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Holding Hands to Dance: Movement as Cultural Metaphor in the Dances of Indigenous Peoples in Taiwan

Chi-Fang Chao

This paper analyzes relationships between the signifying dimension and form of indigenous peoples' dances in Taiwan. I focus on the most important formal characteristic according to many practitioners, a 'root metaphor,' (Lakoff and Johnson 1980) of holding hands and examine its reproduction in various dances. I discuss both the visible dynamics and the invisible components of the dances (Farnell 1995) that make manifest aspects of social, religious, and political symbolism.

     My study responds to ideas found in the anthropological study of human movement advanced by Williams (1982) and Farnell (1994). The study is, however, mainly contextualized within the ethnographic framework of contemporary Taiwan, where the ethnic relationship between indigenous minority peoples and majority Chinese people (who migrated into Taiwan in different periods) has played an active role in the transformation of perception, interpretation, and creation of the dances.

     Although the action of holding hands can be broadly seen among different indigenous peoples, the specific indigenous group whose dance will be discussed in this paper is the Amis, the largest indigenous group in Taiwan. The Amis people reside mainly in the eastern part of Taiwan, from the middle to the south along the Hualien-Taitung Rift Valley, the Eastern Coast, and the mountains in between. The dances of the Amis are the richest among all the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, although there are rich variances in patterns and styles within subgroups. Without concentrating on any single community, I will present a number of general features of Amis dances. I realize this departs from a standard anthropological convention of close-gained analysis of dances from one community, but it is a meaningful strategy here in terms of exploring common denominators when viewing bodily movements in general as "signifiers" (Williams 1982).

Figure 1
Figure 1. Map showing the location and names of indigenous peoples in Taiwan.

Choosing indigenous dances as the main focus involves historical and political factors that reach beyond academic interests to include the social conditions in which the dances of indigenous peoples occur. Originally, prior to the seventeenth century, most indigenous peoples of Taiwan had not developed written forms of language. The expression and transmission of group memory and core values thus depended largely on oral histories and embodied practices of many kinds. From the sixteenth to the end of the twentieth century, after encountering and being colonized by Europeans, Japanese, and Han Chinese, myths, songs, and dances became the characteristic expression of indigenous culture.

     The genre of expressive culture plays a vital role in several postcolonial and decolonizing practices of resistance. Study of dance thus provides a means to illustrate the interaction between indigenous groups and the dominant, greater part of society: between 'culture' understood as a valued entity to be preserved and 'culture' as a living, contemporary practice of resistance. With this historical and political structure, I will argue that the corporeal and cultural knowledge contained in the movements of indigenous dancing creates new dance forms of cultural production that range from ritual events to stage performance.

     To facilitate analysis of the dances, I will follow Williams's semasiological approach to the anthropology of human movement that articulates the notion of an 'action sign,' that is, 'signifying acts done with movement' (Williams 1982). Utilizing the concept of the action sign to analyze dances emphasizes the creative dimension of the dancers as social agents:

When body movements are viewed as action signs . . . they become one kind of semiotic practice among others, all of which provide persons with a variety of cultural resources for the creation of meaning. Dances and rituals are replete with these kinds of metaphorical gestures and, as we shall see, frequently extend to include whole body action signs and metaphorical usages of the ritual or other performance spaces. (Farnell 1996: 323)

Concentrating on the metaphorical action sign of 'holding hands' in Taiwanese indigenous peoples' dances, I will present evidence from three different resource categories in which body movement becomes a signifier: (1) Chinese historical writings, (2) the indigenous ritualistic dances, and (3) contemporary theatrical creation. I hope to unravel some interesting relationship between cultural and corporeal knowledge through analyses of 'writings' on dance, not only in the textual form but also in performances.

From 'Savage' to 'Indigenous'

In this section, I will present a diachronic overview of Chinese historical writings on the dances of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, which demonstrates an early Chinese perspective of indigenous cultures. The writing is blurred with romantic exoticism, as seen in the rhetorical descriptions of customs and dances. In focusing on the historical and related writings, however, my aim is not a reconstruction of the past. Instead, it uncovers representations of the relationship between the powerful writer and those others being written about, others whose main form of communication is not writing. Such writing does not always reflect their reality as much as it does that of the writer:

Dong-Fan, the different [place]! . . . It is near. [The people who live there] are timeless, and there is no rank. People are naked and rope tying [meaning 'ancient']. How different! They live by the ocean but do not fish, [family] inhabit together but have no incest. Men and women's statuses are reversed, and the living dwells with the dead. . . . They do not have calendars or words, but lack nothing. (Chen Di 1959 [1603], my translation.)

In this famous Chinese historical account of Taiwan, dated 1603, the island of Taiwan and the inhabitants were called Dong-Fan, 'the Eastern Savage.' Dong, 'the Eastern,' referred to the island's location. Fan, 'the savage,' came from the Chinese convention of verbal categorization, distinguishing between the 'we' (or 'us') group and 'others.' Those who did not share the same language and customs as the Han people who lived on the central mainland were 'savages.'

     During the seventeenth century, European colonizers conquered Taiwan. Portuguese sailor first bestowed the name Formosa on the island in the sixteenth century. The Dutch and Spanish dominated southern and northern Taiwan, respectively, during the mid-seventeenth century. During this time, two forms of European colonialism were in contrast in Taiwan: the Catholic Spanish, who emphasized the religious missionaries, and the Protestant Dutch, who treated southern Taiwan as the newly gained economic resource, not only for trade with China but as a source of tax income for their newly formed colony.

     It was during the Dutch-dominated period that waves of laborers from southern China were brought into Taiwan to plant fields in the southwestern plains. These historical immigrations changed the demographic and cultural composition of Taiwan. Gradually, the Chinese assimilated the indigenous peoples of the Plains.

     European writings on the indigenous people came partly from the Christian missionaries who had strong motivations toward converting the indigenous Taiwanese. Their writings also carried an explicit tone that labeled the unconverted indigenous peoples 'primitive' or 'savage.' Later, explorers also joined in, depicting an array of dance scenes of indigenous peoples. Although these amounted to few writings, some of them did notice the hand movement of indigenous dances:

After it was dark, a bunch of fire was lit in the front yard of the house . . . until the flame raised. This seemed to symbolize some sort of totemic spirit. Hence the young men and women cleared a space. They crossed hands to form a crescent shape. They danced while singing in grievous tone. Their voice accelerated in accompaniment with steps. Until the speed of their steps burst into wildness, the flame was like a flying spirit, penetrating the red-cloud-like dust. . . . At the end, the sound stopped and was replaced with shouting of the natives, that echoed in the valley. (Thomson 1873, tran. in Liu 1992: 55–57; my retranslation from the Chinese text)

There was still a contrast between European religious universalism and Chinese romantic exoticism, as seen in the above-cited Record of Dong-Fan. The romantic tone, which depicted the indigenous people as a different and culturally contrasting people, became a major characteristic in Chinese writings. In one of the eighteenth century historical accounts, the historian described the 'savage' as having "better essence but wild culture" (Zhi-Shen-Er-Wen-Ye; Zhou 2005 [1717]). The inherent romanticism of Chinese historical accounts of many other peoples across different epochs was manifested in the depiction of Taiwanese indigenous peoples.

     Following the strong assimilation of Chinese immigrants, during the colonizing period by Japan from 1896–1945, the indigenous peoples were subjected to a scientific classification. Continuing in their usage of the terminology Fan, 'the Savage,' the earliest Japanese ethnologists (Ino Kanori and Awano Denojō) adopted a linguistic differentiating principle to classify Taiwanese indigenous peoples in 1900. These colonizers later categorized indigenous peoples according to their degree of civilization or domestication: that is, peoples were labeled "the civilized savage," "the matured savage," or "the raw savage." In 1935, however, after decades of such none-too-subtle terminology use, as well as colonial management of the indigenous peoples, another collective term, Takasagozoku, designating the ethnic group of Takasago, was officially given to the indigenous peoples as a whole. This was a strategy of conciliation. An extremist usage of the label Takasago occurred when the Japanese recruited young indigenous males to form the Takasago Militia. They fought in China, southeastern Asia, and Oceania during the World War II.

     After the war finished and Japan was defeated, the Nationalistic Party from China took over Taiwan and started the KMT (Kuo-Min-Tang, the Nationalistic Party) regime in Taiwan. The indigenous peoples were then called Shan-Bao, "the mountainous folks," despite the fact that not all of them lived in mountainous areas. Nevertheless, the indiscriminate usage of Fan (savage) circulated among most Chinese when confronted with indigenous peoples of Taiwan. It was not until the 1990s when the political atmosphere became liberated due to a series of social and political movements that affirmation of the indigenous peoples' status was officially recognized.1 Since 1994, the term Yuan-Zhu-Ming, 'the Indigenes,' was adopted in the reformed Constitution.

Cultural Difference Embodied

Ever since the first accounts of Taiwan appeared in Chinese writings, dances and dancing have consistently been described, albeit very briefly. These accounts clearly highlight historical facts about the frequency (therefore, the significance) of dancing at the social gatherings of indigenous peoples. These accounts also provide a kind of cross-reference, in which depiction of dance movements, rhetoric about the cultures, and interpretations of personhood are intertwined. In the earliest ethnographic records of Taiwan's indigenes, it was said,

Whenever there was a banquet, the drinker would wait for his name to be called and then drank. Those who toasted the king also called his name. People held the cup together, as the Turks did. They sang while dancing. One person sang and the other responded. Their voice was rather sad. They held females' hands and waved hands to dance. (Chen 1981 [636], my translation.)

Despite the early age of the description, the record of the context of the social gathering is quite vivid. From the seventh century on, depiction of scenes of indigenous peoples dancing and singing together appeared occasionally in the piles of historical books. One of the latest and most picturesque records is as follows:

Whenever the autumn harvest [came], the public in the tribe gathered and this was called 'having the annual ceremony.' Males and females chose the flamboyant costumes, performed and competed in the plaza. They wore the savage dress with bird feathers on the crowns. Two or three males stood in the front and followed by the females. They held arms to step into the song. They hopped as waves. Their voice rose and fell. The songs were sectioned according to the metal [instruments]. (Liu-Shih-Chih 1996 [1746], my translation.)

This single description is highly contextualized and picturesque. Records were made not only through words, but more and more intellectuals, including historians and administrative officers, recorded such 'exotic' scenes with pictures. From the folk paintings of the eighteenth century and beyond, the dancing mostly appeared in the group form in which the indigenous peoples hold hands and move together. (See Figure 2)

Figure 2
Figure 2. The scene of Sai Shi, "competition and play," in a series of eighteenth-century folk paintings (Zhou 2005 [1717]: 30).

The scenario of 'holding hands' was a visual reality, featured in forms of the dance, and it carries important meanings in terms of social relationship:

Those who fell in love would tell their parents. They then prepared the wine and informed the folks in the same village and became spouses who were called 'hand-holding.' If they did not suit each other, no matter whether they had children or not, they divorced, which was called 'let go of hands.' (Zhou 2005 [1717], my translation.)

The cultural metaphor of holding hands as a representation of the dancing and marrying 'other' has been well presented in these nineteenth-century Chinese historical accounts of indigenous peoples. The symbolism of holding hands was later circulated among the Chinese immigrants. They borrowed the indigenous notion, transforming it into their own dialect as kan-chiu, which symbolizes 'wife.' The Han Chinese thus adopted this culturally significant gesture, although it came from others who embodied their social relationship in a drastically different way. The action sign, as well as the picturesque image, of holding hands served Han Chinese imaginations in relation to perceptions of a social and cultural 'other.' Furthermore, holding hands has not become a historical relic. It is still a major formal characteristic in indigenous peoples' dances today, although its significance has only recently begun to be noted, appreciated, and presented.

'Holding Hands to Dance' among the Amis

Among the fourteen officially recognized Austronesian-speaking indigenous groups in Taiwan,2 the Amis people stand out, not only because they are the biggest population but also because their dances are the most characteristic of steps and pattern variances. Living mainly in eastern and southeastern Taiwan, the Amis are further divided into five subgroups from north to south and west. They live in large settlements with populations of hundreds and even thousands, partly because they rely on water rice planting as their main subsistence crop. They are also famous for pottery making.

     Ethnographically, the Amis were one of two matrilineal societies in Taiwan; the other was the Puyuma people, who have lived south of the Amis in eastern Taiwan. While women dominated in the domestic sphere, in the public sphere, men took charge. Amis men formed different age-grades that had different duties. Young men started to leave home to join the men's house (talu'an) when they reached age eleven or twelve. As the lowest age-grade in the tribe, they served as servants for the older grades. Older men were in charge of decision making, and the middle-aged were the main producers and protectors. The strict age-grade system and its organization of duties resulted in a unique ethic of obedience in terms of age hierarchy.

     This traditional ethic of obedience to an age-grade hierarchy has, however, faced severe challenges under contemporary trend toward individualism. As the Amis documentary film director Mayaw Biho has shown (2007 [1998]), young generations of Amis men are struggling with the various customs that the elders are still keen to preserve.

     The structure, the organization of duties, and the ethic of the age-grade system are deeply embedded in the Amis's biggest annual ritual of Ilishin, which means 'to worship.' It is a ritual of intensification, in which the tribesmen seek to intensify community consolidation by commemorating their original ancestors, their group fidelity, and their collective survival. All these ideas have corresponding ritual procedures that compose the whole ritual complex that, in the past, lasted for weeks. Now, due to social and economic changes, the ritual is often reduced to two or three days. A spirit of family or community reunion replaces that of training for survival, all of which influences the forms of dancing.


Conventionally, the Amis dance hand in hand most of the time throughout the ritual of ilishin. The form is called malikuda in some subgroups, which means 'holding hands to dance.' Malikuda, however, refers not only to the physical movement; it suggests a special condition of relationship that connects people both physically and socially. In some cases, tribesmen even use the term malikuda for the ritual itself. It can be said that, through the actual enactment of malikuda, the core value of the ilishin ritual is embodied. As I was told by one Amis élite, except under certain conditions, the dancers cannot break the dance circle by letting go of hands or "the evil spirit will intrude the group."

     At the symbolic level, this action sign is a signifier of tribal relatedness; but more than this, in the ritual process, malikuda is performed in a visually explicit way. The Amis really emphasize the ethic of the age-grade system. For example, the serial order of participants in the dancing circle always follows the birth order of each member in the same age-grade. The circle thus provides clear demonstration of the male age and power ladder in the society. The circular rank of dancers is hardly static. It is constantly moving in a dynamic way throughout the whole ritual of ilishin. It is a living collectivity composed of social groups based on the differentiation of age and gender. It is a dancing line in order, but constantly creating new locomotion, moving in unison. The hands held provide an embodied reminder of the basic human structure necessary for the collectivity to be formed and social relations to be included, in different patterns. Hand-holding thus signifies and achieves a highly socialized symbolism that is repetitively enacted and reenacted through participants' embodiment in the annual ritual.        

     The nature of the socially enacted action sign of hand-holding can be further articulated through other distinctive forms of moving. In the next section, I will exemplify the dynamism of the action sign of hand-holding through the ritual movements and dances of the cikawasay (the shaman) in the apprenticeship ritual, and the dances in the ritual of miholol that aims to comfort mourning families.


The cikawasay is a special group of religious specialists among the Amis, most of whom are women. The social function and religious mission of cikawasay have been much discussed among scholars of the Amis. It is, however, through a visual presentation by the indigenous Amis scholar Panay Mulu (2000) that the exclusive sociality of cikawasay can be seen in an embodied way.

     In a documentary film based on her long-term fieldwork, Panay Mulu notices that in the annual cikawasay ritual of apprenticeship in the Lidaw village of the northern group of Amis, which is intended to advance their ability to communicate with spirits, the cikawasay have to leave their hands open and not hold the hands of others. This is explained as a means for the shamans to connect with the deities they serve individually, rather than each other, an immediate contrast in meaning to the significance of holding hands in malikuda described above. In this context, the realm of human beings is recognized as being divided from that of the deities, signified through an embodied act of disconnecting from holding hands with other human beings in order to make a spiritual connection with the deities.


Miholol is a minor event embedded within the ilishin ritual of the Tafalong village, the biggest of the central Amis. In moholol (which literally means "to visit") the male age-grade groups go around the village to visit the families of their peer brothers who passed away in the past year. It is a recovery process for the community to bring the mourning families back to their normal lives. The process, however, is accomplished through a highly symbolic mode of movement.

     According to my own observations and Chuang's fieldwork records (2003), members of one male age-grade will visit the mourning houses one by one. Before dancing in the yard, they will enter the house to memorialize the dead and pray together.3 Surprisingly, the mood can sometimes be joyful instead of only sorrowful. Chuang, in reflecting on his own father's miholol, states that his father's peers told a lot of jokes about his father as if he were still alive.

     The dancing in the yard, however, is also a collective bodily ritual that compels the participants to reflect on the boundary between life and death. The peer members of the age-grade form an outer circle, facing inward, and sing in the usual ritualistic tone while dancing. The mourning family forms an inner circle facing outward, with the first person (usually the heir or wife of the dead) holding a photo or clothes of the deceased. These two circles move in counter directions throughout the songs. The songs do not differ from those sung in the ilishin, except that they are sung at a slower speed. The whole process of singing and dancing in miholol is laden with moral and educational significance in the contemporary society of the Tafalong. For example, as a teacher in an elementary school, Chuang has integrated the ritual of miholol into his dance classes to enlighten his pupils, most of whom are indigenous, providing them with an education of indigenous life and values (2003).

     The examples above clearly show that these symbolic meanings could never be accomplished without the embodiment of dancers and the sociality enacted through their collective movement, as well as ways of moving in each context:

It is people who utilize culturally constructed action concepts: concepts of the body via their kinesthetic awareness; of spatial directions and the complex space(s) in which they move; of the changing dynamics of action, and relationships between all of these. (Farnell 1996: 315)

As the Amis example indicates, the structuring capability of action signs lies in the process of moving in specific complex spaces, physical as well as symbolic. As in any action sign, the dynamics of physical action works together with embodied conceptualization. I suggest that this human structuring capability that produces action signs that are root metaphors (in this instance, to hold hands) also manifests itself in the creation of dances in new forms of cultural production such as theater.

Let's Hold Hands, But How? Movement as the Metaphor of Difference in Contemporary Contexts

While the action sign of malikuda still prevails in ritual contexts, many indigenous communities have experienced a decline of traditional ritual practices because of religious conversion, as well as social change and degeneration due to capitalism and urbanization, all of which has happened in the last century. In ironic contrast, the Han Chinese majority in Taiwan has come to notice the songs and dances of indigenous people and works to appropriate them to their own world of representation.

     The history of appropriating the indigenous movement and dances into theatrical contexts can be traced back to as early as the 1930s under Japanese colonization, when the first wave of "modern westernized arts" was brought to Taiwan. The earliest Japanese and Taiwanese theatrical dance practitioners such as Tachibana Akiko (1907–71), who is claimed as the "mother of ballet "in Japan, and Tsai Jui-Yueh (1921–2005), claimed as the "mother of modern dance" in Taiwan, composed works that depicted scenes of indigenous peoples and their lives.

     Later, after the end of World War II and into the 1950s, a whole generation of politicians and cultural élites from mainland China fled to Taiwan, among whom were dance choreographers and educators. Some of these became the earliest dance professionals able to enter the hardly accessible indigenous villages. However, while bearing the mission of "instructing the indigenous to dance," some of them were later blamed for modifying the configuration of indigenous movement sequences according to their own imagination and definition of what the dance should be like. This process of collecting indigenous dances as if they were natural species has its parallel in music and has continued for decades. The results have mainly served theatrical production by and for Han Chinese.4

     Currently in Taiwan, therefore, there is still a category of dances, composed by these nonindigenous theatrical dance practitioners, created out of the movements, patterns, and even conditions of indigenous people. This unique category itself is not homogeneous, however. It is mixed with Japanese styles of modern dance and an imagined and reconstructed Chinese 'ethnic' style. This cross-cultural reproduction of indigenous themes in theatrical dancing thus provide a source for analyzing how the nonindigenous people in Taiwan have perceived, imagined, and represented 'the Other.' Among them is Liu Feng-Hsui, one of the senior and most consistent producers of theatrical works with indigenous themes.

     In the following section, I shall discuss a theatrical creation by Liu Feng-Hsui with the Neo-Classical Company to reflect on creative signifying through the action sign of holding hands. Liu was born in northeastern China. While she was still young, her hometown was occupied by the Japanese military, and she was exposed to modern dance coming from Europe through Japanese artists such as Eguchi Takaya (1900–77). After fleeing to Taiwan, Liu was among the earliest dance artists to enter the indigenous villages before they were rapidly absorbed into a nationalistic economic system. Liu's exposure to, and encounters with, indigenous people resulted in long-term research and the creation of modern dance works about them.

     Liu has created three evening-length dance works that emphasize the theme of indigenous people: Chen Muo de Chu Yin (The Subtlety in Ethnic Poundings, 1994), Chen Muo De Fei Yu (The Subtlety of Flying Fish, 2007), and Yun Bao Chih Hsiang (The Country of Rikulau, 2009).5 Instead of mere romanticism, all three choreographed works deal with the social issues of change, adaptation, survival, and identity within different groups of indigenous peoples. Based on her unique, first-hand experience, and contemplation of indigenous lives, as well as her insistence on using a modernized Chinese aesthetic, Liu has developed a unique theatrical style and movement vocabulary. In her 2007 piece that looks at the irreversible cultural change and impact on the indigenous people as a whole,6 she designed a sequence of movement in which the female dancers held hands by crossing them over at the back, a movement never seen in the indigenous communities but one that presents a powerful metaphor relating to them.

     This action sign appears extremely powerful to me because I believe it represents the ways in which hegemonic political and economic power has inverted indigenous society and culture. Kinesthetically, the action imposes force on the dancers, pulling each one's arms to the back in the gesture of the prisoner. Dancing together in line makes them the collective prisoner. The kinesthetic energy and effect of this movement are totally different from, say, malikuda, in which people also holding hands face the same center but have their arms connected in front of the body, a comfortable position that usually enables the group to dance for hours and even whole nights. The front/back shift in the spatial orientation of the arms in these two variants of the action sign 'holding hands' supports an interpretation with a contradictory meaning.

     Liu's choreographic move of reversing the indigenous action sign provoked a deeply thoughtful reflection in me. Its significance, however, is still waiting to be recognized by other dance choreographers interested in indigenous peoples, even the indigenous artists.

     In the past twenty years, as political authority has lessened and the whole of Taiwanese society has become more liberated, social and political movements motivated by knowledge of the oppressed lives of indigenous people's have provoked self-awareness among younger generations of indigenous peoples. As a result, professional and amateur dance practitioners alike have found themselves facing a trend of 'performing the culture of indigenous people' as tokens that recognize cultural vitality. Except for a limited few, however, many of them have adopted visualizations that stereotype indigenous lives, restricting them to the past by including scenes of hunting, weaving, and pottery making, surrounded by thatched houses and betel nut trees. Parallel with this fixed formula for representing indigenous people is a change of speed in the performance of traditional dances. Changes include a stylized, somehow extravagant emphasis on feet movement and the use of individual arm movements that are not connected with any other--the core action sign of holding hands is absent.

     At the same time, the meaning of holding hands has been transformed in the more popular, commercial, indigenous dance performances for tourists. Since the Japanese colonizing period, in every tourist destination featuring indigenous peoples, there has been danced performance. To satisfy the tourists' gaze, many traditional dances of indigenous peoples have been changed. For instance, the music and movement speed up; the skirts are made shorter and in brighter colors. Without exception, the last session includes inviting the tourists to hold hands with the dancers and dance together.

     How can this gesture be interpreted, for it has different meanings for the indigenous and the outsiders, respectively? Many tourists have taken this as an enjoyable invitation. They dance while imagining they are experiencing and embodying the indigenous way, even just for a short time. For many indigenous people, the dance of holding hands together is welcomed in the context of tourism. However, in ritual contexts, more and more indigenous villages have begun to reject the disturbance of outsiders by excluding them from the formal dancing circle. This is a reconstruction of a boundary, separating internal and external. In this, they are claiming back the significance of hand-holding in their own fashion within the postcolonial era in Taiwan under a politics of difference--it states "we who hold hands together are indigenous."

Concluding Remarks: Action Sign as Cultural Metaphor

I have reviewed and analyzed three categories of resources on indigenous dances: Chinese historical writings and folk pictures of indigenous peoples; the symbolism of malikuda and other relevant practices among the Amis, and contemporary staged creation of dance performances on indigenous themes. In this analysis, I focused on presenting the signifying dimension of a core action sign, or root metaphor, across historical periods, producers, and forms. This seemingly wide range of reference is brought together and concentrated on one single action sign of 'holding hands' that has both kinesthetic and social value.

     Through my analyses of the form and meaning of malikuda in Amis dancing, along with its embodied contrasted features in other rituals, I identified the action sign of holding hands as a primary root metaphor for the Amis without essentializing the dance. I argued that the creative power of the action sign lies in its structuring capacity for producing new metaphorical content and creating new cultural forms, as found in recent artistic or commercial theaters. The significance of focusing on the action sign is not to represent isolated meaning, but it emerges as significant as part of a discursive practice that enhances or blurs the boundary of possible interpretations through its kinesthetic dynamics.

     Danced movement, enacted through the body and proceeding within social interrelations, is never merely self-expression. It is not only modified and created under specific social and political conditions, but it vitalizes social agency that becomes the basis for identifying oneself, as well as connecting with others.


1 These political and social movements include 'returning the land to us' and 'save the young prostitutes.'

2 These fourteen ethnic groups are Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Rukai, Tsou, Puyuma, Saisiat, Yami, Taroko, Sedeq, Thao, Sakizaiya, and Kavalan.

3 In the case of the Tafalong village, since many Amis believe in Christianity, they syncretize the traditional ritual with prayers to God. This also happens in ilishin rituals among some indigenous communities. Generally speaking, Catholic churches are more tolerant of the traditional rituals of indigenous peoples in comparison to Protestantism.

4 Cf. Fairbank article in this issue.

5 Rikulau is how the Rukai people name a specific kind of wild cat (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura) indigenous to Taiwan. This nearly extinct animal is believed to be the ancestor of the Rukai people and has strong representation in Rukai mythology. Nowadays, it has become not only an important symbol of identity for the Rukai themselves but also part of the popular public image imposed upon the Rukai by others.

6 The footnote to this work is quoted from the company's official Web site,

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