Exploitative mythologies used to destroy Aborigines' sense of self
are a dangerous thing when cultural identity is at stake, and the
hyping of Aboriginal drinking culture might be seen as a cynical
exercise in political control
By Isak Afo 以撒克．阿復
Thursday, Jan 06, 2000,Page 9
In his book Orientalism,
the Arab-American scholar Edward Said delivers a spirited critique of
Western cultural hegemony and power politics that is itself both
ideological and political. He argues that great political, economic and
sociocultural differences are seen to exist between East and West, and
that this is based on an extraordinary combination of ontological and
epistemological reasoning, as well as on geographical factors and
conditions of long-term antagonism.
The West's long-standing
ambition to lead and restructure the world and its repressive use of a
hegemonic discourse to dominate the world stage has resulted in a
relationship between East and West akin to that between the dominator
and the dominated. Based on this unequal relationship, "orientalism"
has become a spurious form of "myth" for Westerners, deriving from
ignorance, prejudice and a taste for exotica when facing the complexity
of the East and the Third World.
this one step further, the threat of orientalism now lies more in the
fact that it has become a form of hegemony which has made the colonized
dependent on the knowledge provided by the colonizer, even in their
search for their own historical, cultural and personal identity.
In Taiwan, the structure of political parties, the state and the
country's ethnic mix combine to form a duplicate of colonial relations.
This takes the form of internal repression -- an internal colonialism
in fact. In accordance with the strategy of orientalism, and relying on
the electronic and print media, the myths of the Other are created and
perpetuated. In Taiwan, the myth of the Aboriginal drinking culture
(-鮐磳舉怜s?�?�) is presently the most popular and pernicious of these.
The colonial myth-makers have characterized the Aborigines of Taiwan as
"inherently lazy," "unproductive," "hooked on booze" and "lawless," or
else as "good at singing and dancing" and "natural born athletes." The
colonizers meanwhile see themselves as "benevolent and generous,"
"active and assertive" and "disciplined." The media repeats these
stereotypes, with superficial understanding.
This myth has penetrated to the extent that when the news broke several
months ago that the Alcohol and Tobacco Monopoly Bureau (菸酒?1/2賣局) had
halted production of Red Label Rice Wine (紅�|
怜s), the media went for an exotic angle and came up with the infantile
assertion that the drinking culture was the same thing as Aboriginal
When the Aboriginal Harvest Festival tour,
organized by the Department of Tourism, commenced in the homeland of
the Amis people (阿美族). The first stop was the Harvest Festival in
Taitung County. At this event, the government brazenly raised the flag
of Aboriginal drinking culture with great fanfare held drinking
competitions. To show its "concern" for Aboriginal culture, the Hualien
office of the Alcohol and Tobacco Monopoly Bureau provided all kinds of
alcoholic beverages free of charge. At the same time, the government
expressed its "concern" over the issue of excessive drinking by
Aboriginal people. The bureau invited Vice President Lien Chan (3s戰) to
exhort Aborigines to drink in moderation and to put an end to their
culture of excessive drinking.
The social penetration of the government's myths will ensure that
eventually they will be regard as true. And the more distant we become
from the original time and place where these myths were created, the
more abstract and finely interwoven they become in the social fabric of
the colonized people. In the end, it becomes impossible to clean up the
Aboriginal people do succeed in making a move up to a higher social
stratum, they have the opportunity and ability to deconstruct -- or
detoxify -- the poison in the colonizers' myths. Regrettably, however,
these successful Aborigines tend to identify with the values and moral
judgments of the colonizer and their myths, drawing closer to them and
criticizing the people from which they originated.
In fact, the
formation of the Aboriginal drinking culture myth is closely tied to
Aboriginal intelligentsia: In order to rationalize their own alcoholic,
disorderly behavior, they get all Aboriginal people to recite this
stuff after them.
The "drinking myth" has even become a prop for Aborigines to cling to
as they go through a crisis in cultural identity.
This corresponds to what social psychologists say: a needy culture
enters a generational vicious circle, and corresponding
"self-fulfilling prophecies" emerge in the collective subconscious of
its members. When reporters in the media conduct their so-called
in-depth reports, they rarely fail to notice scenes of Aboriginal
people affirming drinking culture as being the same thing as Aboriginal
culture. The lazy and faddish nature of reporters prevents them from
seeing the power structure of this discourse and taking the next step
of seeking out the causes of this phenomenon.
What is bizarre about this is that with the "best intentions" of not
destroying Aboriginal drinking culture, the Monopoly Bureau has found a
way out of the predicament of having to compete in a globalized market.
And so, Red Label Rice Wine is still being produced, and government and
media continue to perform an absurdist comedy of Aboriginal
Isak Afo (以撒克．阿復) is convener of the Aboriginal Labor Alliance (-鮐磳螫�3�?u聯盟) and is an Amis tribesman from the Mataian (馬?蚞b) Aboriginal community in Hualien County. This article is reprinted courtesy of the Austronesian News (南島時3�) and was translated by Martin Williams.