Myth, Dance and Music
To this day, the Tao have preserved their ancient musical tradition that features a variety of songs and ballads performed in a narrowly-defined register. The different styles and techniques, including solo singing, chorus singing (featuring a lead singer), unison singing, duet and canon singing, have been passed down from generation to generation. Along the lines of the singers’ gender and status, the occasion and time, as well as the song’s form and content, strict distinctions were made between magical and ritual songs on the one hand, and work songs and other tunes related to everyday life on the other.
Most Tao singing falls in the category of recitative solo singing, while in terms of content the focus is on prayers and ritual songs addressed to the gods and spirits. At the same time, religious themes are closely connected with everyday work and mythical legends. About 80% of traditional Tao ballads and songs fall into the male domain. Women have much fewer opportunities to sing: dance is their domain.
Among most of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, singing is usually an activity performed by men and women together, but Orchid Island’s Tao are different. Men and women rarely sing together, and if they do, it is almost exclusively limited to work songs, such as tunes related to land clearing, plowing, weeding, and sowing millet.
Many of the Tao songs are performed in praise and worship of the sea, as befits a culture so intimately connected with the ocean and fishing. Boat building, which is another important aspect of Tao seagoing life, also has given rise to a number of songs, some of them sung on the eve of the Great Canoe-Launching Ceremony. The canoe-launching tunes are quite solemn and dignified, and the words are in a very archaic style of the ancient Tao language. Incidentally, these particular chants are addressed to the heavens, not the sea, and it is strictly forbidden to sing them at any other times than the evening before the Canoe-Launching Ceremony.
The Tao fishing songs are an integral part of their fishing activities, and are mostly sung by individuals (solo) or as duets. But between March and June, the peak season for catching flying fish in the island’s offshore waters, the crews of the large canoes sing together in unison as they return from a day’s work, the rhythm of their rowing in perfect sync with the beat of the song. According to the Taos’ traditional customs, “men sing and women dance”. In other words, dancing skills are passed on among the female members of the tribe, and they are particularly valued in young, unmarried women or married women who have not had children yet. They are the principal performers of the dances on occasion of important festivals and ritual celebrations, or in a less formal setting when a “dancing party” is held under the sky on a clear night with a bright moon. There is an air of mystery and ethereal beauty to such performances, but the atmosphere becomes more “down-to-earth” if the men join in at some point.
In traditional dance, the men’s moves were mostly restricted to stylized gestures symbolizing the pounding of millet—a performance given during the Bumper Millet Harvest Festival. Otherwise, women completely dominated this area of Tao culture, but after the end of Japanese colonial rule over Taiwan, a number of dances were added to the male repertoire, including the Warrior Dance, the Spiritual Dance and others that are meant to express the men’s valor and prowess at fishing and other activities.
Male dances now involve a number of special steps and moves, including beating parts of the body with the hands to produce a variety of sounds and rhythms and display the beauty of male toughness and hardihood. The most famous of the Tao dances, however, has to be the women’s Hair Dance, also known as the Hair-Flinging Dance. For this, the women get in a line, standing side by side and, elbow to elbow, holding each other tightly by the hands, they do not move their feet at first but let their hair fly wildly. As they start to sing, they bend their bodies forward until their long hair touches the ground, and now they begin to move their feet, gradually advancing in a line as they keep flinging their long hair with increasing force and a forward and backward movement of the head. As they dance, they also bend their knees, which adds extra momentum to their moves and allows them to fling their hair even more powerfully to the rhythm of the music.

Posted by Vincent Lin (L.V.) on 2015-07-03 08:16:16







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