Authenticating Performances

Rituals of Taiwan’s Aborigines Under the Impact of Nativism and Multiculturalism

  • Michael Rudolph
Keywords: Taiwan multiculturalism, Taiwan aborigines, indigenous peoples, ritual revitalisation, Postcolonial identity constitution, performative authentication of political power and social authority


Adherents of performance theory emphasise the constitutive and transformative potentia of rituals with respect to patterns of social organization and authority. For them, rituals “not only mean something, but also do something, particularly the way they construct and inscribe power relationships” (Bell 1997). This contribution focuses on the role of ritual in postcolonial identity constitution and the performative authentication of political power and social authority in Taiwan. Since the middle of the 1990s, traditionalist performances have been on the rise on the island. Generously subsidised by government bodies which have sought to demonstrate their nativist or multiculturalist orientations, aboriginal elites not only publicly worshipped ancestor gods and enacted animal sacrifices in so called “revitalised” public rituals, but also used these occasions to point to the primordial power of aborigines vis-à-vis their former colonisers, the Han Chinese. In many cases, however, the “revitalised” rituals described here conflicted with the interests of common people in aboriginal society, who wished public ritual to be compatible with their newly adopted Christian traditions. Taking a closer look at the contemporary rituals of the Taroko and Ami, which are characterised by the above mentioned dynamics, I argue that rituals publicly performed by aborigines today amalgamate different levels of meaning. While they articulate and negotiate the identity needs and social exigency of the respective social group or society (Turner 1969), they simultaneously carry those often elite-dominated mechanisms that are described by Hobsbawm and Ranger (1983)  in their examinations of the processes of cultural invention for the needs of political and cultural entities, as well as by Paul Brass (1991) in his analyses of elite competition. In other words, while these rituals may in many cases have efficacy with regard to the constitution of society and identity, the traditionalist rituals in particular frequently serve the authentication exigencies of various elites. Finally, I suggest that if one wants to provide the culture of common people with greater opportunities for representation, one should not focus too much on the display of “authentic” old traditions in order to highlight Taiwanese subjectivity, but should also acknowledge those hybridised new traditions which aboriginal society has generated over the course of Taiwan’s more recent history and which may also contain new religious elements.


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How to Cite
Rudolph, M. (2015). Authenticating Performances: Rituals of Taiwan’s Aborigines Under the Impact of Nativism and Multiculturalism. Archiv orientální, 83(2), 343-374.
Research Article