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Some Warriors Prefer Umbrellas: Competing Social Imaginations, Material Culture, and Hoped For Sovereignty in a Taiwanese Indigenous Community

Sun, June 26, 8:30 to 10:20am, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 118


Although ritual remains an important site for the study of political life, few scholars have asked how the material culture of ritual might afford assertions of indigenous sovereignty. In this talk I approach these issues in an 'Amis community on the Pacific Coast of Taiwan, focusing on a controversy surrounding the kulakul, a dance performed during the community's annual harvest ritual. Usually translated from 'Amis as the "Warrior Dance," the kulakul expresses youthful strength and beauty. In living memory, young men have always performed the dance holding colorful umbrellas; however, during the 2015 annual harvest ritual politically strident youth advocated dancing with spears. Controversy surrounding spear wielding touched on a variety of aesthetic issues. Those who argued about the virtues of umbrellas versus spears employed the kulakul to bring a set of contrasts--between 'Amis and "mountain aborigines", civility and bellicosity, docility versus decolonization--into resolution. Each competing imagination articulated a set of commitments and hopes, resolving a self-image with another image meant for purposes of display. At stake in this resolution was a hoped for sovereignty held in opposition to, but also in negotiation with, the dominant Sinophone settler colonial society. Because hopeful assertions, as in the kulakul, must also register settler colonial fantasies, I argue that approaches to the politics of ritual should attend to material forms, such as umbrellas (or spears), in which this doubleness may be differently articulated.