators are Amis from A¡¦tolan, the rest being visitors passing through and a few amateur anthropologists of indigenous culture. On these occasions, the public and private spheres of the A¡¦tolan Amis overlap. These public or private spheres are distinguished on several levels depending on different subjects, from age sets all the way up to age grades, the age organization, the village, and outsiders (visitors). Each level might be in a public or private sphere relative to the other levels. To the village, the age organization and the age grades, the age set is a unity: the modern dance competition of each kapot is within the private sphere of the village, the age organization and the age grades. In other words, the kapots do care about their performance in front of the Amis people of A¡¦tolan, and are especially concerned about the opinions of the on-stage judges as well as the other kapots in their own age grade. However, to the outsiders, they see only the whole village as a unity, the age sets being meaningless to them. It is at this moment that the age sets become an obstacle. Actually, the kapots do not care what outsiders think of their performances. One of the leaders of the A¡¦tolan kapot Lakangcing remarked:


After visiting A'tolan¡¦s Harvest Festival, outsiders may wonder, ¡§How come the A'tolan tribe is so modern?¡¨ Or they think we A'tolan Amis have been losing our traditions. But the fact is that¡K This is exactly the unique tradition of the A'tolan tribe. So, the chief says that¡K the youth must do their best to demonstrate¡K to try to please the elders. That means how to present your body movements. And so, we are living in this moment, in this era. What you can show to the elders¡K is what is most familiar to you. We A'tolan Amis have a special character ¡K You have to show yourself off in front of the elders. Through the form of the modern dance, you show off your best to everybody. We also combine the traditional and modern¡K when we present our dances. I think this is the wisdom of our elders in the A'tolan tribe. It¡¦s the wisdom... I don¡¦t agree with the viewpoint that¡K ¡§The A'tolan tribe has been losing their traditions.¡¨ As a matter of fact, the idea is from our heritage¡K that during the annual harvest festival... the young people have to please the elders. And, that is what continues until today. There¡¦s nothing wrong with that.


        In one sense, Amis youth in A¡¦tolan are maintaining their independence from the imaginations of outsiders; in another sense, they are creating some ¡§new¡¨ and ¡§different¡¨ body expressions by integrating various elements, including the heritage of traditional dances, to display something distinctive from the middle-aged and the elders. Even by doing so, the elders and the middle-aged do not feel that this is inappropriate. On the contrary, they feel happy to see something different, as the kakita¡¦an of A¡¦tolan noted:


On the first day of the festival all performances are Amis. The second day is also the same. There are a lot of guests visiting on the first day, but there¡¦s less variation of our traditional dances. If this year¡¦s festival is the same as last year¡¦s, the elders would feel a lack of variation. Even so, much of the so-called ¡§modern dance¡¨ does not change much. Although traditions cannot be forgotten, we also must follow the modern age into the future. Now we see that our children are willing to participate with so much originality, when elders are proud to say, ¡§Look, that¡¦s my child!¡¨ Then, we all feel very happy. The youth have been changing the boring part of the ceremony.


        The kakita¡¦an does care about outsiders¡¦ views somewhat since he is the symbol of the village, and he certainly cares about visitors¡¦ feelings, but the feelings of the elders are still most important. What they feel is the key to the youth¡¦s dances. The outsiders¡¦ view of the youth¡¦s modern dances as a loss of tradition or as their commercialisation for tourism make no sense at all to the youth themselves, nor to the elders of A¡¦tolan. In fact, from the youth¡¦s perspective, since outsiders have never been spectators, how can the suggestion that they are merely trying to please the visitors be taken seriously? The criticisms and interpretations of the visitors and some ¡§scholars¡¨ have never counted in the context of the village. To the A¡¦tolan Amis, especially the youth, the content of outsiders¡¦ imaginations are not important. What is important is how many cheers they receive from the Amis in A¡¦tolan, especially the elders.











Figure 3.  The Lakayakay¡¦s modern dance in 2003.


Traditional dances

As mentioned above, the distinction between modern dance and traditional dance in the A¡¦tolan Amis context is whether the singing and body movements (dance) are separated or coordinated with one another. The traditional dances can be differentiated into two kinds. The first is the malikoda, which links the hands. There are fourteen songs in A¡¦tolan of this sort with different dance steps. These kinds of dances are conventionally regarded as the ¡§traditional¡¨ Amis dances, as they coordinate singing with specific dance steps (Li Hungfu 1994, 2001a; Liu Fengxue 2000; Huang Guechao 1994). The other kind of traditional dance might be categorized as ¡§non-malikoda¡¨, and can be further sub-divided into two categories. One is Militepulay¡¦s dance, which performed by the middle-aged wives of the Mihinigay to Tukal age grades. The other traditional dances are basically derived from Militepulay with added body movements from the daily life experiences of former times, such us digging the soil, sowing, hoeing weeds, reaping, hunting, firing the bow, fishing, and so on. On this level, the traditional dances may have many variations. Both the malikoda and non-malikoda dances can be counted as traditional dances since they coordinate singing with specific dance steps and body movements, but they also have many variations.

        A scholar who is an Amis from another village has categorized the Amis traditional dances into three categories: ¡§entertaining the divinities¡¨, ¡§entertaining the people¡¨, and ¡§entertaining oneself¡¨ (Zhuang Guoxin 2003: 45). According to these categories, while the malikoda and the Militepulay¡¦s dance can be classified as ¡§entertaining the divinities¡¨, the other traditional dances are for ¡§entertaining the people¡¨ and ¡§entertaining oneself¡¨. However, the traditional dances in fact represent much more complicated variations than these three simple categories allow, especially as performed by the young people. As for the genre of malikoda, there are both transformed and non-transformed versions. For the non-transformed, there are basic steps, linking of the hands and a hierarchical line-up; for the transformed, the young people always create some ¡§fancy steps¡¨, though they may be inspired by the originals by permission of the upper kapots and the elders.

The malikoda is danced in a big ¡§C¡¨-shaped formation following the sequence of the age grades, the youngest kapot being the last. In other words, the young people are always in second half of the malikoda. The malikoda are focused on the movements of the legs, that is, the lower half of the body. Each of the malikoda songs requires its own incidental steps. However, the dancers can create some fancy steps for most of the malikoda, which do not interrupt their basic structures. These fancy steps generally include ¡§bending the upper half of the body intentionally¡¨, ¡§lifting the legs higher¡¨, ¡§magnifying to twist the hips¡¨, ¡§fragmenting the steps¡¨ and so on, all such moves being done to strengthen the power or to increase the complexity of the movements. If the dancers improvise the steps too freely and the original structure of the malikoda is destroyed ¡V for example, by going in the wrong direction, producing the wrong cadence, etc., or if only one person makes a fancy step ¡V then that person will be reprimanded by the upper kapots and the elders. Therefore, in so far as the two simultaneous conditions are fulfilled ¡V ¡§no disruption of the structure¡¨ and ¡§the collective moves¡¨ ¡V the dancers can still express their innovation and creativity.

        Although the Amis youth do not dance the Militepulay, in the rest of the traditional dances, they transform the malikoda and Militepulay, as well as adding many body movements relating to the daily life of former times, such as cultivating, fishing, and hunting. This level of traditional dance is permitted with greater variation than the malikoda and the dance of Militepulay can have. The Amis youth can arrange steps freely assembled from different Amis folk songs. Furthermore, the body movements of this sort of traditional dance represent the close relationship between the Amis people and their lands (Li Hungfu 2001a, 2001b). These dances are also the greatest source for the Amis youth¡¦s body expressions, especially those of Laciensi and Lakayakay, which appropriate many body movements from these kinds of traditional dances into their modern dances. Even in the traditional dance competition, the young people always re-create movements different from those of the elders. For example, in the traditional dance of Laciensi in 2003, one movement signified reaping, which several dancers exaggerated, thrusting out their chests to the extreme, raising their hips high, and clenching their hands tightly. The exaggerated movements made the spectators laugh boisterously. Nobody would have thought that they were dancing the wrong dance.

        In short, the body expressions of the traditional dance of young Amis have in one sense inherited many symbols and meanings from the original Amis dances; in another sense, they also simultaneously re-created and transformed the originals through a number of variations. Although traditional dances could never have the same number of variations as the modern dances and the plays, young Amis still have their own innovatory space in which to perform their body expressions.















Figure 4.  The malikoda allows for variation with some kinds of limitations.

Amis Hip-Hop as Metaphor

In general, the young people merge and transform enormous and varied resources based on the ¡§cultural text¡¨ of the A¡¦tolan Amis into their body expressions. While from the perspective of outsiders the young people of A¡¦tolan may seem to be showing that they are not really ¡§traditional¡¨ Amis, in reality they are mocking these external imaginations through their own body expressions. The outsiders never even realize that they are being condemned by their own imaginations, and still become immersed in the event. Young Amis can then agreeably exhibit their subjectivity and creativity with their bodies, even within global flows, in their own social and cultural context. On the other hand, by referring to and respecting the heritage of the elders and ancestors of A¡¦tolan, they continually manipulate these with their own imaginations, informed by the flows of global media, to create their own body expressions that are different from those of the middle-aged and the elders of A¡¦tolan. Besides, in fact, behind the body expressions of the young dancers are the female images, the real source of creativity. Finally, the re-creation and transformation process of Amis young people¡¦s body expressions is a sort of socialization process, not only moulding, but also representing the shifting identities among different levels within the age set, the age grade, the age organization, the village, and finally, a worldwide pan-indigenous identity .

Expressing Difference

As mentioned above, the public in Taiwan imagines the body expressions of the Amis youth in two preconceived ways: on the one hand, they must be ¡§natural¡¨ and ¡§primitive¡¨; on the other, in common with the views of certain ¡§anxious intellectuals¡¨, they are allegedly showing a loss of ¡§culture¡¨ and ¡§tradition¡¨ to the forces of ¡§commercialization¡¨, ¡§touristization¡¨, and ¡§secularization¡¨. Faced with these two public imaginations, Amis youth show tremendous ingenuity in representing the imaginations of outsiders, as if they were indeed what the outsiders¡¦ thought. However, the imaginations that emerged from the ¡§Others¡¨ are not those of the ¡§spectators¡¨ in the context of the Amis youth¡¦s body expressions. If one wants to be a ¡§real spectator¡¨, one must first become an ¡§actor¡¨, that is, one must enter into the social and cultural context of A¡¦tolan Amis.

        As a matter of fact, in front of the middle-aged and elders, young Amis also present their ¡§independence¡¨ in terms of body expression. For example, although the malikoda and other traditional dances are based on the body movements of the lower half of the body, the Amis youth still create and transform them with plenty of upper body movement, not to mention the modern dances, in which they borrow, transform, create, or re-create vast and varied body movements. Through the flows of global mass media, as with music and television, they select the kinds of music and moves that are based on their interpretations of themselves and their own culture, and then either merge or transform them with the dancing heritage of A¡¦tolan Amis into their body expressions. The results of the transformation and creation processes represent the unique vitality and diversity of A¡¦tolan Amis youth.

        Amis youth plays present similar differences in terms of the different kapots, as well as similar plays in the public mainstream in Taiwan. The emergence of Amis youth plays out of hierarchical relations in the age organization system is not entirely new nor even a wholly contemporary phenomenon. According to one ethnographic report by a Japanese scholar from the 1930s about the relationships between the different age sets in terms of plays:


When the A¡¦tolan juveniles reach a certain age, they are called Pakalongay. They would be getting together in the men house of the village, be forced to serve their predecessors and the elders, or be imposed on hard working. Five year later, they would be upgraded to become the Kapah. Before becoming the Kapah, the upper age set would choose a certain morning to teach them how to dress in the new clothes with many wicked plays. In the meantime, a competition of holding the hairs, fighting, and playing with each other, called maraorotai, would be held. At the time of sunset, the Pakalongay would be forced to eat the millet bakes: if they refused, then would be punished by the upper grades. This is the upgrading ritual to the grade of Kapah which is called misakapot. Passing through these rites, the Pakalongay could then be categorized as Kapah, and receive their kapot¡¦s name from the elders.(Furuno 2000[1945]: 50)


According to this description, hierarchical relations among age sets are very rigid. However, over seventy years later in A¡¦tolan, although relations among age sets remain rigid, there has been a change in the direction of a kind of joking relationship. Amis youth plays are a kind of representation of these joking relations (Tsai 2004). Han youth do not stage similar plays to those of Amis youth when they gather together. For Han youth, these kinds of plays would be staged only in order to become acquainted with strangers, but for Amis youth, they are staged by and for those who already know each other intimately. The difference is that the plays of the Amis youth both intensify the unity of being a common age set and obscure the hierarchical relations of the age grades more generally. Some Han youth might parody an ¡§old-fashioned¡¨ play, especially those who are the so-called ¡§seventh-grade¡¨ (Qinianji) generation of young men in Taiwan.[17] However, what makes the Amis youths¡¦ parody different has to do with the context of their performances, along with the fact that their audience are the older age groups, and that they effectively amuse the audience and thus relax hierarchical relations.

Amis youth transform and integrate many other elements along with the heritage of A¡¦tolan to create a certain style of body expression which seems similar to, but is in fact totally different from, the public and some scholars¡¦ imaginations. Moreover, Amis youth, especially in the modern dance, create an alternate body expression to that of the middle-aged and elders by absorbing and transforming several musical and dancing cultures from different parts of the world, accessed through the global flows of media and images. Although the styles of Amis youths¡¦ body expressions are different from those of the middle-aged and the elders, still the youths¡¦ expressions are accepted and appreciated by the middle-aged and the elders of A¡¦tolan.











Figure 5.  The modern dance of the Laciensi in 2005.



Young Men as Actors, Young Women as Directors

Amis dances are generally regarded as relating to women, who are also the driving force behind the Amis youths¡¦ body expressions, although the ¡§youth¡¨ here are mostly males. It is essential to explain the phenomenon in terms of the kinship relations of the Amis. Traditionally Amis societies have been regarded as matrilineal (Wei Hueilin, Yu Jingqiuan, and Lin Hengli 1972), although whether this is appropriate from the point of view of descent and lineages has been debated (Chen Wende 1986: 69). Since women are regarded as the core of the kinship system, men of the age organization, in Amis society, the ¡§family (females)¡¨ and the ¡§age organization (males)¡¨ are seen as both complementary and oppositional to one another (Huang Shiun-wey 1989). In short, gender relations in Amis society are traditionally regarded, simultaneously and complementarily, as being in a relation of opposition.

        The gender relations present in Amis youths¡¦ body expression seem inexplicable from the perspective of complementary and oppositional gender relations. No matter whether in the modern dance, the traditional dance or the play, all of them, either directly or indirectly, are related to the image of the ¡§female backstage director¡¨. Amis traditional dance is basically directed more closely to the land: not only are the movements always focused on the lower half of the body, which is nearer to the ground (Li Hungfu 2001a: 18), but the postures and movements are mostly transferred from the movements of cultivation. Furthermore, traditionally, the image of land, cultivation and the major crop, millet, is connected with women in Amis society (Huang  Shiun-wey 1989). In another words, the Amis traditional dance is mostly the representation of the image of the females. Regarding the modern dance, the Amis youth also blend and transform many traditional dance movements into the modern dance, especially those movements relating to the cultivation of the land, which is to say the image of female labour.









Figure 6.  The left is the female traditional dance transformed

from the cultivation movements;

the right is the Laciensi¡¦s traditional dance with

the movement similar to the females on the left.


Furthermore, the modern dances of the Amis youth are mostly created by females, either directly or indirectly. For example, as mentioned above, since 2000Laciensi¡¦s modern dances have been arranged by the young woman called Strawberry. Lakangcing¡¦s modern dances are also mostly directed by a woman called ¡§Little Flower¡¨. For these two kapots, the women direct the modern dances, though most of the dancers are young men. In the case of Lakayakay, although the modern dances are arranged by a male member, ¡§Iron Coach¡¨, as a matter of fact several women influence Lakayakay¡¦s modern dances indirectly, especially the mother of Iron Coach. Iron Coach¡¦s mother is the master of the Blue Star Dancing Group of A¡¦tolan, and Iron Coach has learned a lot from his mother. Since Iron Coach was young, he has always been surrounded with many middle-aged female dancers, including his mother. He himself is a wonderful dancer and loves to dance. Although there are fewer ¡§female members¡¨ in Lakayakay, Iron Coach still directs his kapot, who mostly have big beer bellies, and thus can hardly bend down to dance. Iron Coach¡¦s mother plays a backstage directing role for the Lakayakay.

        Another event, which similarly represents the image of female backstage directing in the Amis youths¡¦ body expressions, involved myself personally. I participated in Lakayakay¡¦s modern dance as a dancer in 2002. Since I was putting on some weight at that time, I did not notice that my belt had not been put on properly and was slipping off. While we were dancing in front of the elders, my belt loosened into what looked like a tail. Although, as a ¡§professional¡¨ dancer, I kept dancing, it was a very embarrassing experience. At that time, there were two unfamiliar ¡§older sisters¡¨ who successively came on to the stage and tightened up my belt. However, none of my ¡§good¡¨ male friends from other kapots did anything to save me. This was not a single event: I have seen many similar situations happen this way. For instance, at the initiation ritual for the Pakalongay to be upgraded to the Kapah, it is the mothers who dress their children with the kayap (the Amis young man¡¦s skirt), the symbol of becoming the Kapah. No matter what kind of dress or dance, the women play a critical role in the backstage directing of the body expressions of young Amis. That is, the women direct the youths¡¦ bodies to perform in accordance with an essentially female image.












Figure 7.  One of the unfamiliar women (at that time)

helping me tighten my belt while we were dancing.



        It seems that the ¡§complementary¡¨ and ¡§oppositional¡¨ gender relations of the Amis cannot entirely explain the gender relations represented by the Amis youths¡¦ body expressions. Especially from the ¡§oppositional¡¨ point of view, the age organization is generally regarded as a male domain, the kinship system as a female domain. How could the women become such a critical part of the activities of the male age organization as the dancing competition of the age sets? Moreover, why do male Amis youth not consider the women¡¦s backstage directing oppressive in the same way that women in patriarchal societies consider men¡¦s ¡§backstage directing¡¨ of women¡¦s bodies oppressive? For example, when Euro-American male film directors use women actors¡¦ bodies to represent their own stereotypical images of what women ¡§should¡¨ be like, feminists often see this as suppressing the women¡¦s own subjectivity. The simple answer to this question is that gender relations in Amis society probably go beyond the concepts of simple ¡§complementarity¡¨ or ¡§opposition¡¨.

        Recently, an idea has grown up that the distinction of gender in Amis society is not oppositional but hierarchical, though still based on complementary relations (Luo Sumei 2005). Although this seems to explain the gender relations in the phenomenon of the Amis youths¡¦ body expressions, the concept of hierarchical gender relations is still obscure. This begs the question of how hierarchical relations could not be regarded as oppressive. In my view, this can be answered by looking at the Amis concept of the family, especially relations between siblings as the core of the family.

Regarding the Amis of A¡¦tolan, although the contemporary kinship system is not formally divided into matrilineages, the idea of the family and sibling relations still forms the core of ¡§relatedness¡¨, this being quite different from the patrilineal Han society (Chen Wende 1986; Luo Sumei 2000; Huang Shiun-wey and Luo Sumei 2001). The siblings in the Amis ¡§family¡¨ have different roles based on gender, especially in ancestral rituals and kinship-related activities (Luo Sumei 2000). In short, the core of an Amis family consists of this form of differentiation. The representation of gender relations in the Amis youths¡¦ body expressions present a similar sibling relationship to that of the family: that is, the age set or the age organization is in the image of a family. Moreover, from the linguistic representation in Amis, this also implies that the age organization is to some extent an extension of the family. The family in the Amis language at A¡¦tolan is called luma, and the annual harvest festival is called kiluma¡¦an, literally ¡§getting together as a big family¡¨. The common root of both words is luma, ¡§family¡¨. The annual harvest festival mainly consists of the activities of the age organization, suggesting that the age organization is a certain kind of family. From this point of view, gender relations in the representation of the Amis youths¡¦ body expressions also actually resemble the relationship between siblings.

Thus, the different duties of the two genders of siblings in the Amis youths¡¦ body expressions translate into women taking on the role of directors, the young men that of actors, all of which is based on the notion of the family in the context of A¡¦tolan Amis.[18]


Shifting Identities: From the Age Set to Pan-Indigenous

The annual harvest festival and the age organization have become symbols of contemporary Amis in Taiwan (Guo Qianting 2002), including among young people in A¡¦tolan, who participate in the age organization and the annual harvest festival partly for this purpose. However, the processes of the Amis youths¡¦ identity politics are much more complicated. Their identities shift in the context of their body expressions and on several levels, namely the age set, the age grade, the age organization (the village), and a Taiwanese pan-indigenous identity.

        The age set is always regarded as a unity within the age organization, and its identity is represented through participation in the practice and performance of modern dance, traditional dance and plays. Amis youth have been socialized through this process, where individuals are gradually integrated into the kapot. Regarding the identity of the age grade, this emerges from the socio-cultural context of A¡¦tolan Amis, that is, the Kapah. Young people need to present their body as Kapah, literally ¡§beautiful and shining¡¨. They select form and styles for their dances that have heavy beats and brisk rhythms, on the one hand to distinguish themselves from the middle-aged and the elders, but on the other hand to present the ¡§beautiful¡¨ and ¡§shining¡¨ quality of youth. Whenever the Amis youth perform ¡§wonderful¡¨ dances, the elders on the stage always say something like kapah no niyaro, that is, ¡§Look! Those are the young men of our village!¡¨ Young people in the Amis socio-cultural context are not beyond resistance, but they ultimately represent the whole village. From the forms of the Amis youths¡¦ body expressions, not only do they present the Kapah identity, but also a ¡§pan-indigenous¡¨ identity in Taiwan and even throughout the whole world, especially in the genre of modern dance. Amis youth either borrow or transform different music and dance movements from multiple ¡§indigenous¡¨ cultures into their modern dances, including African, African American, Maori, American Indian, other indigenous peoples of Taiwan, and so on.[19] Some dance steps are even borrowed from non-indigenous cultures such as the Cool Dragon of Korea. Nonetheless Amis youth still transform these into the imagination of the Amis modern dance, for example, the dance steps of the Cool Dragon are focused on the movements of the legs, then on stepping heavily on the ground, similar to Amis traditional dance, especially the malikoda. In the other words, the Cool Dragon¡¦s dance movement is transformed and re-created in the context of the Amis at A¡¦tolan. In the context of shifting and multiple identities, therefore, Amis youth create a sense of their own subjectivity and identity in different contexts.

        The integration and borrowing of multiple cultures yields a kind of ¡§new¡¨ identity and subjectivity. Similarly Smitha Radhakrishnan (2003) describes a trans-cultural dancing group naming Surialanga, based on the common living experiences of its Indian female members and Zulu male dancers, and creating a new dance blending Zulu genres with Indian Bharatnatyam dance, which they performed at South African President Nelson Mandela¡¦s inauguration, thus transforming the distrustful experiences of Indians and Zulus into something more positive. Judy Flores (2001) also points out that the Chamorro in Guam adapted dances which were regarded as representative of Chamorro culture from their Polynesian and Micronesian neighbours, based on Chamorro social structure, to create the Chamorro dance. Through this cultural process of integrating and exchanging, a sense of belonging is created for the identity of the ¡§Pacific Islanders¡¨, as well as an understanding that Guam is not merely a colony of the United States, but is stepping forward and, indeed, away from it.

        Similarly, in the transformation and adaptation of music and dances from other cultures, Amis youth have been creating their own subjectivity in the complex process of identity construction and distinguishing themselves from ¡§outsiders¡¨. The ¡§outsiders¡¨ cannot become the spectators of Amis youth¡¦s performances unless they enter their socio-cultural context. Only then will they have any chance to understand the creativity and subjectivity of Amis youth of A¡¦tolan, as well as to realize the centrality of female images in their own body expressions.


Discussion and Conclusions

Cultural reproduction is a dynamic and continuous process. There is nothing that really should be changed or not changed. For example, Mary Masayo Doi (2002) describes how contemporary traditional dance in Uzbekistan is now regarded as a symbol of ethnic identity, though it was originally transformed from the dance training used by the Soviet regime for the purpose of attempting to change the conditions for Muslim women at the beginning of the twentieth century. This dance training of the Soviet government gradually became the symbol of Uzbek identity in resisting the Soviet regime. After Uzbekistan gained independence from the Soviets in 1991, the traditional dance was finally considered to represent both the identity of the state and the nationality of Uzbekistan. In another example, Daniel Miller (1992) argues that although, in Trinidad, the fashions and forms of soap opera appear to be influenced by American soap operas,  the prevalence of the soap opera in Trinidad is actually based on a complicated local concept of ¡§Bacchanal¡¨ (including the truth, the scandal beyond the truth, the confusions, and the disorder). The ¡§Bacchannal¡¨ concept in both the soap opera and the carnival gave vent to the depression and identity of the state when Trinidadians were faced with the effects of globalization, including their colonial history, the discovery of oil, the succeeding depression in the oil industry, and so on. Thus, the local context and the global process are interactive.

        Similarly, contemporary Amis youths¡¦ body expressions should be put in both the global and local socio-cultural as well as historical contexts to be understood. They blend many ¡§Other¡¨ or ¡§outside¡¨ elements with their ancestors¡¦ heritage into specific body expressions to create a certain position which reproduces difference from public representations of the Amis. This difference is exactly the source of ¡§anxiety¡¨ for those outsiders who fear the destruction of tradition. However, the Amis elders and the middle-aged of A¡¦tolan do not see Amis youths¡¦ body expressions as neglecting the ways of ancestors, but rather as representing the beauty of the village. In another words, outsiders cannot become spectators of Amis youths¡¦ body expressions unless they can immerse themselves in the context of the A¡¦tolan Amis. For Amis youth, the body expressions represent the performance of subjectivity and identities blended with the global flows of music and dance movements under the specific socio-cultural environment of A¡¦tolan Amis.

This paper does not describe contemporary Amis youths¡¦ body expressions in the genre of ¡§hip-hop¡¨, but employs it as a metaphor and a model in order to interpret their body expressions. That is, in the context of the social and cultural flows, Amis youth are shouldering the creativity and peculiarity of the ancestors in order to exhibit their agency, subjectivity, and identities. In so doing, they are creating an alternative style and a form of ¡§hip-hop¡¨ which presents their complex identities and the unique gender relations, subverts the public image of them, and has become ¡§Amis hip-hop¡¨.



I would like to thank Robert Parkin and Christian Anderson for editing the English language version of this paper. Robert Parkin, Teri Silvio and Ku Kunhui gave many constructive comments on a draft of this paper. However, I take full responsibility for any unclear descriptions or arguments. Also, I feel an immense gratitude to the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, who granted me a scholarship to present this paper at the 2005 American Anthropology Association annual conference in Washington D.C. My documentary film, entitled Amis Hip Hop, can be watched and downloaded at http://www.oz.nthu.edu.tw/~d929802/amishiphop/index.html.





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[1] Amis is not the plural of Ami but is one of the main self-designations. However, Ami is used by Han Taiwanese and Japanese, which is why some articles describe Amis as Ami. 

[2] Resource: The web database of the ¡§Council of Indigenous People¡¨. http://others.apc.gov.tw/popu/ 9310/aprp5g02.htm. Accessed Nov. 11, 2004.

[3] There is another self-designation, namely ¡§Pangcah¡¨, prevalent in the northern area. A¡¦tolan belongs to the area in which the self-designation of ¡§Amis¡¨.

[4] Actually, A¡¦tolan is the Amis name of the village, the name of the administrative division being Dulan . In Dulan, the populations of Han and Amis are almost equal. The total population of Dulan was over 3,000 at the end of 2003.

[5] ¡Khe ¡§can¡¨ participate in the age organization¡K, but in the past the appropriate verb was rather ¡§should¡¨. Because of the circumstances of social and historical change, there is no longer any ¡§requirement¡¨ to become involved in the age group. However, in the context of cultural revitalization, more and more Amis youth have chosen recently to participate in the age organization.

[6] Kapot can also be used to refer to an age set.

[7] ¡§Traditionally¡¨, girls did not attend the age organization. Once married, they would participate in the age organization along with their husbands. In contemporary times, most unmarried girls participate in the age organization with their male friends, but they still do not officially attend the kapot until they marry and become Matatapalay along with their husbands, teenage girls are called Lakaying, the age set of girls. In addition, the wives of Mihiningay to Tukal are namely Militepulay, it is not a age set but an age grade.

[8] ¡§Pull out the hairs¡¨ is pronounced qubamao in Mandarin, but Amis youth sang it as jibamao, which means ¡§pubes¡¨.

[9] Originally, according to the custom of Amis at A¡¦tolan, Laciensi should visit the kapot Lakenca, but because the members of Lakenca were too few to form a kapot, they were combined with Lakayakay to be a kapot at that time.

[10] The¡§China Youth Corps (Jiou guo tuan)¡¨ is a corporation set up in 1952 by Chiang Kai-Shek¡¦s order, his son Chiang Ching-Kuo being the first chairman. The Corps would hold many activities or summer camps for the youth of Taiwan, where lots of team plays would be performed in the activities or camps. CYC is almost a pronoun for ¡§team plays¡¨ in Taiwan.

[11] I was told by a member of the advisory team that Lakayakay would have won first place if only I had not dropped my belt twice.

[12] Iron Coach has been the choreographer of the modern dance for the Lakayakay since 2002. He works in Taipei, and is always visiting music stores to search for ¡§suitable¡¨ music for the modern dance. The nickname ¡§Iron Coach¡¨ is was coined because every time he teaches the kapot the dance steps, he is very tough and vigorous, and seems not to get tired, acting as a coach just as hard as iron. But everybody trusts him and relies on him very much.

[13] There are several baseball players in Laciensi.

[14] The Puyuma are an Austronesian-speaking ethnic group in Taiwan. The song was selected from Samingad¡¦s first published album, The Voice of Sun, Wind, and Grasslands, for which she won an award as ¡§Best New Singer¡¨ at the 2000 Golden Music Awards in Taiwan.

[15] The Bunun are an Austronesian-speaking ethnic group in Taiwan. They live in the mountain area of central Taiwan. Biung was given the title of ¡§Best Dialect Singer¡¨ at the 2001Golden Music Awards in Taiwan.

[16] The Tao are an Austronesian-speaking people who inhabit the island of Botel Tobago (also called Orchid Island, or Lan Yu), located off the southeast coast of Taiwan.

[17] The ¡§seventh-grade generation¡¨ (Qinianji) is a popular term referring to those who were born between 1980 and 1990 in Taiwan. The term also has the connotation of a generation that is fragile but innovative, and anti-traditional.

[18] However, it is interesting that the dances of the middle-aged and the elders seem to present women as both actors and directors, different from the presentations of the Amis youths¡¦ body expressions. This difference requires further research.

[19] Lakayakay borrowed American-Indian music to perform their modern dance in 2004.